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Animal Welfare

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Pig Farmers: The NZ Pork Industry Board Is Keeping Your Secrets Safe Tonight

And these are the crates they'll let us see...

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.

In any event, this tactic will simply not work. The Pork Industry Board is listed in the schedule to the OIA and section 2(5) of the Act is clear that “official information” includes:

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.

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Catalonia Bans Bullfighting

Spain’s Catalonian regional parliament has banned bullfighting in a vote of 68 – 55 with nine abstaining.

It is the second Spanish region after the Canary Islands (which banned bullfighting in 1991) to outlaw the practice and the first on the mainland.

Bullfighting is a brutal spectacle  in which the torture and death of the bull is the end of a life-long process of abuse and mistreatment (I’ve written on this in more detail here) and this is a significant victory for a coalition of Catalonian animal rights groups called “Prou!” meaning “Enough!”  They initated the vote by submitting a 180 000-signature petition to the parliament, calling for a ban.

The vote was not a cut-and-dry animal welfare issue as the rejection of this emblematically Spanish tradition is also widely interpreted as animated by separatist sentiment. Of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions, Catalunya has the greatest degree of autonomy along with the Basque region. It has even been suggested that the vote was calculated in last-minute lobbying as retaliation for a recent decision from Spain’s Constitutional court which has curtailed some of the proudly-independent region’s autonomy in law-making.

This is an exciting advance made against one of the most tradition-bound forms of animal suffering. The commercial significance of the ‘sport’ falls far short of that in the Spanish capital of Madrid and Andalucia to the South, when the law comes into effect in 2012 it will close Barcelona’s last remaining bullring, La Monumental. This may limit the spread of the ban to the other regions.

But there is still work to do. Activists have now set their sights on a ban on the Correbous, an annual festival in the region in which flaming torches and even fireworks are fastened to the bulls’ horns and they are set loose, frightened, disoriented and often suffering burns, to run around  an enclosure for the amusement of onlookers.

Bullfighting Ban Proposed in Spain

A 'noble art'

UPDATE: The ban was passed into law by the Parliament of Catalonia on the 28 July 2010, coming into full effect in 2012. The final vote was 68 for the ban, 55 against, with nine abstaining. On 28 October, the conservative nationalist, People’s Party lodged an appeal with the Spanish Constitutional Court on the grounds that the regional parliament has exceeded its powers in banning a practice of national cultural significance. For more detail, see our posts here and here.

Bullfighting afficianados have been treated to some spectacularly gory action in 2010. In Spain, in a widely-publicised incident in May, bullfighter Julio Aparicio’s jaw and lower throat were pierced by a bull’s horn which emerged from his mouth. Only one month earlier, Spain’s most charismatic and popular bullfighter, José Tomás, suffered a severe goring in Mexico which required a transfusion of eight litres of blood. The human body normally contains five litres.

But despite the inherent risks, only fifty-two toreadors have died in the ring since 1700. Continue reading

Guest Post: Christian Vegetarianism: Misconceptions and Common Grounds

by James Morrison

James is a relatively recent graduate of the University of Auckland, who admits to an imprudent admiration of St Francis alongside a prodigious capacity for cognitive dissonance. He is currently researching the history of education law in New Zealand while contemplating matching words with deeds.

I am an amateur rather than a scholar of moral theology and the Bible, but I hope that by commenting on the relation of Christianity to veganism or vegetarianism, I can contribute to a more reasoned discussion of this topic than comes from some quarters whose enthusiasm can obscure accuracy.

The first point that I want to make has to do with ‘animal rights’ and ‘animal welfare’.  Christianity does not support animal rights.  It does support animal welfare.  This may well disappoint the more hardcore vegans and vegetarians. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Animal Casualties of War

by Susy Pryde

Susy is in the last semester of her LLB.  She studied in Animals and the Law in summer school 2010.  Throughout her degree, she has worked as a national cycling coach and ran a women’s cycling team based out of North America (since 2006).  She is a former full-time professional athlete.
Cavalry

English cavalry on the Western Front, 1916

‘Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war’
– William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

My brother in law rang my husband recently, to ask if the film, Avatar, would be too scary for their six year-old daughter. The cynic in me queried how a well-reasoned answer could come from dialing our number; we’re child-free and the source of such hoped for wisdom was from a man who abandoned a six year-old’s perspective decades ago. To his credit, he managed to point out that the story is set against large-scale war.  So, there are graphic scenes of flaming horses caught in the crossfire of battle. That might be somewhat disturbing. At least, he added, it would be for a six year-old girl with a growing ‘My Little Pony’ toy collection.

While the boys tailed off into discussions of war, I dwelled on the plight of animals in war: The collateral damage of human conflicts. Not long ago I began reading an historical account of animals used for military purposes.  As far back as 2100 BC, Hammurabi, the sixth King of Babylon and first known author of a written code of law (the Code of Hammurabi), championed the first known use of animals in warfare.  He employed large dogs to fight alongside his elite warriors. Continue reading

New Animal Welfare Act Amendment Bill Introduced in Parliament

With surprisingly little fanfare or attention, the new Animal Welfare Act Amendment Bill has been introduced into Parliament.  You can download a copy of the Bill and read the government’s statement behind it here.

As promised, it’s got more than just an increase in penalty for wilful ill-treatment.

