By Ashley Wainstein
In the wake of political debate and upheaval on issues such as the housing crisis, immigration policy, the current health and education systems, and what to do about global warming, there is, and it seems there will always be, an alarming lack of regulation around our intensive farming practices and animal welfare in New Zealand.
In anticipation of the recent election, Animal Agenda Aotearoa’s creator Catriona MacLennan asserted that in order to take animal and environmental wellbeing into consideration, it is imperative that the new government take on policies and legislative changes posited by other parties. Now that Labour has been elected into office, it should undertake policy change to provide stricter rules relating to animal welfare. Animal Agenda’s statement follows the disclosure of each of the parties’ stances regarding a range of animal-related issues, including:
- If elected, will the party ban rodeo and live animal exports,
- whether it will make mandatory that all animal farmers install slaughterhouse cameras,
- whether, generally, they will promote greater legal rights for animals.
Taking a broad look at the two leading parties: National scored a low 4.5 out of 20 and Labour with a modest score of 14.75 out of 20. The highest score was copped by the Greens with 18.5 out of 20.
(Source: www.animalagenda2017.org.nz. Please note that some of this information may have changed since the 2017 election. For example, the United Future party has now dissolved)
At present, it is the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) that is responsible for animal welfare in New Zealand. The Ministry plays a key role in the management and facilitation of animal welfare policy and promotes the humane treatment of animals in ongoing deliberation surrounding animal welfare issues. The work done by the Ministry in relation to animal welfare is governed by the Animal Welfare Act 1999. However, the Act does not provide lengthy, detailed requirements. Instead, there are Codes of Welfare, which incorporate minimum standards and recommend best practice. The complication with these initiatives made by the MPI is that they are in direct conflict and often contradict with their main ministerial objective, which is to help maximise export opportunities for New Zealand’s primary industries. This is regularly at the forefront of concern for animal welfare supporters, in that the only regulation available around animal welfare is constantly being rebutted by such an insatiable campaign for economic growth.
The issue rests on whether animals are seen or believed to be sentient beings, and with this, whether they should be entitled to enjoy the same rights as people. The interpretation of the Animal Welfare Act is read so as to implicitly recognise the sentience of animals by placing a duty of care on owners and people in charge of animals. This is in order to meet their physical health and behavioural needs. However, it is obvious that the current interpretation is widely read, given that there are no current bans against practices such as intensive farming or animal testing and there are no safeguard measures in place to enforce and prosecute those that do not abide by the regulations, such as slaughterhouse cameras.
This is not to say that economic growth and a healthy job market are bad things; they are of fundamental importance. But, where this is at the expense of the welfare of those most vulnerable, the worthiness of this moral trade-off is questionable. Perhaps what should be considered, at the very least, is whether policy and legislation should be altered in such a way that still conforms to the MPI’s main objective. This would need to be achieved within defined bounds of animal rights, which need to be given a much greater emphasis than is currently in place. With Labour in government, hopes are high that we may see some positive legislative changes for animal welfare in New Zealand.
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