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Jim Sutton speech to Vet Assoc

Jim Sutton speech to Vet Assoc

Joint NZ Veterinarian Association and Commonwealth Veterinarian Association meeting, Wellington

Ladies and Gentlemen: thank you for the invitation to speak at your conference today. I am delighted to do so, because veterinarians play a vital role in our economy.

I am pleased to see animal welfare along with other strategically important issues of biosecurity and food safety as themes of your conference.

As people who choose to work with animals in a healing role, one would expect vets to have a strong personal commitment to animal welfare. As a profession, you play an important role in animal welfare within New Zealand, the Commonwealth, and internationally.

As a food producing nation, animal welfare is a serious issue for New Zealand.

Happy animals are more productive, and there is a consumer demand to make sure animals lead happy lives before they become food.

Internationally, there are some who believe that the production of food is special. That it is not like the production of other things, say: coal, or steel. I am not so sure about that. Farming is a business, albeit one that is perhaps more at the vagaries of the weather than other businesses.

However, it is increasingly important to think about these issues, as they could have ramifications within the international trading system.

I spend the majority of my time at the moment on work in my trade negotiations portfolio, especially as we build up to one of the important meetings in the World Trade Organisation negotiations underway at the moment.

These negotiations have huge potential for New Zealand, and other nations throughout the world.

A study published last month jointly by our Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry and the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry indicates that the trade liberalisation measures agreed to in the WTO's last big trade round, the Uruguay Round, were worth at least $9 billion to New Zealand over the 10 year implementation period. That's a lot of money in anyone's language.

But the Uruguay Round was only a toe in the door, for agriculture.

The Doha Development Round has even greater potential.

So that's why this Government is putting extra resources into trade negotiations. That's why I and numerous trade officials are spending so much time overseas at meetings where trade liberalisation is slowly making progress.

Sometimes it seems that progress in trade liberalisation is always some way away in the distance. But signs are that we will make progress in the World Trade Organisation negotiations currently underway.

How do I know?

The tomtoms are beating in Europe with concerns about our animal welfare and environmental standards.

As the pressure goes on European farmers to change their decades-old reliance on export subsidies and the like, they will search for other ways to keep us out of what they think should be exclusively their markets. They will start applying more and more pressure on us to meet nitpickingly high standards in non-trade areas.

New Zealand dairy farmers are already seeing that, with European farmers at a recent conference criticising us for leaving cattle outside where they might get sunburnt and making them walk twice a day to milking sheds, risking chafing to their udders.

Those criticisms are unjustified, but it points to the way things will increasingly go in the future.

More and more, our exporters have to seek to demonstrate to retailers and consumers that our products meet their expectations for animal welfare standards, and thus command premium prices.

The influence of retailers and consumers in Europe as drivers behind new and stronger animal welfare standards should not be understated, although there is often a dichotomy between the canvassed views of consumers and their willingness to actually pay for the additional costs of these increasingly higher animal welfare standards.

Despite that, civil society groups will share internationally animal welfare campaigns they operate with a considerable degree of success. It is not hard to drum up sympathy for chickens, pigs, and other food animals in societies where the mainly urban populations are significantly divorced from and ignorant of the realities about where their food comes from. When you are brought up with bunny rabbits running round the edge of your porrige plate, weaned on Peter Rabbit stories, and grow up to "Watership Down", you are not instinctively a support of rabbit pest management strategies.

It is in New Zealand's wider trade interests to continue to position ourselves as hiaving progressive animal welfare policies and to actively participate in international fora.

New Zealand is recognised internationally as being a high performer in animal welfare, with modern animal welfare legislation, a strong animal welfare science capability, and a cohesive national animal welfare infrastructure.

As part of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, codes of welfare with legal standing for animals are being introduced. These codes replace earlier voluntary codes which set out minimum standards and recommended best practices for animals owned or in a person's charge.

The voluntary codes are currently being revised as part of the transition to the new system.

The first new code to be issued under this new system is the code of welfare for broiler chickens. These chickens are chickens kept primarily for meat production ? the ones that end up barbequed in your local supermarket.

This code, the Animal Welfare (Broiler Chickens: Fully Housed) Code of Welfare 2003, covers the welfare of broiler chickens in controlled environment brioler production systems. In such systems, broiler chickens are kept in enclosed housing and are reliant on human management for all their daily needs.

This has not been an easy process, and it has taken considerable time. The drafting process requires consultation with "representatives of those most likely to be affected by it", which in this case included animal welfare organisations such as the SPCA, the New Zealand Veterinary Association, and the broiler industry.

I have signed off the code, and it was gazetted on Wednesday. It will come into force on July 25.

This code is not the final word on the issue. NAWAC have asked for research on broiler chickens' welfare to be carried out. MAF have this in train. As more information comes to hand, it will be added to the process and the code will be reviewed at regular opportunities.

The work of veterinarians is a key part of our animal welfare system, and I want to recognise that this morning. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

We are also recognising an individual talent today.

It is my honour to present Dr Lindsay Ross Matthews with a New Zealand Science and Technology Bronze Medal 2002 for his significant contribution to the understanding of animal behaviour and animal welfare in agriculture and in nature.

These medals were instituted by the Royal Society of New Zealand to recognise those who have made exceptional contributions to New Zealand society and culture, beyond the bounds of the discipline or immediate work environment.

With more than 100 refereed publications, Dr Matthews has made a sustained and valuable contribution to the understanding of the behaviour of animals under domestication and in the wild over many years. As a researcher, a developer of technologies, and a communicator, he has contributed to the welfare of agricultural animals on a wide scale, with substantial benefits to both animals and farmers, and hence to the economy in general.

Dr Matthews has a bachelor of science from Auckland University, as well as a first class masters degree and PhD from Waikato University. As well as serving on the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee for six years, Dr Matthews has been a member of the Animal Behaviour and Welfare Consultative Committee since its formation. He has been at the Ruakura Agricultural Centre since 1989, and currently holds a team leader position within the centre.

Dr Matthews, thank you for your contribution and congratulations.

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