29 Jun 2018

Cow beating: Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor admits initial MPI response 'not good enough'

From Checkpoint, 5:36 pm on 29 June 2018

MPI's initial response to complaints of animal cruelty was not good enough,  Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says, and he will consider changing the law to make it easier to prosecute. 

Animal rights organisation Farmwatch yesterday released footage of a sharemilker beating his cows with a steel pipe and accused the Ministry for Primary Industries of failing to properly investigate complaints.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

In response the Green Party has called for changes including allowing the installation of cameras to monitor stock, which is illegal

The minister responsible for animal welfare, Meka Whaitiri, also said the government would look to boost the number of animal welfare officers. 

Speaking to Checkpoint from Brisbane, Mr O'Connor admitted that MPI's initial response to the complaint about the sharemilker - finding there was insufficient evidence to proceed with investigation - was not good enough. 

"And I'll be seeking advice, and I'm sure minister Whaitiri has asked for that already, as to where are the gaps in the law that prevent them stepping in," he said.

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Minister Responsible for Animal Welfare Meka Whaitiri Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

"We have changed general welfare legislation not so long ago, so we're just going to have to keep upgrading it. 

He said it would need to be upgraded to improve standards to what MPI wanted, which was that New Zealand would have the highest animal welfare standards in the world. 

He said having just 22 animal welfare officers was "clearly not sufficient". 

"We are working to boost that number, but we work with other agencies, as we do with biosecurity as well, that we have to rely on other New Zealanders ... to identify where faults and failings are occurring and we follow up on that." 

"We work with the RSPCA to make sure that we are out there, on the ground, checking on people and following up notifications." 

He said the ministry had to find a balance, however, between animal welfare and the realities of farming. 

"SAFE can make complaints but they believe that there should be no animal farming in New Zealand, and so ... we've got to keep a balance here. 

"We've got to ensure we have the highest standards, we allow animals to move freely if they can, but nonetheless it is a reality that it's a farm system for production. 

"We have systems that are far more natural than other places in the world and I guess we should be proud of that, but that's not an excuse in any way for the kind of outrageous behaviour seen in that video. No one would support that."

Mr O'Connor said the ministry had to rely on members of the public to report abuse.