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SPCA Alarmed Over Animal Code Process


For Release: 3 July 2003


New Zealand's largest animal welfare organisation says it is deeply concerned by the contents of a new welfare code for broiler chickens and alarmed over the code's implications for other animal welfare issues.

The Royal New Zealand SPCA also describes itself as flabbergasted by claims from Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton that it was consulted over the drawing-up of the code.

The code is the first of a series of compulsory codes, which government is required to issue under the 1999 Animal Welfare Act and which are intended to replace existing voluntary codes. Announcing the new code last week, Mr Sutton said that its drafting had involved consultation with a number of organisations including the SPCA.

Approximately 80 million broiler chickens are reared in New Zealand each year. The birds are slaughtered for their flesh within two months of birth.

"Having studied the details of the new broiler code, we are deeply concerned to find very little difference of substance between it and the old voluntary code in terms of reducing the suffering of broiler fowls," says the Royal New Zealand SPCA's Chief Executive, Peter Blomkamp.

The SPCA wants broiler chickens kept in less overcrowded conditions, where they will be able to express their natural behaviour and be far less prone to often painful leg disorders. The Society recommends a maximum of 14 kg or seven birds per square metre. However, the new code allows for 38 kg or 19 birds per square metre.

"We are also frankly flabbergasted by Mr Sutton's claim that the new code has been drafted in consultation with the SPCA. We were certainly permitted to make a submission to the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), the body overseeing the drafting of animal codes. But that's as far as it went," Mr Blomkamp says.

"Our understanding of the term 'consultation' is that it involves an exchange of views between the parties. It's mischievous to suggest that consultation has taken place when all that happened was that our submission was received and then ignored or discounted.

"We are alarmed that the SPCA might be similarly excluded from substantive consultation when other codes are being finalised. This could have very worrying implications both for the welfare of animals and for New Zealand's reputation as a humane and responsible agricultural producer," he says.

According to Peter Blomkamp, the new code's failure to address animal welfare considerations bodes ill for the as yet unpublished codes on the treatment of pigs and egg-laying hens. Both of these codes have been the subjects of nationwide SPCA campaigns urging, respectively, the banning of sow stalls and of battery cages.

"To date, NAWAC's approach to these two codes has not been encouraging. It has repeatedly declined our requests for information over progress on code drafting. In contrast, information seems to be shared freely with industry organisations such as the New Zealand Pork Industry Board. Indeed, code-writing has been largely left to livestock industry bodies, which, in the nature of things, cannot be expected to give due weight to animal welfare issues.

"There really is a need for more transparency in the way NAWAC operates. If the process does not become more transparent, it will be seen as merely providing a fig-leaf for inhumane farming practices and will lose much of its credibility," he adds.

Last year, a Colmar Brunton poll recorded a 79% response in favour of a ban on battery cages for egg-laying hens whilst more than 120,000 New Zealanders despatched submissions to Mr Sutton calling for the ban to be imposed as quickly as possible. A similar level of support was registered in 2001 in a poll over the phasing-out of sow stalls, the narrow pens in with pregnant pigs are confined by a minority of pig farmers.

"There is no doubt that the majority of New Zealanders share our concern for the highest possible animal welfare standards. I am sure that they will also share our anger if the hen and pig welfare codes are held up for much longer and fail to end cruel farming practices," says Mr Blomkamp.


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