Animal Welfare Act changes demand step up from Government and society.



Earlier this month the Government signed off on the revised Animal Welfare Act with an amendment that saw the law catch up with what many of us already know. Passed into law was a recognition that non-human animals are sentient beings – that they experience emotions and feelings, happiness and joy, and pain and distress.

It’s a reflection on our society and our naturally anthropocentric legal system that it’s taken so long to get this basic recognition into law. But given the way people treat each other, especially those who are different from the prevailing ethnic or cultural norm, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at our long term failure to treat other animals as the beings they are rather than as things.

If we are sometimes incapable of showing empathy or compassion to other humans, it’s not surprising that we can still mistreat, neglect and abuse non-human animals as well. Not that most of us would starve hundreds of cows as a farmer did near Greymouth, nor commit bestiality on a variety of live and dead animals as recently found in the Manukau District Court. But the ongoing operation of rodeos; the killing for ‘sport’ of large “game” fish; and agricultural and industrial farming practices, even the meat trade itself, (especially if you accept that ‘meat is murder’), all treat animals like inanimate objects, incapable of pain or fear, or sorrow and grief. On a daily basis we humans conveniently assume a superiority and dominance that disregards the sentience, and emotional and moral lives of animals other than ourselves. The irony is that in practice we’re also selective about which animals we respect the sentience in. We would condemn a person that treats a (pet) cat the same way we routinely treat horses in racing or other animals in zoos, entertainment or experiments.

Despite the fact that we live in close association with a number of ‘domesticated’ animals, in relationships that can be significant and long lasting, we don’t generally extend the same compassion, tolerance or regard to those who live in paddocks or intensive farms. But the thought and sight of people killing and eating dogs in Asia, is not so different from the eating of cows or pigs in New Zealand, except for the cultural lens through which we view it. While pork is offensive to Muslims, and Indians wouldn’t eat a cow, Kiwis couldn’t eat a dog, and vegetarians and vegans could eat none of them at all.

Convenience and carefully constructed ignorance help us to live with the paradox and contradictions about our relationships and consumption of animals. The way food is packaged, labelled and marketed, helps us ignore the fact that meat ever was a living, feeling, sentient being. And most consumers would rather not know the origins, lives, transportation, killing and rendering of a chicken or lamb that’s on the plate before them at dinner time. These days, most of us couldn’t slaughter an animal for food, and we prefer not to think about the animal that was the subject of a life, that’s later on our plate. We’d rather not know because the reality is almost too bleak to stomach.

But the government is complicit in mistreatment of animals. In weak provisions in the Animal Welfare Act and related codes, in low penalties for animal abuse, for lax laws on animal experimentation despite some recent changes, the state condones violence against animals all the while recently recognising the sentience of animals in law.

In fact, admitting to the sentience of all animals requires us to apply equal recognition whether they be our cat or dog or the meat on our plate. Compassion might require us to do the same. Now that we’ve finally recognised the sentience of animals, in law, we will need to respect this in practice. That will require better attention to current inhumane practices in sport and recreation, industry and farming, through government and the courts, and in society at large.

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  1. Thanks – Christine for highlighting our neglect in helping protect the welfare of animals. Well written and powerful piece of journalism. Glad to hear about the amendment in legal wording but we need so much more. I know you will understand what I am writing here.

    We have become so desensitized in treating animals as if we have the right to dominate over them and treat them with such disregard and disrespect. Those with big plastic number tags on their ears are not numbers, they are real living creatures that deserve our protection and not our abuse and mistreatment.
    I am not number, I am a live creature.

    My blood boils to just think about those highly intelligent pigs living their whole lives in a cage so small that they can not turn around or move much.
    We are a disgrace as a culture (worldwide) and some of this stems back to the Bible when it states that — ” MAN HAS DOMINION OVER NATURE “.
    We do not have dominion over nature. This quote has been mis-used to defend their dominance and abuse and use of animals for greedy ; self-serving gains.
    We need to continue to protect all living creatures rights to be treated fairly and not with so much greed and abuse and the horrendous ! insane ! ! killing of them for sport. That is why our laws need to be changed even more to protect the power tripping abusers who could care less how animals feel. They are just a commodity to them and not a living, feeling creature.

    • Hi Blake…just for the record, the Hebrew language used in Genesis, where the passage you quote comes from, uses the term Dominion to denote leadership, oversight, responsibility. The idea of the language of Genesis 1:26 is stewardship, not subjugation. In that sense I believe we DO have ‘dominion’ over nature. We are the highest developed creatures on the planet, and we have a responsibility to the planet and our fellow inhabitants to conduct that stewardship with compassion and a deep sense of awe. As a Christian, I believe I have a deeper and stronger foundation for conservatism than the secular humanist, for whom we are just another animal competing with scarce resources.

      • ” We are the highest developed creatures on the planet…”

        Oh yas, indeed. “Highest developed”… We have the highly developed technological ability to annihilate all life on this planet in several different ways. Beat that, Mr Amoeba!

        • Yes, my comment was a practical observation, not a moral one. But to further your point, we have the ability to send space craft to other planets, to perform open heart surgery, to build forms of transport that take us from one side of the planet to the other in a matter of hours, to harness the power of nature to drive engines and light communities and power factories….

          Ever seen a whale fly to the moon Frank?

          • Apparently it is our ability to reason and our opposing thumbs that give us the jump on the rest of the animal kingdom.

  2. Interesting article, although a little too purist for my liking. There is always a risk associated with applying human logic and thought processes to that of an animal.

    If you are interested in bolstering laws to protect the rights and welfare of innocent living beings on New Zealand farms, a good place to start would be protecting the welfare of the cereal aphid.

    One of the many, many predators of the aphid is the parasitic wasp, so called because of the nature of it’s attack. The female wasp flies in and lands on the leaf of a plant next to her aphid of choice. She then turns and reverses in to the aphid, stabbing it with her long, sharp rear spike and lays dozens of eggs inside the aphid. The aphid is now ‘parasitised’. The wasp offspring then feed off the insides of the aphid, eventually causing the aphid to die a long, horrible death before the young wasps break out of the now mummified body of the aphid (Alien style!), only to fly away and find an aphid of their own to parasitise and start the whole process again. All natural and part of the cycle of life in the wild.

    Is there a local branch of aphid rights and do they have a Facebook page? Are there any laws in New Zealand concerning the rights and welfare of aphids? If not, why not?

    The whole point of my post is that I think you are worrying about nothing. There are enough laws to protect the ‘rights’ of animals in NZ. The existing laws just need to be enforced.

  3. So we have an animal rights person who is very religious.

    Until 1080 is banned in this country all animal rights groups should STFU. You have failed.

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