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Farming Practices

This category contains 7 posts

Why Colony Cages Rather Than Barn-Laid Eggs?

Caged Layer Hens

According to RNZSPCA national accreditation and marketing manager Juliette Banks: “Consumers are becoming far more conscious of where and how their food is produced and they don’t want cages.”
Yet New Zealand farmers are going ahead with installing the ‘colony cages’ approved in the new Layer Hen Code of Welfare. The thing is, the capital investment in changing out one type of cage for a marginally larger one is far greater than converting to a barn set up where the animals are still kept indoors in crowded conditions but are at least not in cages.

Barn Layer Hens

Banks continues: “With a steady annual increase in the free-range egg market it is clear consumers will not accept caged eggs in the future. For the industry to spend millions converting a system that consumers will reject seems pointless.”

Indeed it does. Until we consider that caged hen operations are very large businesses with capital investment that often runs into the millions. Why would these operators be prepared to continue with a more expensive system? Because it provides a very effective barrier to entry for possible competitors. The welfare of the thousands of hens in their care is neither here nor there for these producers. The decision is purely economic. It makes the claim of Egg Producers Federation chairman, Michael Guthrie, that they want to ‘ensure eggs remained affordable during tough economic times’ ring rather hollow.

Manufactured Meat: Lab burgers anyone?

An initial culture of cow flesh. Yum. (Photo: Dr Mark Post, Maastricht University)

In a move that may overcome the cruelty problem of raising and killing animals for meat, Dr Mark Post of Maastricht University and Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands has pioneered the technique of growing meat independently of an animal by the cultivation of stem cells.

The pieces of muscle are made by extracting stem cells from cow muscle tissue and growing them in containers in a laboratory. The cells are grown in a culture medium containing foetal calf serum, which contains the nutrients the cells need to grow. The nutrients in the meat itself need to come from another source, Post will use algae to produce the amino acids, sugars and fats necessary to produce a nutritious flesh. The strips of muscle are cultivated between pieces of Velcro and flex and contract as they develop. To improve the texture of the tissue and make more protein in the cells the samples are periodically shocked with an electric current.

The problems for which this is a solution are summed up rather concisely in this abstract of a paper called ‘Advances, Challenges and Prospects for Cultivation of Tissue-Engineered Meat’ that Dr Post presented in February this year:

Traditional meat production through livestock is rapidly reaching its limits. Worldwide, meat consumption is projected to double in the coming 40 years (source WHO) and already we are using more than 50% – 70% of all the agricultural land for meat production. It has also become clear that livestock contributes appreciably to the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2. Last, the public objection against cruelty to animals will eventually favor a market for cruelty free meat …

From all livestock, cows and pigs are the least efficient meat producers with a bioconversion rate of 15%. Through breeding and feeding, the bioconversion rate has reached its upper limit. This inefficiency provides us with a margin to improve meat production provided we move beyond the traditional boundaries of livestock.

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Animal Justice Fund

Just a quick note on the Animal Justice Fund, administered by SAFE, funded from Jan Cameron’s (founder of the hugely-successful outdoor equipment company, Kathmandu) fortune which allocates $2 million for whistleblowers. Between $5 000 and $30 000 can be awarded in each instance that leads to a successful prosecution or ‘significant animal welfare outcome.’

To date, at least six workers have ‘dobbed in’ bosses for animal cruelty. But none want to accept the reward.

All were for dairy farms and piggeries. None of the workers were still employed by the farms they were laying complaints against, so the cases and information are considered ‘historical’ and hence a low priority for investigation. Four of these cases were referred to MAF. According to SAFE’s Hans Kriek:

Paddocks were in bad shape, there were stones and lame cows. There were high mortality rates amongst calves. Dying animals were being left to rot in paddocks. With the pig farms we had the usual complaints … that the conditions were terrible and enclosures weren’t cleaned out and the animals were standing a foot deep in their own muck.

Yet, no breaches of the relevant welfare codes were found in any case. Continue reading

Cubicle (Factory) Farming and Ministerial ‘Call-Ins’ of Resource Management Consents

Late last year, I posted on the euphemistically-named ‘cubicle’ farming of dairy cows proposed in the South Island’s pristine McKenzie Basin.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has today recommended that Environment Minister, Nick Smith use his call-in powers under the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA) to make a decision on the consents. The Act states:

Section 141B – Minister’s power to call in matters that are or are part of proposals of national significance
In deciding whether a matter is or is part of a proposal of national significance, the Minister may have regard to any relevant factor, including whether the matter—

(a) has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment

Why is this of interest in a blog about animal law?

