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Charges laid in Northland cow beating case

Six charges have been laid against an individual as a result of footage showing cows being beaten with a steel pipe on a Northland farm.

The Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI) confirmed the charges today after a lengthy investigation. Footage was supplied to MPI on June 21 this year, and the farm was searched June 28 - the same day Newsroom broke the story.

Manager of compliance investigations, Gary Orr said: "Six charges have been filed against an individual under the Animal Welfare Act."

As the matter is now before the courts, he would not comment further on the case and MPI would not share what the six charges are.

The footage captured by hidden cameras included cows being hit around the face and legs, as well as being hit in the legs with a length of steel pipe.

Animal rights advocacy group, Farmwatch, which supplied the hidden camera footage warned there could be many more instances of abuse occurring on farms.

“We are happy that this individual is being held accountable, but we are deeply concerned about how many other abusive farmers we have been contacted about. A lot of dairy farm workers have contacted us saying that they have seen even worse, but they can't speak out for safety reasons or fear of losing their jobs,” said Farmwatch’s Debbie Matthews.

In the Northland case farm workers had attempted to raise the issue with the farm owner and MPI previously.

An MPI inspector visited the farm after the first complaint but found nothing wrong.

A farm worker told Newsroom the visit did not change the contract milker’s behaviour and a month after MPI visited, he started using a steel pipe to beat cows’ legs.

“That was enough for me, I couldn’t take it. I just wanted to hit him,” said the worker, who described the cows’ legs as “ridiculously swollen”.

The farm worker contacted MPI again by phone to tell them about the steel pipe. They said they were told the case was closed and nothing more could be done without proof.

“We went through the right channels. We went to the owner first, nothing was done. We went to MPI, nothing was done. We didn’t want to leave it,” said the worker.

SAFE head of campaigns Marianne Macdonald said while she was pleased with the outcome, the case highlighted what she saw as failings from MPI.

“The fact that it was already reported to them that these incidents were going on and all they did was a cursory visit without even taking a vet. The farm worker was allowed to keep beating these cows day after day for months.”

She said two important changes needed to be made to protect the welfare of animals.

The first was to protect whistleblowers and to guarantee confidentiality for those coming forward.

“They are scared of repercussions, particularly if they live in small rural communities because there’s often a culture of silence. There may be a lot of people knowing animals are in danger, they’re being abused but a lot of people don’t feel comfortable to come forward.”

MPI does allow for anonymous complaints and are bound by the Privacy Act to not divulge details of the complainant.

However, for a court case against an animal abuser to be successful there needs to be evidence of abuse or testimony from somebody who witnessed it.

Testimony can be provided as a written statement, but this must include the name and address of the witness. It’s up to the judge whether the name and address are redacted.

Macdonald also thinks MPI should not be in charge of animal welfare.

“At the moment we’ve got a broken system where MPI are charged with promoting primary industry and protecting animal welfare.

“We want to see MPI stripped of its Animal Welfare responsibilities and replaced with an independent body that has the powers and the funding to really be able to both investigate and enforce animal welfare.”

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