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Animal Welfare on Farms: A lower standard for agricultural animals

A healthy flock of sheep

A report in the Dominion Post this week about a particularly nasty case of criminal neglect of sheep in the Manawatu highlights much of what is wrong with the enforcement and prosecution of animal welfare offences on farms in New Zealand:

75 sheep were found dead and another 25 had to be put down [immediately] because of alleged ill-treatment. SPCA officials raided the farm in August after being tipped off about the sheep. The 66-hectare farm is now under strict monitoring by vets and four SPCA inspectors. It is still being run by the farmer and has several hundred sheep.

Although full details have not yet been divulged by prosecutors, pending the laying of charges, it appears that the sheep were emaciated from starvation and severe neglect. The file is about to be sent to Crown Law for prosecution.

For reasons that will become clear, it is important to note that this was a raid carried out by the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, three bodies are statutorily-empowered to investigate and prosecute animal welfare cases; the Police, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and the SPCA. Only the Police and MAF are fully state-funded, the SPCA relies for 98% of its income on private donations. Continue reading

Against the Proposed New Elephant Enclosure at Auckland Zoo

Plans were approved in August this year to expand the elephant enclosure at Auckland Zoo to six times its current area.  The importation of another 9 elephants to join the current sole occupant, Burma, would make this the only elephant herd in Australasia. The planned extension into Western Springs Park is estimated (by many accounts, unrealistically) to cost $13 million and the zoo plans to expand into 22000 square metres of the park.

Two main arguments have been made for this. First, that Burma is in need of companions as elephants are intelligent, empathic, social animals and she has only recently lost her companion, Kashin. Second, that the herd will be valuable for conservation. Given a choice between sending one animal to a reserve overseas or committing to the hugely-expensive upkeep of ten elephants, the City has chosen the latter.

This goes against international trends to close elephant enclosures. As pointed out in SAFE’s excellent submission to the Auckland City Council Combined Committees, enclosures closed this decade include London (2002), San Francisco (2005), Detroit (2005), Lincoln Park, Chicago (2005), Alaska (2007), and Philadelphia (2009). A significant number of zoos have also committed to gradually phasing out their herds by not replacing elephants.

Continue reading

Cultural Significance v Animal Rights: The Constitutional Challenge to the Ban on Bullfighting in Catalonia

The oddly familiar-looking Constitutional Court of Spain

Bullfighting was banned in the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia on 28 July this year, with the ban coming into full effect in 2012.

Now, three months to the day later, the Spanish Constitutional Court (housed in a rather Beehive-esque building) has accepted an appeal lodged by the Partido Popular (People’s Party, PP) challenging Catalonia’s ban on cultural, economic and administrative grounds. The PP is a conservative, nationalist party known for such other legislative projects as restricting immigration to Catalonia and deporting immigrants who have not learnt the Catalan language to proposed minimum standards.

If the appeal is successful, the Court may overturn the regional ban (I have written in detail on this ban here). However, the Court can take months or years to deliver a judgment.
The central constitutional provision is article 149, which provides that the State has exclusive jurisdiction over conditions governing ‘the equality of all Spanish in exercising their constitutional rights.’ This is advanced as the basis for the following three grounds of appeal: Continue reading

Schechita, Halal and Ministerial Conflicts of Interest

It’s been a week of big announcements about animal welfare from the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter. We’ve seen not only the phase-out of sow crates but also the reversal of his decision in May 2010 to outlaw the traditional Jewish method of slaughter, schechita, for chickens.

Schechita slaughter requires the animal to be fully conscious as its throat is cut and it is allowed to bleed out. The NAWAC animal slaughter code created under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (AWA) requires that an animal to be slaughtered must be first rendered insensible – stunned – so that it does not experience ‘unnecessary’ pain or distress. Although Muslims also object to the stunning of animals at slaughter, a compromise has been reached with halal slaughter whereby the animal is stunned at the instant the cut is made.

But there’s one revelation about the reasons behind the decision to ban schechita in the first place that the Minister would rather not see the light of day.

Documents obtained by the Herald on Sunday:

[A]ppear to show Carter broke the rules governing his portfolio by considering trade implications when making the original decision.

An allegation of conflict of interest has been made because of that – he holds shares in a company which exports meat and met with senior managers who wanted a ban on shechita to protect their interests. Continue reading

Sow Crates Are To Be Phased-Out: But ‘harrowing’ crates remain

The Minister for Agriculture, David Carter, has confirmed that the new Pig Welfare Code will phase out the use of sow crates in New Zealand within the next five years. The ban will come into full effect in early 2016.

Many readers will remember that SoLVe (the University of Auckland Law Faculty student group that was the genesis of this blog) hosted a seminar given by Peter Sankoff (to a packed lecture theatre) on this issue on May 27th 2009.

A ban on sow stalls included in the draft welfare code was leaked to SAFE (Save Animals From Exploitation) in February this year.

The draft code, developed by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), was to be released for public notification in December 2009 but was delayed following legal threats from the New Zealand Pork Industry Board. NAWAC preferred a ban by December 2017, a full two years later than the deadline that has been decided.

Sow stalls have already been banned in the United Kingdom and Sweden and will be soon phased out in Finland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark. Continue reading