Well, although about 75% of the large number of submissions received by the Canterbury Regional Council mentioned deleterious effects on the cows, the question has been raised as to whether animal welfare issues can be legitimately considered as an ‘effect’ of dairy farming for the purposes of resource management consents.

The Council has received legal advice that they can not, nor can they provide grounds for a ministerial call-in.

The Council’s Chief Executive, Dr Bryan Jenkins, has said that the animal welfare issue is more appropriately dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA). He also suggested that a stronger argument can be made for damage to New Zealand’s reputation in international dairy markets being an ‘effect’.

This is all the more incredible if we look at the statutory definition of “environment” in the RMA: Continue reading

MAF’s ‘Arms Length’ Approach to Prosecutions

Just last week, we posted about the SPCA’s difficulties in pursuing prosecutions under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the AWA).  An article in the Herald on Monday (‘Hundreds of Cases of Livestock Mistreatment Reported’) highlights just how little the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), is doing by way of prosecutions.  But, as the Police generally do not prosecute animal welfare offences, MAF is the other main body, along with the SPCA, that is empowered to prosecute under the AWA.

In the year to November 2009, MAF received 689 complaints about the mistreatment of animals, and investigated 615.  They brought two prosecutions.

In 2008, there were 948 complaints in total, of which 824 were investigated.  No prosecutions were brought.

So, out of 1439 investigations in two years, only two resulted in prosecutions. This is a rate of less than 0.4%.

Curiously, the story was re-spun the next day with the title: ‘Big Fines for Farmers Who Let Their Livestock Starve’ moving the sentences imposed to the head of the article and the fact that there were only two prosecutions in two years to the second half of the piece. Continue reading

‘Cubicle’ Dairy Farming: Factory farming by another name

Farmed Cows

'Cubicle' cows in the United States

Intensive indoor farming of dairy cows – which would be a first in New Zealand – is being proposed in South Canterbury’s Mackenzie region.

In this radical departure from current dairying practice in this country – grass-fed Friesians wandering outdoors – three companies: Williamson Holdings LtdSouthdown Holdings, and Five Rivers Ltd (the director of which has an appalling record for pollution of waterways with dairying waste) are each applying for land use consents and effluent discharge consents to establish a total of 16 new farms.

These will house nearly 18,000 cows in so-called ‘cubicle’ shelters for 24 hours a day, eight months of the year. For the remaining four months, the cows will be kept inside for 12 hours a day.

This will produce a quantity of effluent equivalent to that of a city of 270 000 people. This vast quantity of waste will require 414 million litres of effluent storage capacity in ponds. 1.7 million litres of diluted effluent will be deposited on the land on a daily basis in an attempt to make the land fertile enough to grow feed in situ. This is a tall order; the Mackenzie Basin is one of the driest parts of the country and is covered in tussock grass. Until then, feed will be trucked in.

 As with any form of intensive, indoor farming, there are significant welfare issues in housing animals in crowded sheds. Rates of infection are far higher and so greater amounts of antibiotics are generally required to keep the animals healthy. Taking cows, which are at least as intelligent as dogs, and confining them to small spaces is bound to be a traumatic experience. Nevertheless, in a radio interview earlier this week, the President of Federated Farmers, Don Nicholson, when pressed about the total confinement of the cows for eight months of the year made the frankly astonishing argument that:

We live in houses ourselves, we’ve adapted to intensification and I’m sure that farmers of New Zealand want to do their very best for the animals

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Veganism and the Environment

Cows Grazing by Mt. TaranakiThere are many reasons for choosing the vegan way of life: Ethical, spiritual, environmental, and physical. My own motivations are a combination of the above, but one aspect that I would like to focus on here is the environmental consequences of meat and dairy production.

Many commentators (indeed, many of my vegan friends!) consider this to be a secondary consideration. They believe that it is the suffering of the animals concerned that must take primacy. Perhaps this is the purists’ dislike of anthropocentric considerations slipping in to what ‘should’ be a movement for the rights of animals. Perhaps it is a form of ‘green fatigue’ brought on by the recent trend to frame any lecture or article – on any subject and however strained – in terms of ‘climate change’.

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