Watch this space to read my review of the Bill in a few days time…

Garth George and the Confused Culture

It’s not often I’m moved to comment on Garth George – for those who are blissfully unfamiliar with his work, he’s a longtime conservative critic for the Herald, who in the past has railed against the decriminalisation of both abortion and homosexuality. Thursday’s Herald included a fascinating editorial in which Mr George commented on the recent 33-dog slaughter in Wellsford, demonstrating a poignant knot that braces much of the globalised Western legal and social culture.

Garth begins his post by enumerating the three things he still cannot get his head around. In his own words:

The first is child abuse, paedophilia and cruelty to domestic animals; the second is male homosexuality; and the third is vegetarianism.

I will refrain from commenting on the second point since this is not the appropriate forum (although I do find the specific phraseology ‘male homosexuality’ fascinating), the first and third of Garth’s big confusions reveal a fascinating contradiction. Interestingly, he spends little time actually commenting on the relative merits or otherwise of vegetarianism or veganism (a distinction he admits ignorance of), and when he meets a member of this strange breed, he, ‘..simply shake[s his] …head in wonder.’ The rest of the editorial is devoted to shaming the perpetrators of some of the more heinous instances of animal cruelty over the recent past. Throughout the post, George makes it clear that he has no practical or comprehensible ethical or philosophical grounding from which this set of arbitrary rules are derived. Continue reading

Comprehensive Review of the Animal Welfare Act?

Interesting comment from David Carter, Minister of Agriculture – and responsible for the Animal Welfare Act 1999.  Not surprisingly, Parliament is fast-tracking Simon Bridges’ Bill to up the penalty on wilful ill-treatment, but Carter indicated in this article that he would consider ‘whether [the Bill] should be widened to make the Animal Welfare Act work better’.  Wow!  Could be significant.  Stay tuned…

Blowing Off Some Steam about Wellsford and Politicians

There’s a lot to be angry about these days.  Ever since a couple of lunatics decided to commit the ‘Wellsford Massacre’, by emptying their shotguns into a shed full of puppies, the media has been alight with stories about animal welfare.  In one sense, that’s good.  We certainly need to be paying more attention to what is, sadly, a prevalent problem.  Nonetheless, there’s a lot to get angry about from the media coverage as well.  I’m not sure whether it’s the media, the killers up in Wellsford, some lady calling me a dick-head, or a combination of all these things, but I’m feeling pretty steamed.  Rather than attempt a coherent blog in this state, I’ll throw out a few points on the ‘things that are making me mad’, and hope it makes some degree of sense in the end.

Disclaimer
Before doing so, a disclaimer.  I worry some times that people read parts of my comments rather than the whole.  So let me state this loud and clear: I am not against punishing people who commit cruelty against animals.  Far from it.  I’ve done as much to try and get sentences fairly applied as anyone, and have written legal articles, drafted submissions to Parliament and worked with prosecutors to bolster sentences for animal abusers.  It is, to be sure, a component of what needs to happen in order to have a country that treats animals better than it currently does.  Nonetheless, as you’ll see from my comments below, I have serious reservations about the way this has suddenly become ‘the answer’ to our problems.

My Talk with Simon Bridges, MP
A few weeks before he introduced his new Bill to raise the maximum penalty for wilful ill-treatment to animals causing death from three to five years, Simon Bridges called me to see what I thought.  I told him I thought it would do absolutely nothing for animals, and might even set back the cause.  I think he was taken aback, as my position seemed both counter-intuitive and contrary to the ‘animal lover’ position.  So I explained.   The problem, as I see it, is not the maximum sentence for the single most serious crime relating to animals.   A three year maximum, believe it or not, is fairly high by New Zealand standards.  Sure, judges rarely impose the maximum, but that’s true for all crimes.  Nonetheless, the three year maximum is not out-of-whack with other jurisdictions, and gives plenty of room to get jail time for those who commit horrid acts. Continue reading

Ummm… What’s There to Think About?

Depressing images from this morning’s New Zealand herald.  The lead story on the internet version of the paper is entitled ‘33 dogs massacred in ‘rifle-killing frenzy‘.

I’ll let you look over the depressing facts yourself.   I’m interested in the legal aspects of the case.  Consider the following facts set out in the Herald – keeping in mind that the Herald ‘facts’ are not necessarily actual ‘facts’:

Yesterday, holding back tears, [the owner] described the sounds of his dogs being shot – sounds that echoed off the quarry walls for 20 minutes.

“They were screaming, making sounds dogs just don’t make. When one was gone, the others knew they’d be next, but they had nowhere to go.”

In all, 23 pups and young dogs, which slept in the owner’s truck, were shot, as were a male and female dog living in a van wreck and eight adult dogs housed in a kennel. They were shot through the grating.

Four pups hiding under their mother in the van survived, as did two other dogs the shooters didn’t see.

These six were taken to the owner’s workshop in Wellsford, but one later died. None of the dogs had been registered.

Pretty despicable stuff, all arising out of a dispute between neighbours over actions taken by the dog.

Almost is frightening is the last paragraph of the story:

SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge said two investigators had visited the property and would determine whether the dogs suffered before they died. A decision would then be made on whether to charge the gunmen. Wilful ill-treatment carries a penalty of up to three years’ jail.

Ummm… Bob, what’s to think about?   Continue reading

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