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Minister And Legal Experts to Discuss Animal Law Reform

NEW ZEALAND COMPANION ANIMAL COUNCIL

For release: 25 October 2011

Minister And Legal Experts to Discuss Animal Law Reform

Topics to include, enforceable standards, outlawing tail docking, early bans on battery farming, shelter for farm animals, tougher penalties, limiting animal experiments etc.

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Seven potential areas of animal law reform will be up for consideration at an Auckland conference next week.

Agriculture Minster, the Hon. David Carter, is to join legal experts in discussing suggested changes to the 1999 Animal Welfare Act, ahead of a formal review of the legislation in 2012.

Next week's session, billed as 'The Great Debate', will commence at 3.45 pm on Tuesday 1st November and will form part of the 22nd annual NZ Companion Animal Conference, to be held at the Stamford Plaza Hotel.

Joining the Minister, will be MAF Director of Animal Welfare, David Bayvel, barrister and journalist, Catriona MacLennan and Queen's Counsel, John Haigh, as well as Russell McVeigh partner, Mike Heron, and barrister, Anita Killeen, who is also a director of SPCA Auckland.

The session is to be facilitated by Bob Kerridge, as Patron and spokesperson for the New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC), the organisation holding the conference.

"We're delighted the Minister will be able to join us, as he's shown a marked awareness of animal welfare issues and of the need for our legislation to reflect the high priority New Zealanders increasingly give to such matters," says Mr Kerridge. "It's also great to be able to bring such a respected collection of legal minds together. All the lawyers on our panel have had extensive experience of cases relating to the Animal Welfare Act and their contributions to the debate will be eminently worth listening to," he says. Heading the list of topics for discussion will be the enforcement of codes of welfare for specific animal species. The NZCAC has played a key role in the development of some of these codes, including those for dogs and cats. Each code contains minimum standards that are scrutinised in depth by MAF and signed-off by the Minister. Yet, despite this robust and exacting process of codification, such standards are not currently enforceable at law. Second on the list of topics will be the outlawing of cosmetic tail docking for dogs. The NZCAC's considered opinion is that tail docking is a major surgical procedure, which should only be allowed for health reasons and on a veterinarian's advice.

Thirdly, the gathering is to discuss the limiting of custodial care provisions for animals that are the subject of court proceedings under the 1999 Act. Currently, the SPCA can be required to hold onto such animals for two or even three years, until the end of a trial. This prevents animals being adopted out or looked after in other appropriate ways. "Fourthly, and perhaps most controversially, we'll be discussing the abolition of battery farming, through the termination of exemptions to the 'Five Freedoms' that are integral to the Animal Welfare Act," says Mr Kerridge.

The Five Freedoms comprise freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort and inadequate shelter, from disease and injury and from distress and pain, as well as the freedom to display normal behaviour.

"Paradoxically, although the 1999 Act is largely predicated on these principles, some of the welfare codes created under the Act allow for shockingly inhumane exceptions, such as sow stalls, battery egg production and the intensive raising of broiler chickens.

"In the NZCAC's view, these cruel practices should be banned at the earliest possible point. We believe that a great many New Zealanders would support such moves," Bob Kerridge adds.

The fifth item up for discussion is the establishment and enforcement of minimum standards of shelter for farm animals, in both winter and summer conditions. Here again, Mr Kerridge believes there is a growing public consensus in favour of change.

Sixthly, the panel will look at proposals for tougher penalties against repeat offenders in animal abuse cases. The NZCAC favours increased penalties for recidivists, including mandatory bans on animal ownership for those convicted.

"Our seventh topic will be the perceived need to tighten the criteria for allowing animals to be used in scientific experiments.

"The Animal Welfare Act defines a number of categories for animal experiments, including those causing 'severe pain' and 'very severe pain'. We believe that the bar should be set very high indeed before experimentation is allowed in either of these two categories," Mr Kerridge says. The NZCAC brings together a wide range of organisations and individuals connected with animals, including welfare bodies, veterinarians, academic researchers, control agencies, breeder organisations and interested members of the public.

A key NZCAC focus is on understanding, promoting and celebrating the human-animal bond and the benefits of companion animal ownership. Earlier this year, the organisation published a groundbreaking survey, which revealed the high importance New Zealanders give to pet ownership and to animal welfare in general.

The survey, conducted with a representative sample of 1,570 adults between 7th and 11th April 2011, placed New Zealand's companion animal population at approximately 5 million, compared to just 4.4 million for humans. It also revealed 68% of New Zealand households as owning at least one pet, a higher percentage than in any comparable country.

Of those polled, 43% believed that animal welfare and protection should receive more attention, whilst a large majority of owners said that they regarded their companion animals as members of the family

Bob Kerridge describes the survey results as clear proof that New Zealanders, as a nation, place great value on animals and are firmly opposed to cruelty towards them.

"We believe the proposals we'll be looking at with the Minister and our distinguished legal guests all conform with the thinking of a very large percentage of the public. Although our conference will be simply an arena for discussion, we would certainly hope that it makes an eventual contribution to substantive legal change," he says.

The theme of this year's NZCAC conference is 'The Joyous World of Animals'. The gathering's keynote speaker will be best-selling author, Jonathan Balcombe, whose latest book, 'The Exultant Ark', denies that Nature can simply be summed up as 'red in tooth and claw' and points instead to the pervasive joys that animals experience through play, touch, food and sex.

Dr Balcombe, who is based in the United States but spent part of his childhood in New Zealand, is also a respected scholar and a campaigner against battery farming and the use of animals in experiments.

The conference commences on the afternoon of Monday 31st October at 1.00 pm and concludes at 5.45 pm the following day.

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