Appoint a Commissioner for Animal Welfare

Hon Nathan Guy

Minister for Primary Industries

Parliament Buildings





Dear Minister,




I write to ask that the Government create a new position of Commissioner for Animal Welfare and resource the position so that its functions can be properly fulfilled.


The following are the reasons I consider it is essential for New Zealand to introduce a Commissioner for Animal Welfare –


1 Ministry for Primary Industries has a conflict of interest between its animal welfare responsibilities and its key purposes

At present, primary responsibility for enforcement of animal welfare in relation to farm animals rests with the Ministry for Primary Industries. This is unsatisfactory, as it places the ministry in a position of conflict vis-à-vis its primary purpose, which is to support and increase exports.


The homepage of MPI’s website demonstrates this: it does not mention animal welfare -


“Our vision is to grow and protect New Zealand. We do this by maximising export opportunities for the primary industries, improving sector productivity, increasing sustainable resource use, and protecting New Zealand from biological risk. MPI is the ministry formed from the merger of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Fisheries and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. MPI is positioned to deliver high-quality services and support to the whole of the primary sector.”

The Ministry’s primary role is accordingly in conflict with its animal welfare responsibilities as, in the short term, it is beneficial to exports to disregard animal welfare and produce farm products at the cheapest-possible price. It places MPI in a difficult position to be investigating and prosecuting farmers when it is also working with them to increase exports. An independent Commissioner for Animal Welfare whose sole focus was animal welfare would not have this conflict and would be able to focus exclusively on animal welfare.


2 The resources devoted by MPI to animal welfare are totally inadequate. In the 2010/2011 financial year, Animal Welfare Education and Enforcement and Animal Welfare Policy Advice were in total appropriated $5.132 million. The figure for the 2011/2012 financial years was $6.569 in total. The total for 2012/2013 was $6.012 million. This means that the amount of funding was actually falling. In Budget 2015, the Government allocated $10 million over four years to boost MPI’s animal welfare compliance and capability and to develop more transparent and enforceable animal welfare regulations. This is an increase of only $2.5 million per annum, and is still far from adequate to deal with the number of farmed animals in New Zealand. New Zealand has up to 60 million animals being commercially farmed at a time. However, the Ministry employs only 11 animal welfare inspectors to deal with all animal welfare complaints on farms around the country. This is completely inadequate resourcing and means that the Ministry can respond only to the most serious allegations of animal neglect and abuse. There is no regular monitoring or inspection of New Zealand farms. The public would be shocked by the extent of cruelty and neglect on New Zealand farms if such monitoring were to be undertaken.


3 There is a huge, unacknowledged problem with cruelty on New Zealand farms – both deliberate cruelty and cruelty as a result of neglect or ignorance. There have been recent examples of covert filming on pig, hen and dairy farms. The footage has shown deliberate cruelty as well as horrific conditions. Animal group SAFE took out ads in the United Kingdom last December following the broadcast of the Sunday programme footage of cruelty to calves. Such pictures are immensely damaging to New Zealand’s international brand and reputation as a whole – they are not only damaging for the specific industry in which cruelty is revealed. The footage of cruelty to calves was filmed on numerous farms in only one New Zealand province. It appears clearly apparent that, were other farms to be investigated, the same types of cruelty will be found. The Government should take a pro-active approach and acknowledge and work towards ending such cruelty. If it did that, it would be able to say it had taken the high road and was being proactive the next time horrific pictures were released. At present, the Government is always caught on the back foot over such revelations and says the cruelty is isolated. It plainly is not isolated. Appended to this letter are details of 17 cases relating to farm cruelty in recent years.


4 MPI very rarely prosecutes for animal cruelty. In the year to December 2015, MPI prosecuted approximately five percent of the 698 animal welfare complaints it received. This is a tiny fraction and utterly inadequate to send a message to farmers that cruelty and neglect of animals are unacceptable. In 2014, farm workers who stomped on and killed piglets were not prosecuted and a farmer who deliberately rammed cows with a quad bike was not prosecuted. MPI has been very slow to act on the deliberate cruelty to calves revealed in the Sunday programme. MPI has also not prosecuted in relation to the specific cases of evidence of cruelty at rodeos provided to it.


