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‘Abhorrent’ behaviour has no place in dairy industry

Hidden camera footage of a sharemilker hitting cows with a steel pipe has been called “disturbing” and “abhorrent” by the dairy industry.

The sharemilker had previously been the subject of a complaint to the Ministry for Primary Industries about other claims of animal abuse. That inquiry was dropped due to a lack of evidence

Farmwatch supplied footage of the sharemilker hitting the cows around the head with alkathene, and on the legs with a steel pipe to the Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) last week.

When contacted yesterday MPI said it does not comment on individual cases. This morning MPI confirmed to Newsroom an investigation is underway.

“MPI began an immediate investigation as soon as it received the footage last Thursday. As this is an active investigation, we cannot comment further at this stage,”said acting director, compliance services, Gary Orr.

DairyNZ’s strategy leader Dr Jenny Jago said the footage was disturbing.

“It is not okay to treat any animal poorly - ever - and the vast majority of farmers care deeply about their animals.”

She said the behaviour caught on hidden cameras is not representative of thousands of dairy farmers who are passionate about animal welfare.

“Cruel and illegal practices are not in any way condoned or accepted by the dairy sector as part of dairy farming. If a farmer treats their cows badly, they shouldn’t be working in the dairy sector. It’s as simple as that.”

A Fonterra spokesperson also said animal abusers should be removed from the industry.

“This behaviour is abhorrent and has no place in our industry. We support MPI’s efforts to prosecute the people responsible for this type of behaviour and remove them from our industry.”

When asked what Fonterra’s policy is on buying milk from farms where abuse had been uncovered, the spokesperson said: “Only farmers who meet strict animal welfare standards can supply to us.”

However, Fonterra said it would continue to purchase milk from the Northland farm until the formal investigation has been completed and would make a decision on the matter.

The Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ) said it “supports MPI taking strong compliance action” in this case, and in other cases of mistreatment.

“There is no excuse for mistreatment of animals and no place for those who mistreat animals in our industry, ” said executive director Kimberly Crewther.

The sharemilker caught on camera hitting cows’ legs with a steel pipe has previously featured in vitamin promotions. Photo: Supplied

The sharemilker caught on camera hitting cows’ legs with a steel pipe has previously appeared in an Ashburton Guardian newspaper advertising feature titled “Helping to kick the lameness headache”. The feature promoted VetLSD, a vitamin supplement for cows.

When contacted by Newsroom and asked whether it planned to use the sharemilker in future promotion VetLSD said it did not want to comment.

Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri, who is responsible for animal welfare, said the behaviour shown in the footage was “totally unacceptable of anybody treating any animals”.

MPI had received the footage last Thursday and was currently investigating, Whaitiri said.

She would not comment on whether the Ministry should have acted sooner in response to earlier approaches from farm workers, but said there needed to be greater transparency when it came to addressing complaints.

Whaitiri said a new government framework for action on animal welfare outlined the need to improve funding for monitoring and action, as well as the possible creation of an independent “commissioner for animals”.

“I actually think we need an independent voice on animal welfare issues, as well as strengthening codes, I think - no, I know - will make a big difference on how we treat animals in this country.”

While the industry had made major gains in conforming to animal welfare codes, “you [were] always going to have a bad apple” when it came to ill-treatment.

“This particular farmer and the footage that is now in the hands of MPI shows that he isn’t looking after his animals.

“Is it widespread? I’d like to think not, however if we’ve got the right resource in terms of animal welfare folk on the ground, if we’re working smarter with other advocate groups locally, then I think we can address this issue and actually eradicate it completely out of the way we treat animals in this country.”

New Zealand’s animal welfare record was a key part of the country’s reputation when it sold its agriculture products to the world, Whaitiri said.

The Green Party’s animal welfare spokesperson, Gareth Hughes, has called for a review of MPI’s investigation of the sharemilker saying the abuse should have been detected and prosecuted the first time the farm was investigated.

“MPI needs to do its job and investigate or the entire country’s animal welfare standards will be questioned.”

Animal welfare group SAFE said “… this case highlights the serious failings of New Zealand’s animal welfare enforcement since the perpetrator was previously investigated by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in 2017.”

Read more:

Hidden cameras reveal milking shed beatings

A long history of animal cruelty and neglect

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