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SAFE gets the ear of Fonterra with bobby calf footage

SAFE, the $1 mln animal rights lobby, gets the ear of Fonterra, regulators with bobby calf footage

By Jonathan Underhill

Dec. 8 (BusinessDesk) - Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE), the animal rights group, spent just 0.7 percent of its annual income on a full-page advertisement in the UK's Guardian newspaper about the fate of the dairy industry's newborn calves and says it sometimes needs shock-value tactics to gain any traction.

The lobby group spent about $7,500 on the ad after it became frustrated with the response from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to a complaint in September based on video footage secretly filmed by fellow traveller Farmwatch, showing brutal treatment of bobby calves at an abattoir, says managing director Debra Ashton. Her group yesterday called for the ministry to be stripped of its responsibility for animal welfare, saying it was conflicted because of its close ties with primary industry.

SAFE is a charity and its annual accounts show it took in $1.1 million of income in the year ended March 31, the bulk coming from donations which jumped 35 percent to $912,254. With operating expenses of $966,614, the body produced a net profit of $167,896, from a year-earlier loss of $45,320. That's a reasonable uplift for an organisation that is unashamedly vegan in its philosophy but needs to engage with a predominately carnivorous population.

"Complaints don't get taken seriously unless we take some extra action," Ashton said. "A number of people in the industry were in denial. They were saying this is an isolated case, you can't tar everyone with the same brush."

Annual income in excess of $1 million doesn't mean SAFE is flush with funds, she said. Wage costs in the latest year rose 24 percent to $609,387, covering nine full-time and nine part-time workers. Cash reserves rose to $702,407 from $575,090, with the bulk of it held in a savings account which is regularly raided to cover operating costs. It has separate fund raising and operating accounts. Advertising costs fell to $24,606 from $88,109 a year earlier, when the organisation ran a campaign against factory farming including TV ads and using celebrities.

Ashton said SAFE is currently looking at how it presents its financial statements to make them clearer so donors can see how their money is being used.

"People don't want to give their money to a pyjama party. We tick all the boxes and make sure we're doing everything correctly," she said. "In many respects we're a small charity - we're still on a knife edge."

So small, that its depreciation schedule includes kitset shelving that cost $53.25 chicken costumes at a cost of $888.89 and 50 pig costumes at $2,000.

But she believes SAFE punches above its weight. Executive director Hans Kriek and others from the group have been invited to meet executives of Fonterra Cooperative Group next week. At the primary production select committee last week MPI director-general Martyn Dunne was questioned about the bobby calf footage and asked why there had been no prosecutions yet.

National MP Chester Borrows even chided the ministry for not making a more definitive statement that prosecutions would be pending.

Ashton said the next step in the bobby calves campaign will depend on the response of industry and the ministry, but notes that progress, when it comes, is slow.

(BusinessDesk)

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