Animal abuse claim sparks law reform change call

20:34, Feb 04 2014

Animal welfare groups want the law on euthanising dairy calves changed after video emerged of a New Zealand worker bludgeoning a calf to death in Chile.

A video of a man, named as former Waikato farmer Zach Ward, clubbing a bobby calf to death on New Zealand company Manuka's dairy operation in Chile has emerged in an investigation into alleged animal abuse in the South American country.

Ward was believed to be the production manager for Manuka at the time the video was recorded. He owned a Waikato farm and had worked for Fonterra until 2008.

While industry representatives sought to reassure people that blunt force was not commonly used, animal welfare groups say the practice is actually much more routine than that.

SAFE campaign manager Mandy Carter told Breakfast this morning that it was difficult to know how widespread the use of blunt force was, but the group had had calls from disillusioned farm workers who were upset by what they had seen happening.

The video from Manuka's dairy operation in Chile had likely caused outrage because "people don't know that this goes on, that this is the reality of dairy," she said.

Farmers in the dairy industry just wanted to get rid of the 1.5 million calves that were considered a waste product of dairy, she said.

"It might mean bludgeoning them on the farm, it might mean sending them off to the slaughterhouse, but they're worthless to them," Carter said.

Further regulation was needed through legislative reform to monitor issues around animal welfare, as the present approach was "absolutely ridiculous," she said.

"I guess there's two issues. There's the welfare of calves on the farm, and is it being monitored, which we know it's not because MPI, Ministry for Primary Industries, has only 10 inspectors for the whole country which is absolutely ridiculous.

"The second issue is the dairy industry cruelty as a whole, the inherent cruelty in the industry which can't be resolved."

Bobby calves killed at a slaughterhouse often did not fare better than those killed on the farm, picked up at four days old and transported distances of 100 kilometres or more to be slaughtered, Carter said.

"They're scared, they're distressed, and they're very weak little young animals, and it's not good."

The group also wanted an independent commissioner for animals, so they would have someone who would stand up for them, Carter said.

"At the moment we have a situation where it's like the fox looking after the hen house - the Ministry for Primary Industries wants to promote industry but they're also in charge of animal welfare," she said.

"Its a bit ridiculous, really."

Federated Farmers Dairy vice-chairman Andrew Hoggard told Fairfax Media the actions of the man in the video showed "no compassion to animals".

"This is just my personal view, but doing that sort of thing to calves would sicken me," he said.

"Sometimes you might get a calf which is deformed, or doesn't stand a chance so you have to put it down.

"I still feel uncomfortable having to put a rifle to its head, it's not a pleasant job but we are in the business of growing animals and making a product from them."

Manuka director Mark Townshend told TVNZ he had sympathy for Ward because there was no vet available to give the animals the lethal injection required under Chile's rules.

Hoggard confirmed that farmers were allowed to use blunt instruments in emergency situations when an animal was suffering. He said, however, farmers were encouraged to use a gun instead.

New Zealand farmers could legally use a blunt instrument, like a hammer or iron bar, to kill calves, however the use of blunt force was uncommon.

Hoggard said he couldn't comment on whether the absence of a lethal injection warranted clubbing the calves to death.

"I wasn't there, don't know what the set-up was," he said.

"Can you blame it on the guy without being there on the ground? I can't really comment."

Farmers in New Zealand were legally allowed to kill calves with instruments such as hammers and iron bars in certain circumstances, such as when the calf is suffering.


Waikato Times