The nationwide furore over the conditions in which pigs are intensively farmed has finally prompted voluntary audits of conditions in piggeries around Aotearoa New Zealand.
Today, a leaked email was released in which the New Zealand Pork Industry Board, a statutorily-created entity, is shown attempting to develop a legal strategy to avoid the results of those audits being made public. To quote the Dominion Post:
The leaked email, sent to farmers on behalf of the Pork Industry Board, said: “It is likely there will be a number of farms requiring corrective actions and … those actions could cause embarrassment to the farmer if made public and could cause embarrassment to the industry if used by animal welfarists, [so] some alternatives to current procedures were put forward.”
A suggested alternative would mean only the farmer and auditor would hold “completed documentation”, with the board notified of pass, fail, or “pending corrective actions (unspecified).”
Board chief executive Sam McIvor said its legal advice suggested the audit report would belong to the farmer, meaning it was personal information.
Some very serious questions need to be asked of a statutory body – albeit one that is mostly funded by farmers – that considers protecting piggery owners from “embarrassment” justification for its connivance to avoid a general obligation under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) to make information ‘held’ by them available to the public.
Any information held by an independent contractor engaged by any department or Minister of the Crown or organisation in his capacity as such contractor shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to be held by the department or Minister of the Crown or organisation.
Mr McIvor goes further to say that a balance has to be struck between the interests of farmers and the interests of the public:
He said the board wanted to be accountable to pork-buying customers, but most customers did not care about farm conditions, just whether they had passed a minimum standard. “There does have to be some trust and the customers need to be able to trust us that we have the processes in place.”
Indeed. The kind of trust that holds so long as you don’t ask any embarrassing questions.
Leaving aside this deft identification of the Board’s constituency as being only “pork-buying customers”, it is statements such as these that lay bare the true issue: It is not privacy, it is certainly not animal health, it is secrecy. Secrecy that allows an industry with some demonstrably cruel operators to continue to avoid public scrutiny of their profiting from the suffering of animals.
A report on the current review is due next week. We’ll keep you updated.