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C. MacLennan: An Opportunity To Help The Animals

An Opportunity To Help The Animals


By Catriona MacLennan*

Voters have the opportunity to press for better treatment of animals in 2005 by making politicians aware that this is one of the issues which will determine how they cast their ballots.

There are now enough people concerned about New Zealand’s poor treatment of animals to hold politicians to account, and an election year is the ideal time to do it.

All political parties contesting the election should accordingly have animal welfare policies so that voters who care about animals can make informed choices.

More than 120,000 New Zealanders made submissions to the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee opposing battery cages for hens.

In addition, a Colmar Brunton poll found 79 per cent of people wanted battery cages banned, while a Close Up poll had 3986 people supporting a ban and 452 respondents opposing it.

Approximately 2.8 million New Zealand hens are kept in battery cages, where each bird is crammed into a space smaller than an A4 piece of paper.

The birds cannot walk, peck, scratch, dust bathe or display other natural behaviour. The sloping wire floors cause foot injuries and claw damage, while constant rubbing against the sides of the cage leads to feather loss and skin damage.

Despite all this, the Government in December released animal welfare codes sanctioning continued use both of battery cages for hens and sow crates for pigs.

Such conditions for animals run entirely contrary to the principles set out in the Animal Welfare Act, but the government in this instance chose economics over principle.

Voters can help to change that by making their disapproval plain to politicians.

In the meantime, egg producers should be required by law to label cartons clearly so that consumers know which eggs come from battery cages.

Purchasers are at present being deceived by the wording on some cartons into believing that battery eggs in fact come from free range hens.

This year has also seen a continuation of grisly newspaper headlines recording appalling instances of torture of animals.

Examples from May alone include two young Huntly men charged with aggravated cruelty to animals after allegedly pouring glue over three cats and setting them on fire.

In Blenheim, six mutilated and dead puppies were found dumped on a street, most of them with stab wounds and some with their heads almost completely severed.

In Porirua, a nine-week-old kitten was found nailed to a fence by the paws, with a broken neck and slit abdomen.

What these cases demonstrate is a complete lack of respect for animals as living, feeling beings with the capacity for suffering and pain.

Sadly, those who ill-treat animals are also likely to abuse their partners and other family members.

Overseas research in the past 20 years has demonstrated a clear correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence.

The way to combat this is by educating children from an early age about respect for, and proper treatment of, animals.

This should be done by government-funded programmes in schools aimed at every child in New Zealand.

Examples of programmes include SAFE’s Share the World humane education kit provided to every primary school, and programmes developed by the SPCA.

And, until attitudes change, politicians need to ensure that penalties for animal cruelty reflect the real suffering endured by the animals and act as a deterrent.

At present, the paltry sanctions imposed entirely fail to convey this message.

Education for judges about animal welfare issues is required, in the same way that they have previously been educated about domestic violence.

In relation to farming, the government should be encouraging farmers to introduce practices which minimise animal suffering.

The continuation of cruel practices will in coming years pose an ever-greater threat to export returns as European and North American consumers express their disapproval through their wallets.

Mulesing and debeaking should be banned, and farmers should take steps to minimise the sorry annual spectacle of hundreds of thousands of baby lambs freezing to death in spring snows.

The suffering associated with live sheep exports is well documented and there is little justification for continuing these.

Voters should also ask political parties about their policies relating to animal experiments.

The number of animals being used in experiments in New Zealand is increasing, with 57,227 more animals used in 2003 than in 2002.

In 2003 320,911 animals were used in experiments in this country.

“Very severe suffering” was experienced by 11,439 of those animals, “severe suffering” by 4110 animals, and “moderate suffering” by 31,391 animals.

Those enduring severe or very severe suffering included birds, cattle, fish, guinea pigs, mice, pigs, rabbits, rats and sheep.

There was also a more than 300 per cent jump in the number of dogs used in experiments, with 873 being used in 2003 compared to just 231 in 2002.

Most people have little idea of what experiments are being conducted on animals because of the secrecy which traditionally surrounds the process.

Scientists speaking out publicly emphasise research aimed at curing serious illnesses suffered by humans.

In fact, however, many experiments relate to cosmetics or are designed to produce data about behaviour.

Should mice really endure acute pain in the hope of curing human baldness ?

Should dogs and monekys endure torture because humans choose to get into cars and drive after drinking ?

There are now many alternatives to experimenting on live animals.

These include robotics, computer models and use of animal tissue.

New Zealand scientists should be making more use of such alternatives.

Make your vote count for the animals this year –

1 Write to your local MP and to all the party leaders and ask them about their policies relating to animals. Let them know this is an issue which will determine how you vote.

2 Ask questions about animal issues at political meetings.

3 The Greens are the only party with an animal welfare policy. Ask the other parties why they don’t have one, and make it plain voters now expect one.

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* Catriona MacLennan is a South Auckland barrister


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