25 Oct 2016

Farmwatch footage reveals bobby calves thrown, dragged

From Checkpoint, 5:07 pm on 25 October 2016

Activist group Farmwatch has released hidden-camera footage of bobby calves being thrown onto trucks, dropped to the ground and dragged by their limbs.

Warning: Some people might find the video and images in this story disturbing.

Farmwatch's latest investigation involves about 10 farms in Taranaki and Waikato, from August this year.

Farmwatch's latest investigation involves about 10 farms in Taranaki and Waikato, from August this year. Photo: Supplied / Farmwatch

It has been almost a year since the group went public with its last major exposé, which showed similar treatment as well as calves being killed through blunt force, and kicked and beaten, resulting in a public outcry and new industry guidelines.

Back then, many in the industry blamed the mistreatment on a few bad apples.

However, Farmwatch says its latest investigation shows this is untrue - and that the abuse of calves is a common practice in one of New Zealand's biggest industries.

In November 2015, Farmwatch released footage from the earlier undercover investigation into dairy farms. The footage, obtained using hidden cameras, showed very young calves being beaten and being thrown into metal stalls and trucks.

Many were outraged by the footage and Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE), which was involved in that video's release, arranged an advertisement in Britain's The Guardian condemning the calves' treatment.

Farmwatch has completed another investigation, this time involving about 10 farms in Taranaki and Waikato from August this year. The latest video, released to Checkpoint with John Campbell, showed calves being thrown forcefully onto trucks and dropped onto the ground.

"What you can see here is the workers just throwing them, hurling them, into the back of the truck," Farmwatch spokesman John Darroch said. "He just chucks it by the neck backwards."

After Farmwatch's earlier exposé, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) changed the rules for the industry. On 1 August, new regulations came into force that meant cows must be at least four days old - roughly the age from when they can walk - to be sent to slaughter.

They could not be transported for more than 12 hours, and workers could no longer kill calves with blunt force to the head.

Mr Darroch said the furore from the first exposé had faded, but the mistreatment was still going on.

"[The shots are] absolutely indistinguishable. If you put the shots beside each other, I would have a difficult time telling them apart. Nothing has changed in terms of how calves are being loaded onto the back of trucks."

From August 2017, farmers would be required to use ramps to move calves onto trucks.

Mr Darroch, however, said MPI's law changes so far had done little.

"They didn't need to change the law in order to prosecute workers for this kind of thing - this treatment of animals was illegal, and is still illegal under the Animal Welfare Act ... Workers were doing it then, and they're still doing it now."

The dairy industry had, in the past, pinned the abuse on a few bad workers, he said.

"This is representative of the handling of calves, and when we place hidden cameras we get this kind of footage ... If it were only a few people doing this, it would be impossible for us to get this footage."

Mr Darroch said Farmwatch did sometimes break the law in its investigations. He refused to say if a camera found hidden in a Waikato farm this month belonged to his group.

Lobby group SAFE was appalled, but not surprised, by Farmwatch's footage.

Campaign manager Mandy Carter said regulations were fine, but no-one was watching to make sure they were being followed.

"MPI has a major issue in that they only have about 17 inspectors for the whole country, and we have millions of animals, being an agricultural nation."

It was in the government and industry's best interests for the public not to know how the dairy sector really functioned, she said.

"What the public need to ask themselves is are they willing to accept that. Is that a price they're willing for the cows and calves to pay just so we can have milk and cheese? Because it's a high price."

MPI: Behaviour 'deeply disappointing'

MPI compliance operations manager Gary Orr said the behaviour in the newly released footage was disappointing, and the ministry would investigate it.

"It's deeply disappointing to us all, as it will be to the wider industry quite frankly."

There would always be some people who didn't follow the rules, despite the best efforts of the ministry's inspectors and other compliance officers, he said.

"We are never going to have enough resources to monitor every farm."

Dairy NZ chief executive Tim Mackle said the industry had made progress in the past year, but there was still more to do.

It was unacceptable to drag calves along the ground in a paddock when they could be picked up and carried, he said.

Last year, the country produced 21 billion litres of milk, and dairy exports were worth $12bn.


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  • Call for people to dob in animal abusers
  • Shocking video of dairy industry emerges