The Bill has just been reported back from the Primary Production Select Committee. Like most bills it contains a mix of things that we agree with and those that we don’t. It has mostly been a missed opportunity to get it right for animals experiencing the greatest suffering in NZ which is in animal testing and factory farming.
The Good – transitional arrangements
The most significant positive change that was made at Select Committee was to close the loophole that allowed the development of regulations that breach the purpose of the Animal Welfare Act for an indefinite period of time. I had an amendment which removed that loophole. Many submissions were received in support of my amendment.
After intense deliberation at the Select Committee, that loophole has mostly been removed, and instead there is now provision for transitional arrangements to be in place for up to a maximum of 15 years (10 years plus one 5 year extension) to allow farmers time to phase out a practice that is in breach of the Act. At present, this will mainly apply to farrowing crates in intensive pig farms which are currently recognised as being in breach of the Act. If in future, other practices (such as colony cages) are reviewed and found to be in breach of the Act, and then the industry will have at most 15 years to phase them out. This is a positive move for animal welfare and I am proud to have played a part in achieving this outcome.
The Bad – no changes to animal testing
It is very disappointing that the National members of the Select Committee decided, at the last minute, to reject my amendments to reduce the number of animals used in testing and include ban on animal testing of cosmetics. The National Government and John Key in particular, took pride in excluding animal testing in the Psychoactive Substances Act due to public outrage about the unnecessary suffering involved. However, his Government is now imposing a double standard by not supporting a ban on animal testing for cosmetics and by not requiring alternatives to animal testing to be used where suitable alternatives exist. Animals are subjected to extremely high levels of pain and suffering in these tests, and we should be doing everything we can to reduce them.
By not adopting a ban on animal testing of cosmetics, they are choosing to ignore overwhelming public opinion. Polls show that nearly 90% of people want to see animal testing of cosmetics ruled out in this country. Banning cosmetics testing would bring us in line with other countries, including, India, Israel and all 28 countries of the EU that have recently done the same. I am hoping that National will change its mind and support these amendments when the Bill is deliberated on by the whole house.
The Ugly – economic impact and practicality elevated
The Bill contains a new clause that elevates practicality and economic impact as factors that can be taken into account by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) when carrying out their functions including developing regulations. As NAWAC already has the ability to take into account these factors, and economic impact and practicality have already been used to justify the codes of welfare that allow animals to be kept in cruel cramped cages, the explicit elevation of these factors in this Bill is extremely concerning. It sends the wrong message about which factors are important when developing codes of welfare or regulations and makes it more likely that the factory farming systems such as intensive pig farming and colony cages will continue to remain legal on technical grounds, despite the strong evidence that such systems are extremely cruel and cause prolonged suffering for millions of animals.
Missed Opportunity – Commissioner for animal welfare
Another major area of concern is that the Ministry of Primary Industries continues to be the main agency responsible for enforcing animal welfare in farming in NZ. This conflict of interest means that MPI cannot be relied upon to effectively monitor animal welfare standards. Currently less than 1% of complaints result in prosecutions. The Government has already made it clear that there will not be any increased resource allocated to ensure improved monitoring and enforcement. The very low level of prosecutions by MPI and the lack of a proactive inspection regime for factory farms mean that much animal suffering and cruelty is allowed to continue in factory farms out of the public eye and is often deemed to be legal. The Green Party supports the establishment of an independent Parliamentary Commissioner for animals who takes over responsibility for animal welfare from MPI.