Comment

Animal welfare complex and demanding: MPI

It’s important MPI is scrutinised over animal welfare so it can be as effective as possible, but incorrect and misinformed analysis doesn't help, writes MPI acting director of compliance Gary Orr 

Catriona MacLennan’s opinion piece A long history of animal welfare cruelty and neglect incorrectly states that the Ministry for Primary Industries is not willing to enforce animal welfare laws. In fact the long list of successful prosecutions at the end of her piece tells an entirely different story.

To suggest, as Ms MacLennan does, that MPI is incapable of enforcing animal welfare because of its remit to grow the primary industries is patently false.

First and foremost we enforce animal welfare because it is important in its own right – that’s one reason MPI’s compliance function is run separately from the rest of the organisation. In addition, there is no inherent contradiction between growing the primary industries and ensuring good animal welfare. As Ms MacLennan has noted in the article, consumers around the world are demanding good animal welfare credentials.

Ms MacLennan correctly points out that members of the public are a key source of information about animal welfare breaches. In this, MPI is no different to any enforcement agency around the world. You wouldn’t, for example, expect the police to knock on everyone’s door each night to ensure they were not breaking the law.

When MPI receives animal welfare complaints they are followed up, assessed and if needed, result in action being taken. Virtually all complaints received by MPI are followed up with an inspection of the farm and the animals concerned.

You wouldn’t, for example, expect the police to knock on everyone’s door each night to ensure they were not breaking the law.

Ms MacLennan’s suggestion that MPI should supplement this with proactive visits to farms is already happening – it’s called the On Farm Audit Programme and information about it is on MPI’s website.

The programme covers 1200 farms annually and including a minimum of 300 dairy farms. The audits are randomly selected and targeted.

In addition, we employ more than 200 veterinarians who work at export meat plants throughout New Zealand. Part of their role is to inspect animals on arrival. Animals that are presented in an unfit state are referred to MPI Compliance for follow-up. A range of factors are checked including lesions and bruising which are specifically checked for on carcasses as part of meat inspection and all cases are followed up by MPI veterinarians based at the meat plant.

Finally, the opinion piece referred to a single recidivist offender as epitomising the criticisms of MPI. The person in question had been prosecuted on a number of occasions before finally being banned from owning stock for 20 years. According to Ms MacLennan “tougher action” should have been taken against the person earlier. It is the courts, not MPI, that decides the punishment. MPI did take tough action, and secured a number of convictions and fines.

Ensuring animal welfare is complex and demanding. It’s a job for all New Zealand. Everyone’s got a role to play. However, as a government agency we think it’s important we are scrutinised so we can be as effective as possible. Incorrect and misinformed analysis does not help. 

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