After ten years of stony silence on animal welfare in Parliament, and MPs rolling their eyes and cracking jokes whenever I raised animal welfare issues in the House, it was great to hear MPs speaking passionately about the need to stamp out animal cruelty in New Zealand during a debate on the Animal Welfare Amendment bill yesterday.
The Minister announced solemnly that “all acts of cruelty are unacceptable to this Parliament.”
Which sounded great.
The only problem though is that the New Zealand Parliament legalises and supports institutionalised animal cruelty in the form of codes of welfare which make it legal to keep pigs and hens in cages indefinitely, which has to be animal cruelty in anyone’s definition.
The problem with the bill is its extremely narrow scope. It deals only with individual acts of cruelty and deftly ignores all forms of institutionalised cruelty to animals –which of course make up most cases of animal cruelty.
It is a perfect example of what Peter Sankoff calls political double standards on animal welfare. “Politicians only hate some kinds of animal cruelty and are perfectly happy to promote other types,” he observed. How true. Only the Green party opposes the institutionalised cruelty to animals in the form of sow crates and battery hen cages.
Still, having waxed eloquent about the need to stamp out animal cruelty it will be hard for the Minister – or other politicians – to sit on their hands and do nothing about sow crates and battery hen cages. If they do they will be accused of massive hypocrisy.
It was also a bit of a joke to think that increasing the lengths of sentences would reduce animal abuse, when in fact enforcement authorities are so under resourced that few prosecutions are ever even made for animal cruelty in New Zealand.
MAF has only five full time inspectors in the whole of New Zealand and basically delegates its duty to take prosecutions to the SPCA –a cash strapped voluntary organisation.
So the Government had better do something about that too, or the bill will be simple window dressing.