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NZ Animal Welfare Standards Are A Hypocrisy As Video Of Cow Abuse Beatings Thrown Out In Court

There was no justice recently for the cows who endured sickening beatings at the hands of Northland sharemilker Michael Luke. New Zealand claims world class animal welfare standards. It benefits economically from the perception of the public that our farm animals are happy and healthy. This hypocrisy needs to be challenged.

A 2018 Farmwatch investigation uncovered several sickening incidences of cow abuse by Whangarei farm manager Michael Luke. Among other things, he was filmed hitting a defenseless cow around the back legs with a metal bar while she was being milked in the milking bails. More footage captured from Farmwatch shows this man beating cows across the face, back and legs in the milking shed while moving them. They are clearly terrified of him.

On 6 July 2020 Luke was fined $3,130 for ‘failing to minimize pain and distress in dairy cattle’. This is incongruous with the reality of what was filmed. He actually caused pain and suffering by hitting a cow with an alkathene pipe and a metal bar. He didn’t just ‘fail to minimize pain’. He literally deliberately and violently smashed cows with a metal pipe.

And yet this footage was thrown out in Court due to it being obtained without the animal abuser’s consent. The court wanted to send a message that obtaining footage in this way was unacceptable.

Actually, the only thing unacceptable here is the ongoing beating of cows across their faces, bodies, legs and backs. The other unacceptable thing was that despite complaints from a farm worker MPI was not able to investigate the matter adequately. The task was left to volunteers from Farmwatch who care about animals.

Imagine being hemmed in a milking bail while a man thrashed your legs with a metal pipe. Watching Luke beat one cow about the hind legs with a metal bar is sickening. Reports are that “Luke hit one cow in particular about the legs with a metal pipe so severely that both legs were badly swollen and she struggled to walk.”

The dull thuds as the bar hits the cow, and the evident anger outpouring from Luke are horrifying. After one bashing he rests briefly before landing a few more hits on her legs. Pictures of cows with swollen legs from this farm, supplied by a horrified farmworker, indicate this was routine for him.

While in the milking bails the cows could not get away from him and had to endure being beaten while being able to do nothing about it. This kind of powerlessness, combined with pain and ongoing injuries made the life of these cows a special kind of hell.

I am stressing the agony of the cows, and the absolute violence of this scene because it needs to be made visible. The courts have done a terrible injustice to these cows. How was Luke able to maim and hurt cows so badly, and yet get away with a charge of ‘failing to minimize pain’.

The cow herself had no recourse against Luke. She endured it, along with others, who knows how many times before.

Luke had painted a cow with the words “I am an a***hole” and shared it on social media. When the paint washed off, he repainted her with “The b***h is back”. He clearly does not like cows, gets a sense of power from hurting them and taunting them, and has anger issues.

To be calling a cow a b***h and beating her even while her milk flows for her absent calf is heartbreaking. It also has misogynistic undercurrents that are difficult to ignore.

And she wasn’t the only one. Other farmworkers had complained about this man to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) due to witnessing his horrifying outbursts of anger on the cows. They got nowhere with their complaints and so went to Farmwatch who captured the footage.

It begs the question: has New Zealand got adequate systems in place to protect the animals on which the economy is dependent? Can they really cash in on their ‘world class animal welfare reputation’, when if it was not for a group of dedicated volunteers this animal abuse would have continued?

These are serious and important questions – especially since we have absolutely no way of knowing how many cows suffer in the way these cows did.

This matters a lot if we want to stamp out violence in all its forms from New Zealand society.

It is significant that Farmwatch managed to get footage of this animal abuse and that Luke was charged and prosecuted in a court of law. But it is not enough.

It would seem to be obvious that part of his sentence would be that Luke is not allowed to work with animals anymore. At the very least he should have to complete anger management for his own benefit and that of others. Violence toward animals is, of course, a frightening sign that this kind of abuse will also be meted out to humans whether through crime or domestic violence.

And yet Luke has only received a fine and is able to go on his way. Some would call it a slap on the wrist. If he chooses to work with animals again, milking them for your morning cuppa, then he is free to do so.

I don’t want to see this man near animals ever again, and I would imagine that many people in New Zealand feel the same way.

I think that the majority of people who consume New Zealand dairy would prefer that the cows who supply the milk were not beaten along with the many other systemic indignities they are forced to suffer. These include cow-calf separation, common illnesses such as lameness, routine impregnation, and high milk production expectations .

Cows form the backbone of the economy. And then we don’t have a legal system that is up to protecting them from abuse. This isn’t good enough.

They didn’t deserve it. We need an independent animal welfare watchdog. This has also been suggested by the The University of Otago’s Facutly of Law and Bioethics centre who have suggested that MPI is under resourced and call for the establishment of an independent Office of the Commissioner for Animals in New Zealand.

I think there is a clear miscarriage of justice in this situation that needs redressing for the cows Luke hurt. I also think we need to address animal welfare issues through an overhaul of the social systems that are clearly failing them.

Bio: Dr Lynley Tulloch is a lecturer in education. She is also an animal rights advocate and writes and researches in this area. Lynley has expertise in education for sustainability education.

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