Animal advocacy organisations SAFE and Farmwatch say news of the conviction of a dairy farmer who was recently fined $500 and ordered to pay $500 costs following the now infamous case of the mistreatment of a cow filmed suspended from a ‘hip clamp’ in 2015 sends a message that cruel treatment will not be tolerated. While this is a step in the right direction, there is still a lot more that needs to be done to prevent cruelty happening in the first place. The footage was released as part of SAFE and Farmwatch’s investigations into the treatment of animals in the New Zealand dairy industry, and is the fifth prosecution to result from footage filmed by Farmwatch volunteer investigators.
Farmwatch spokesperson John Darroch says, “We are pleased to see the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) taking these cruelty cases seriously. However, prosecutions only go so far and act as a minimal deterrent. More time, effort and funds need to be put into preventing cruelty to vulnerable animals in the first place.”
The footage, filmed in the Waikato, was of a mother cow left suspended by a ‘hip clamp’ from a tractor, whilst her dead calf lay metres away. After some time, her front legs collapsed, but she remained hanging by the hip clamp for 30 minutes, before the farmer arrived back. The cow was then dragged away by the tractor, still attached to the hip clamp. Cows may be unable to get up for a number of reasons. These ‘recumbent cattle’ are sometimes supported or lifted up by hip clamps for limited time periods. This is legal, however the cruel treatment of the cow in the ‘hip clamp’ footage was found to contravene the law. The footage was posted on SAFE’s Facebook page and went viral. It has since been viewed over 22 million times, sparking outrage and vigorous debate internationally.
This case follows on from cruelty convictions of two workers at Down Cow Ltd slaughterhouse for severe mistreatment of calves. The slaughterhouse owners are currently being prosecuted. In May 2017, a farmer was also convicted of cruelty for dragging a newborn calf by the hind leg along the ground for 40 metres, as the mother followed in distress. These cases have all come about as a result of Farmwatch and SAFE investigations and have led to a shift in public sentiment about the New Zealand dairy industry.
Although SAFE is pleased to see MPI taking animal welfare cruelty cases seriously, there are still several issues that need to be addressed.
“It should not be up to volunteers and non-profits to expose issues of animal cruelty. Without Farmwatch filming, these kinds of incidents go completely unnoticed, and unpunished. SAFE is concerned that there are likely many more animals suffering,” says Mandy Carter, SAFE campaigns director.
The latest conviction announcement comes over two years after footage was handed to MPI. SAFE says MPI has been woefully underfunded by the previous government with far too few inspectors (around twelve) to cover the geographically challenging locations of many of NZ’s farms. SAFE says there should be more funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and a separate unit tasked with animal welfare.
“There is a clear conflict of interest when the same ministry department is tasked with both promoting the interests of industry and at the same time, animal welfare,” says Ms Carter. “SAFE urges the new government to urgently put in place a separate, independent animal welfare body.”