When the new Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was introduced in 2000, a sense of optimism was felt in the animal welfare community. The new AWA replaced the Animals Protection Act, written in 1962. The old Act was a complete failure for animals as it did not recognise their most basic needs and was near impossible to enforce.
The new AWA promised to remedy the old Act’s failings and provide better protection for animals by placing more responsibility on ‘owners’ of animals and setting minimum standards of care via newly established welfare codes. Of particular interest to SAFE was Section 10 of the Act, requiring that animals must have the ability to display normal behaviour. Surely, this would bring an end to some of the worst factory farming practices such as battery hen farming, pig crates and other practices where the animals clearly could not display any of their normal behaviour?
We could not have been more wrong! Instead of protecting animals, the Act had so many deliberately built-in loopholes that it became, in fact, a protector of commercial animal abusers. Under this Act, more hens were crammed in battery cages than ever before, pigs continued to be incarcerated for life in narrow metal crates and meat chickens were kept at a stocking density of 20 birds per square metre. The new Act also failed animals used in research and those used in the entertainment industries. The codes of welfare developed under the Act not only undermined the very principles of the Act but also made any meaningful enforcement near impossible.
SAFE calls for changes
We want to see the establishment of an independent Commission for Animals, we want breaches of welfare codes to become offences, a ban on practices that do not meet the obligations of the Act such as battery hen farming, a complete overhaul of animal ethics committees that oversee animal experimentation and meaningful protection for wild animals that are hunted or considered as pests.
The Government will be calling for public submissions in August and SAFE will ask its supporters to speak out for animals during this time. SAFE will show good faith by participating in the review process even though we are highly skeptical about the motivation behind the review. From past experience we know that the animal-using industries have a strong influence on the decision-making process, thus ensuring that their exploitative practices continue unabated. We have no reason to believe that this year’s review will be any different so we must ensure that our voice becomes louder than those of the abusers.
While the Government keeps repeating the same old mantra that New Zealand already has high animal welfare standards, those who care about animals know that this is simply not true. In the end the proof will be in the pudding. Will a new revised Animal Welfare Act ban practices that do not allow animals to express their normal behaviour? Will it stop laboratory animals from being subjected to experiments that cause high levels of suffering? Will it provide meaningful protection for animals hunted for ‘sport’ or targeted as ‘pests’?
SAFE will judge this review on the outcomes for animals, not on the spin put out by the Government or animal-exploiting industries. Real change for animals can be achieved but only if good people speak out.
Let’s make it happen
So stay in touch with SAFE, join us in the public consultation process and let our combined voices be heard; and then help us put the pressure on the politicians to make a real difference for animals!
Hans Kriek, SAFE Executive director