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.
The two successful prosecutions were for the following egregious cases of neglect [from the Tuesday Herald article]:
‘North Canterbury farmer John Dalmer has been fined $17,500 and ordered to pay court and inquiry costs of more than $60,000 for letting his stock starve.
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and animal welfare officials visited Dalmer’s farm in July 2006 after a complaint about the lack of feed for nearly 4000 sheep. They said the animals were “grossly underfed”. Four cattle and 380 sheep had to be euthanised.
Dalmer’s case was one of two MAF prosecutions last year over mistreatment of livestock.
In the other case, a Central Hawkes Bay farmer was fined $12,000 and ordered to pay almost $10,000 in costs after a complaint over starving animals.
He was also disqualified from owning or controlling production animals for at least 10 years.’
MAF officials say that prosecutions: ‘…are a last resort. The department generally focuses on educating and working with farmers.’
To refer to prosecutions as a ‘last resort’ is something of an understatement. Although we don’t necessarily advocate blanket prosecutions, they could certainly be used less reluctantly than they are at present.
This highlights one of the great problems in the regulation of animal welfare in New Zealand – the fact that the primary role of the agency responsible for enforcement is to foster the agricultural industry. This leads to obvious conflicts in many areas; to the extent that interventions in animal welfare are usually publicly advocated only in cases where economic interests are affected, for example where New Zealand’s image in export markets may be down-graded. As things stand, many farmers are allowing animals in their care to starve to death because ‘times are tough’, the fact that this is allowed to continue except on a truly massive scale lays bare the role of MAF as an assistant to agricultural industry rather than a guardian of animal interests.
MAF are the only government-funded prosecutor and we should demand that unless a separate – less conflicted – enforcement agency is created, they actually exercise their mandate to prosecute those who cause suffering of animals through crimes of commission or omission.