The Government is moving to give more teeth to its animal welfare regulations, with a fivefold increase in fines in the pipeline.
Changes to the Animal Welfare Act are proposed that will replace codes of welfare with a mix of mandatory standards and guidelines. The proposals will be aired in workshops over the next three weeks.
In a draft strategy, the ministry proposes more infringement offences, with a maximum infringement fee increased from $200 to $1000.
Compliance orders that will allow animal welfare inspectors to require a person to take action to remedy non-compliance with regulations are also proposed.
The proposals will not change exports of live animals, which have been restricted to small batches of elite breeding stock for nine years. Shipments of large numbers of sheep to Arab countries were stopped in 2003 when a shipload of 57,000 Australian sheep was stranded at sea after it was refused entry by Saudi authorities.
The strategy proposes to regulate animal welfare standards for exports. Up till now they have been guidelines under the Customs Act with no legal weight. One rule will be that New Zealand's reputation for animal welfare must be considered when deciding to allow exports.
The ministry also wants to change the rules around allowing exceptions to the act.
This provision has been used rarely but has always been controversial. It has been used in codes of welfare covering layer hens, pigs, circuses and commercial slaughter.
One exception would be allowed during the transition to tougher rules. The ministry gives the phasing out of sow stalls by 2015 as an example.
Another is a need, in "genuinely exceptional circumstances", to exempt a religious practice from the act.
This exemption has already been granted to Jews, who are allowed to kill a small number of animals without stunning.
Also under the proposals, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee's role would change from developing codes of welfare to more of an advisory role.
Submissions close on September 28.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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