Thursday, August 18, 2022

Dairy cattle welfare under review

Farmers are being urged to provide feedback on proposed changes to the Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle and associated recommendations for regulation.

Farmers are being urged to provide feedback on proposed changes to the Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle and associated recommendations for regulation.

Consultation opened on April 28 and closes on June 9. The proposal follows a full review of the Code undertaken by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).

“It’s important the codes are reviewed periodically as technology and farming practices change,” NAWAC chair Dr Gwyneth Verkerk said.

“For example, virtual fencing is a new development and farmers are using a lot more pain relief on farms.

“The codes need to stay relevant to ensure New Zealand’s reputation is strong and farmers have guidance on the right thing to do.”

The review is part of the Framework for Action on Animal Welfare, launched by the associate agriculture minister in 2018. It sets out plans for animal welfare in New Zealand and includes a review of all codes of welfare. In late 2020, NAWAC confirmed the Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle was a priority and they are working their way through all 18 codes.

When they review a code, NAWAC considers good practice, available technology and scientific knowledge. They also consider anything else that may be relevant, including practicality and economic impact.

“There haven’t been many changes to the dairy code since it was first issued in 2008 apart from some amendments around behaviour and housing,” she said.

“At the beginning of the review process, the Farm to Processor Animal Welfare Forum provided us their views and then a working group and NAWAC subcommittee drafted the proposal.”

The main areas of proposed change include the use of electric devices to manage animal behaviour, body condition score, intensive winter grazing, shelter, provision of lying surfaces and limits for time on hard surfaces in off-paddock facilities, calf rearing and end-of-life management.

They are also seeking feedback around emerging technologies, working relationships with veterinarians, selection and breeding, painful husbandry procedures, contingency planning and welfare assurance systems. Further information can be found in the consultation document available online.

Amendments will incorporate advances in animal welfare science as well as updates to dairy cattle farming systems and management practices and the changing views and expectations of the NZ public.

“New Zealanders have high expectations that animals under human care are well looked after,” she said.

“Ideas of humane treatment evolve over time and our standards of welfare need to keep pace with changes in scientific knowledge and good practice, available technology and society.”

After the closing date for public comment, NAWAC will analyse all submissions to inform its separate advice to the Government on the new Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle and the associated recommendations for regulations.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will subsequently provide advice to the minister on the proposals put forward by NAWAC as well as the matters that the minister must consider when issuing a code of welfare. A further consultation phase and opportunity for comment will follow for any recommendations for regulation.

“The committee will consider any submissions that are made and whether anything needs to be revised,” she said.

“There haven’t been any final decisions on any of the proposed standards or regulations yet and once the final draft is created, NAWAC will recommend it to the minister and then it becomes a cabinet decision.”

The animal welfare strategy for NZ, Animal Welfare Matters, highlights the importance of meeting the needs of animals and avoiding unreasonable or unnecessary harm, adding value to our exports and contributing to our reputation for integrity and continuing to improve animal welfare.

MPI leads the management of animal welfare policy and practice in NZ. They work within the legislative framework created by the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Our animal welfare laws go further than just preventing cruelty, they place a duty of care on people in charge of animals to meet their animals’ needs.

Two ministerial advisory committees have an important role in helping set those policies and laws, NAWAC and the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC). The way people care for and manage farm animals contributes to NZ’s reputation as a responsible agricultural producer. 

“The welfare needs of animals and encouraging continuous improvement are our primary remit and we see how strengthening codes is an important way to demonstrate to our overseas customers that as a nation we care about our animals,” she said.

Details of the proposal of the draft code can be found on the MPI website and feedback must be received by 5pm on June 9 to animal.consult@mpi.govt.nz or through the online survey. Find out more here.

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