5  A comprehensive report on MPI’s failure to enforce animal welfare was prepared in 2011. MPI has not acted on the clear recommendations in the report.  When a journalist from Seven Sharp sought the report under the OIA, MPI refused to release it, stating that doing so would damage the New Zealand economy. This is an incredible statement and a clear acknowledgement by MPI itself of its failure to fulfil its animal welfare responsibilities. Here is a link to the Seven Sharp item in which a former MPI employee talks about MPI’s failure to enforce animal welfare - There will continue to be further revelations and embarrassment for the Government and the country until action is taken.


On 1 April 2016, there was a fire in a Waikato piggery – Brien Farms in Hopuhopu. At least 50 pigs burned to death. This is either the third or fourth fire on this pig farm. In August 2015, 400 mother and baby pigs were burned to death in a blaze at the same farm. In 2005, up to 300 animals were burned to death. Burning to death is one of the most horrific and painful ways of dying. The pigs who died suffered fear and agony. The fact that this is either the third or fourth time this has happened at this farm demonstrates that something is seriously wrong.


I was very perturbed by the television story about this event, which said that the Ministry for Primary Industries would visit the site next week to check whether there were any animal welfare issues. The fact that hundreds of pigs have repeatedly burned to death clearly demonstrates that there are animal welfare issues. I find it incomprehensible that MPI staff did not travel to the farm on Friday so that they could inspect the site as soon as the Fire Service advised that it was safe to do so. Giving a number of days of advance notice to farmers of an inspection simply gives them an opportunity to temporarily remedy animal welfare issues so that MPI does not obtain an accurate picture of normal practices on the farm.


6 In other countries, pro-active steps are being taken to improve animal welfare. In Israel, for example, this year cameras are being installed in all slaughterhouses to try and prevent the repeated animal abuse revealed by covert filming in Israel. New Zealand should do this too. This country’s lack of action means it is slipping further and further behind other countries in relation to animal welfare, which will increasingly jeopardise New Zealand’s export earnings from agriculture as consumers in other countries become increasingly conscious and concerned about animal welfare.


7 New Zealand’s aim should be to brand itself internationally as Number One in the world in terms of animal welfare.

New Zealand could sell its exports at a premium if it could certify that animals were not cruelly treated during production. This would also complement the country’s clean, green image, with environmental purity adding value to the animal friendly brand, and vice versa. That is not what happens at present. Instead, each minor concession on animal welfare occurs very slowly and often a long time after other countries have already acted.



Commissioner for Animal Welfare


New Zealand would be following in the footsteps of European nations in appointing a Commissioner for Animal Welfare.


Animal welfare has been included in the Swiss constitution since 1973 and the “dignity of animals” was written into the Swiss constitution in 1999. Germany, Austria and Slovenia have similar provisions. New Zealand’s recent move to include a Declaration of Sentience in the Animal Welfare Act has accordingly been slow.


The position of Commissioner for Animal Welfare would be written into the Animal Welfare Act, as is the case in Malta (see s 44A) -


The Commissioner should be a person with a scientific background in relation to animals. The Commissioner should not be a current or retired farmer, as this would damage the credibility of the office and give the appearance that it was not truly independent or focused primarily on animal welfare.


At the time the Commissioner role was established, responsibility for animal welfare would be removed from the Ministry for Primary Industries. This would enable the ministry to focus solely on supporting and increasing New Zealand’s exports.


It is important that the Commissioner be independent.


The Commissioner would require adequate resources to pro-actively monitor animal welfare, investigate cruelty, prosecute offences, carry out education programmes relating to the proper treatment of animals (both within the farming community and among the general public), keep abreast of scientific knowledge relating to the treatment of animals, and carry out other specific functions. The Commissioner would require sufficient resources to undertake a large-scale programme of farm visits to monitor animal welfare. The neglect and cruelty which come to public attention are a tiny fraction of the neglect or cruelty which actually occurs. Most of it takes place far from the public eye. It would be much better for the Government and the farming industry to front-foot this problem and take steps to bring an end to it. It is simply not credible for ministers and farming lobby groups to repeatedly claim that publicised examples of animal cruelty are isolated incidents. They plainly are not and the Government would win credit if it was proactive in dealing with this.


