How we treat animals matters not just to animals, but to ourselves and overseas markets.
OPINION : One of the most important issues I look after in my role as Primary Industries Minister is animal welfare, especially on farms.
New Zealanders care deeply about how animals are treated. Sixty eight per cent of households have at least one pet, and we earn around $20 billion a year by exporting animal products such as meat, milk and wool.
How we treat animals matters not just to animals, but to ourselves and overseas markets. Increasingly consumers around the world are demanding higher standards.
In the last few years we’ve made a lot of changes to animal welfare rules. We’ve banned the use of animal testing for cosmetics, banned live shark finning, banned the use of sow stalls for pigs and by 2022 we will have phased out the use of battery cages for hens.
In November 2014 the global charity World Animal Protection ranked New Zealand first equal out of 50 countries for our animal welfare regulatory system, and in 2015 we boosted funding for animal welfare by $10 million.
Of course this doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels, and we have been constantly looking to make improvements over the last few years.
The new Animal Welfare Amendment Act gives the Ministry for Primary Industries the power to bring in new regulations and enforce them with fines, which can be an important tool for offences which might not warrant a full prosecution.
This week we announced 46 new regulations will be coming into force on 1 October next year. These cover a wide range of areas including the size of farrowing crates for pigs, transporting livestock, and providing good conditions for dogs.
As with all rules on animal welfare, we have taken our advice from the independent experts on the National Animal Welfare Advisory Council (NAWAC).
For most good farmers and animal owners they will notice very little difference from these new rules. But for those who aren’t meeting current minimum standards in codes of welfare, there will be clearer rules and these will be easier to enforce.
One of the more contentious decisions we’ve made is a ban on docking dogs tails unless a vet approves it. I’m pleased with the positive feedback so far. In particular the New Zealand Veterinary Association has welcomed the new regulations as a "win for the wellbeing of our animals".
One of the unsung success stories over the last couple of years has been a major improvement in how bobby calves are treated after cases of mistreatment were revealed in the media. As a result, new rules were brought in together with an education campaign and a lot of hard work from farmers and industry groups to raise standards.
Last year the mortality rate for bobby calves between farm and processing more than halved, from 0.25 per cent to 0.12 percent. As well as this 50% drop in mortality, calves are also arriving in much better health and condition.
It’s a great result and shows that by working together we can make real improvements in how we treat animals in New Zealand.
Nathan Guy is the Minister for Primary Industries.