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Big Fat Lies and the New Zealand Dairy Industry

Dr Lynley Tulloch

On 8 June 2018 I attended the all-day Animal Advocacy Hui at Manurewa Marae organised by Associate Minister of Agriculture, Meka Whaitiri. The stated purpose of the Hui was to give the animal advocate sector an opportunity to be heard by Government.

I went in my capacity of founder of Starfish Bobby Calf Project. I wanted to speak up for dairy cows and calves who suffer immensely within the current system. The system includes farming practices, the regulations that govern them, and the welfarist ideological frameworks that justify it.

I was reluctant to attend, as the Hui could only address issues from within current regulatory frameworks which are based on a welfarist stance. I believe that you simply cannot regulate against cruelty within dairying. It is systemic in the industry itself.

At the beginning of the Hui NZ First MP Mark Patterson said that “we have to have a verifiable story that underpins farming animals.” He is right. Most people in New Zealand care about animals – a point made by Green MP Gareth Hughes who remarked that “we have values as New Zealanders to protect animals.” The only way to get public consensus for legalised animal cruelty is to tell a story saying that farming is humane.

Or rather, tell a big fat lie. It turns out the story is not ‘verifiable’ as Patterson would have it.

The depredations of the dairy industry in New Zealand are brutal and systemic. Cows are impregnated yearly (often by artificial insemination); cow and calf are separated shortly after birth; and up to 2 million bobby calves are killed each year. A bobby calf is one that is defined by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) as “surplus to farm requirements that are typically sent to slaughter aged between 4 – 14 days”

MPI has estimated the number of young calves that were processed in the 2016 season to be just under 2 million calves. This number is unimaginable. In 2015 Animal rights group Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) illustrated the enormity of this issue by erecting a billboard stating that if calves bodies were “placed end to end, it would create a ‘trail of death’ stretching from Bluff to Cape Reinga.”

Government officials such as MPI justify this travesty by referring to welfarist ideology. Accordingly, its ok to kill bobby calves as long as it is done humanely.

But even if you buy into that discourse, there are cruelties. What happens to bobby calves legally is inhumane. The updated Animal Welfare (Calves) regulations 2016 state that “A person in charge of a young calf must not transport the calf unless the total duration of the journey from the point of loading the calf onto the vehicle to the point of arrival at the final destination of the journey is no more than 12 hours”.

That is, it is legal that a neonatal calf can spend twelve hours on a smelly, noisy truck sliding around on urine and faeces on his way to death. I have been told anecdotally by a bobby calf truck driver that sometimes these calves will drown in the urine that collects on the truck floor on the way to the slaughter house.

And then it gets even worse. The maximum time of feed before slaughter is 24 hours. So legally a calf can endure 24 hours without being fed milk before being killed – 12 of which may be spent on a transport truck. All this at the tender young age of 4-10 days old, before their umbilical cord has seen fit to fall off.

The idea of 2 million new-born calves being killed for their mothers’ milk is repugnant. In addition, cows, highly maternal beings, suffer when separated from their young. Then there are issues specific to the process of domestication. Domesticated farm animals have been bred specifically for their docile characteristics and high productive capacity. Dairy cows in particular are bred for excessive milk production and as a result often suffer painful mastitis. Fitting the non-human animal into the production system of late-stage global capitalism means a continuous honing of their genetics.

It sounds like government sanctioned animal cruelty to me. But how else are you going to kill two million calves, mostly between the months of June – August? You lie and tell people that the process is humane – that is how you do it. You lie and you tell people that your lie is verifiable. You lie through your teeth as you swallow flat whites and eat cheese made from the milk meant for the now dead calf. You lie as you profit off their deaths.

My message to Whaitiri was that dairy farming needs to be abolished. Frankly, we are not baby calves, we don’t need dairy or its products in our diets and its time to grow up and stop telling fibs.


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