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Code minimises pain and distress for farm animals


DATE 23 December 2005

New code minimises pain and distress for farm animals.

Minimum standards and recommended best practices for carrying out painful procedures on farm animals are specified in the Code of Welfare for Painful Husbandry Procedures released today by the Minister Jim Anderton, Minister of Agriculture on the advice of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).

The code covers all procedures that involve physical interference with sensitive tissues that are carried out for reasons other than the treatment of injuries or diseases.

While this code covers all painful husbandry procedures, specific information is provided for castration, tail docking, and disbudding and dehorning only. Other procedures referred to in the code are covered in other codes e.g. beak trimming of poultry, castration and tail docking of piglets, velvet antler removal. Mulesing of sheep is not covered in this code because NAWAC has not completed its investigation of this procedure.

NAWAC chairman, Peter O’Hara, said in the absence of universally applicable pain relief systems for these procedures, the emphasis has been placed on minimising pain and distress.

When castration, tail docking and dehorning are carried without pain relief, they are limited by an upper age limit. NAWAC recognises that the choice of age as the limiting factor is somewhat arbitrary but it was unable to find a better way of defining these limits. The important point to note is that age limits have been reduced from those that applied previously e.g. 6 months instead of 9 months for castration of any animal, 9 months instead of 20 months for dehorning cattle.

Tail docking of dairy cattle will now be limited to removal of the last 2-3 vertebrae (the switch). Dr O’Hara said industry initiatives to voluntarily phase out even this limited practice are applauded by NAWAC.

Three minimum standards deal with the need to justify the use of painful procedures, general measures to minimise the harmful consequences of painful procedures and the competence of people that carry out these procedures.

“The committee has put a lot of work into its recommended Code. Its report to the Minister accompanying the code is 70 pages long and has more than 150 scientific references.”

“NAWAC is committed to finding ways and means for applying effective, practical and economic pain relief for these procedures in the future and intends working with farmers, veterinarians, regulatory agencies and the pharmaceutical industry to identify suitable systems.”

The new code replaces and updates provisions, regarding castration and dehorning, carried over from the Animals Protection Act 1960 in Section 201 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, that were due to expire on December 31, 2005.

NAWAC is an independent advisory committee to the Minister of Agriculture. The committee is established under section 56 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to provide advice to the Minister on matters relating to the welfare of animals in New Zealand and to develop codes of welfare.

Other codes currently in preparation include commercial slaughter, deer, cats, dairy cattle, dogs and sea transport of livestock.

Background Information


Specific provisions carried over from the Animal Protections Act 1960, Section 201 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 restricted castration of bovines, sheep, goats and pigs over the age of nine months and dehorning of any animals over the age of 20 months to veterinarians.

These provisions were due to expire on December 31, 2005. The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) has anticipated this by developing a Code of Welfare for Painful Husbandry Procedures, which has just been gazetted and will come into force on 23 December 2005.

While a number of the minimum standards will not result in significant changes to current management procedures, there are some important changes covering not only castration and dehorning, but also tail docking of farmed animals. The significance of these standards is that they do have legal effect in that they can be used in support of either the prosecution or the defence in animal welfare court cases.

The major changes in minimum standards are highlighted as:

1. Castration
- When castrating or shortening the scrotum of any animal over the age of six months, pain relief must be used. The age limit was previously nine months.
- If high tension bands are used to castrate an animal, local anaesthetic must be used at any age to provide pain relief.

2. Tail docking
- Tail docking without pain relief must be performed when the sheep are as young as possible and not greater than six months of age.
- When tail docking a sheep over the age of six months, pain relief must be used.
- If tail shortening is undertaken (cattle) it must be limited only to removal of the last (terminal) two-three vertebrae of the tail, using a rubber ring applied between joints, and either left to drop off of its own accord, or, not less than seven days after the application of the rubber ring, be severed by the use of a sharp instrument at a point below where the rubber ring has been applied and in such a manner as not to cause discomfort to the animal.

3. Dehorning
- When dehorning any animal over the age of nine months, pain relief must be used. The age limit was previously 20 months.

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