NAWAC is a statutory committee under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, which governs how we interact with and use animals. This is all about human use and welfare protection; therefore it is not an animal rights law.
For clarity, animal welfare advocates accept the use of animals if the animals are treated humanely and the harm to the animals is outweighed by the human benefits.
Animal rights activists believe that animals should be free to live as they see fit and should not be used in any way, for example for food, entertainment, research or even companionship.
Would it be more useful for the pig industry to think about what best serves farmers, their animals and therefore the New Zealand economy?
There has been a lot of media coverage about this and other contentious practices like winter grazing and livestock exports.
In every conversation, there are three clear voices: the industry lobby (“nothing to do here – leave us alone”), activists (“don’t exploit animals at all”) and advocates ( “we support the humane exploitation of animals”).
As a veterinary scientist, and having addressed all these questions many times, it is clear to me that the three positions will not meet.
A deal may not be as important as understanding why progress needs to keep happening – to protect livestock for as long as possible.
This is not the position of an activist. It is that of a scientist and a pragmatist, and it reflects that change is difficult but has to happen and that standing in the way of progress is not a robust strategy.
Animal welfare and our understanding of animal experiences have progressed over decades, if not centuries, and continue to evolve.
In 1964 Ruth Harrison published Animal Machines, which detailed the horrific lives of slaughter calves, pigs and chickens in the UK.
This led to an Independent Government Review and then to the Brambell Report of 1965, which included the genesis of the Five Freedoms which, although now outdated, are still mentioned today.
In 1994, Cam Reid and New Zealander David Mellor launched a new framework for assessing animal welfare (the five domains) which recognized that four physical domains (health, environment, nutrition and behavior) and mental state of an animal contribute to general well-being.
The five domains are now internationally recognized as the primary model for assessing animal welfare; it views wellness on a spectrum, with experiences ranging from negative to positive, rather than linking acceptable wellness outcomes to “liberation from” the worst suffering.
In 2009, the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee introduced the concept of the good life. Animals with a good life experience not only have minimum standards met, but have the opportunity to experience positive well-being (eg, expressing normal behaviors and preferences, having appropriate companionship, playing, exploring).
The fact that animals are “sentient” was recognized in the New Zealand Animal Welfare Act in its 2015 amendment. Sentient animals have the ability to experience both emotional and physical effects which can be positive, neutral or negative.
By understanding where we are in our thinking about animals, their welfare and their sensibilities, it becomes abundantly clear that whelping crates and other practices do not meet the expectations of the Brambell Report, the Five Freedoms, and neither do they contribute to a good life.
Whelping crates are not cared for by the public and do not meet the requirements of animal welfare law.
In 2017, a Department of Primary Industries report on New Zealanders’ views on farm animal welfare showed that over 95% of respondents agreed that “it is important that the welfare being farm animals in New Zealand are protected”.
In 2018, a petition to ban farrowing crates, signed by more than 110,000 people, became the largest animal welfare petition ever presented to Parliament.
It is helpful to remember that there are always cries about such changes, like what William Wilberforce heard in 1883 when he successfully lobbied to outlaw the slave trade; neither the economies of the United Kingdom nor those of the United States have collapsed, nor that of New Zealand, despite the narrative constantly advanced by those who trade analogously.
The most frustrating thing about this whole argument, aside from the ongoing attempts to discredit esteemed veterinarians, scientists and experts in their fields, is that until we change the animal welfare system, every step of progress is marred by such outrage, conflict and controversy. This “broken” way of doing business needs to be overhauled; right now, that leaves animal managers struggling with ongoing uncertainty about the boundaries within which they must operate.
Eliminating on a case-by-case, regulation-by-regulation basis takes both time and resources, and while wins may result in some changes (e.g. whelping crates), it is laborious and unfair to both those who stand for progress and for farmers who expect results. with uncertainty, unable to invest in the future.
While banks, agricultural consultants, regulators and the wider supply chain have all played a part in getting us to where we are in 2022, it is industry organizations that set and control the scene. .
They are the ones who can choose to provide leadership and direction that will serve producers and animals into the future. Such leadership would protect animal agriculture – doubling down on maintaining the status quo will not.
We cannot and should not try to regulate our current system – it is a plaster cast, and first aid is not indicated when systems fail. It’s time to call out the poor leadership of these industries and their dishonest attempts at greenwashing – or rather welfare.
We need to start a big conversation and define a strategic path for change. Producers need to be supported through this.
Leaders – especially industry leaders – must drive change for the next 100 years and beyond; and in doing so, protect future generations, our planet and our animals.
Time to rethink and reset, or yet another rehash?
Dr Helen Beattie is the founder of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA), based in Dunedin.