Jim Sutton At Veterinarians' Conference
Speech to the New Zealand Veterinarians Association annual conference 1.40pm, 9 June 2000 Waipuna Hotel, Auckland
President Susan Morris, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to open your conference.
Veterinarians have an important role to play in New Zealand society.
More than 60 per cent of our export earnings are earned by the agricultural sector many of that involving animals which need a vet's care from time to time.
Your involvement has directly contributed to the success of our agricultural exports.
The veterinary profession is critical to the health and welfare of New Zealand animals ? the image of this country which results from your care for our animals directly affects the success of our exports.
Veterinarians are the most frequently used source of professional advice regularly in contact with farmers.
New Zealand's reputation is high and this is enhanced by the veterinary profession's active participation in international groups such as the OIE in Paris, the Codes Alimentarius and the World Veterinary Association.
You will all be aware that we now have a new piece of legislation governing animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Act 1999 came into force on January 1 this year and marks a milestone in the development of New Zealand's animal welfare system.
It ensures New Zealand remains at the forefront with some of the world's most progressive and comprehensive animal welfare law.
New Zealand enjoys a good animal welfare reputation and it's one I am proud of.
Our reputation is a credit to all those involved in animal productions, husbandry, care and welfare, and the use of animals in research.
I acknowledge and thank your profession for the contribution you make to animal welfare.
Aside from a moral or ethical responsibility to treat animals well, animal welfare is recognised as an important strategic marketing issue.
The consumer demand for products to be produced in an animal welfare-friendly manner is on the increase. New Zealand is in a strong position to fully exploit the opportunities this offers.
While having a commercial focus, this can only support the welfare objectives of your association, MAF, and other key groups.
Existing World Trade Organisation rules preclude the use of animal welfare issues as non-tariff trade barriers to prevent market access. By continuing to actively participate in bilateral, regional and multilateral trade negotiations, both MAF and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to ensure that animal welfare is not used as a market access issue.
Animal welfare is, however, much more likely to affect consumer perceptions of New Zealand agriculture in general and specific livestock products in particular. This, in turn, can directly impact on market share and the premium prices that can be commanded in sophisticated markets. Major retailers, such as those in Britain for example, can move faster than governments, they can cut off a suppliers' livelihood by stopping contracts and can ignore international trade agreements.
While Europe as a whole has to adhere to the WTO and cannot ban imports on animal welfare grounds, retailers are free to do so. This has not escaped the notice of that loosely organised group of anarchists who operate within the respectable cloak of socalled civil society. They will seize upon any issue where the natural instincts of decent people to be kind to animals, can be harnessed to disrupt international trade and indeed capitalism in general. Both of which are anathema to much of civil society.
Product positioning is an area where industry stakeholders can exercise the greatest influence. The quality assurance programmes developed by the New Zealand deer and pig industries are good examples. These programmes recognise animal welfare as a key component of the overall quality assurances that the consumer requests.
The veterinary profession has a significant role in the sustainability of agriculture and food production. The optimum human population has been calculated to be 3 billion people and we already have double that.
New Zealand will continue to be a significant source of food for the world. This will require us to continue to exploit our existing land and water resources without further degradation, despite the need for greater output.
The Government recognises the importance of the continued use by the veterinary profession of antimicrobial compounds to maintain and enhance the health and welfare of all your patients and to minimise animal suffering.
Some of you may have an involvement in developing new remedies using gene technology.
The Government has recently set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the use of genetic modification and I urge you to take part in that process.
While the royal commission is working, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the issue.
But I must say that I feel politicians and especially scientists have failed to take a leadership role on the issue and have left opponents of that new technology to define the issue for the public. Many fears have been raised in people's minds ? at least some of which are unfounded.
We have failed to allay those fears. This perhaps could be an area your association might like to do further work in.
At the same time, your profession must continue to protect human health by assuring us all of the safety of the food derived from animals.
One issue that caused significant debate during the development and passage of the Animal Welfare Bill was the tail docking of dogs.
There is a wide range of opinion within society as to whether tail docking of dogs is an acceptable practice. However, it is generally concluded that the main reason for doing it is cosmetic.
There is some disagreement over the severity of pain or discomfort involved, and whether docking has benefits in lessening the likelihood of later tail injury or disease.
The act does not place any restrictions on the tail docking of doges. That's because the select committee which considered the bill felt there was insufficient evidence to support an outright ban.
I am aware your association has a policy opposing the routine docking of dogs' tails, a policy which I personally whole-heartedly support.
I encourage all of you as veterinarians to carefully consider the ethical implications of performing such a procedure.
Veterinarians, as experts in animal health and care, have an influence on how wider society treats its animals. You have the ability to influence the way your clients care for their animals, and you should use this ability widely and to best effect.
I encourage you to build on the strength and expertise of your profession. New Zealand is counting on you as one of the key professional inputs to assure us of success in the world.