I can put you in touch with a Swiss lawyer, Antoine Goetschel, who has extensive knowledge of animal law. He is firmly of the view that animal welfare only began to improve in Switzerland when a separate advocate for animals was created and responsibility for animal welfare was removed from the body with overall oversight of agriculture.


Please let me know whether there is any other information I can provide which would assist you in considering this matter.




Yours faithfully,









1 Erasmus

On 7 February 2013, Lourens Erasmus was sentenced to two years and one month’s jail in the High Court after pleading guilty to three offences under section 28(1)(c) and (d) of the Animal Welfare Act. The first charge alleged that Mr Erasmus wilfully ill-treated 25 cows, with the result that their pain or distress was so great that it was necessary to destroy the animals to end their suffering. The second charge alleged that Mr Erasmus wilfully ill-treated 22 cows seriously injuring them and leading to them suffering prolonged pain. Thirdly, it was alleged that 115 cows were wilfully ill-treated, resulting in serious injury and prolonged pain.

The Summary of Facts provided to the District Court in which he appeared said that Mr Erasmus had begun farming at Princes Street, Waikino in June 2011. From early February 2012, he began hitting his cows during milking. Initially, he used stainless steel milking cups to strike the cows on the bony hock areas of their hind legs. He either swung the cups against the cows’ legs while holding the hose attached to the cups, or else used the cup as a “club” held in the palm of his hand to bash the animals’ legs.

Mr Erasmus struck the cows with the milking cups repeatedly to bruise their legs. Once the animals’ legs were bruised, Mr Erasmus used his fist to strike the bruised areas forcefully. That abuse continued during each milking period for approximately three to four weeks.

In early February 2012, a three feet long steel bar made of heavy steel tubing became dislodged from the railings in the milking shed. Mr Erasmus during three to four milkings used the bar to strike a number of cows in the hock areas of their hind legs with as much force as he could muster while the animals were contained in the milking sheds. Each animal was hit approximately three to four times with the heavy steel bar.

As a result of the assaults on the animals, a number of the cows developed large haematomas, resulting in large, swollen, infected abscesses on their hind legs. Such injuries require veterinary treatment but no attempt was made to seek veterinary treatment for the animals. Mr Erasmus sought to treat some of the abscesses himself by cutting through skin and tissue with either a large pair of tailing scissors or a craft knife to let out the pus and fluid. This was done without anaesthetic or pain relief.

A Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Animal Welfare Inspector entered the property on 22 February 2012 to inspect the animals. The inspection revealed serious animal welfare issues, with a majority of the cows on the property showing obvious signs of physical injuries, including suspected broken legs, lameness, severe swelling and abscesses oozing pus and blood.

115 of the 135 cows exhibited signs of broken tails.

One cow was euthanised within 10 minutes of the first inspection due to her injuries. 25 animals in total were euthanised as they were in such severe pain and distress. A further 22 animals had severe injuries requiring veterinary treatment.

The Summary of Facts contained graphic details of the injuries and pain suffered by four of the cows who were later put down. The summary also said that 115 of the 135 cows had broken tails, with 47 of the tails being broken in more than one place.

The Ministry said in the summary that the defendant was not a suitable person to be an owner of, or exercising authority over, dairy cows and it sought permanent disqualification under section 169 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

A judge in the Waihi District Court sentenced Mr Erasmus to 10 months’ home detention with judicial monitoring at three month intervals. He was not disqualified from owning or exercising authority over animals under section 169.

The Ministry for Primary Industries described the case as the worst case of wilful ill-treatment of animals ever to be brought before a New Zealand court.  Despite that, the District Court judge sentenced Mr Erasmus only to home detention and failed to make an order banning him from owning or having control over animals. The Ministry for Primary Industries is to be commended for successfully appealing to the High Court against this grossly inadequate sentence. The tougher sentence imposed by the High Court following the appeal is the longest prison sentence ever imposed in New Zealand for animal cruelty.


2 Jackson

In February 2013, West Coast dairy farmer Michael Jackson was sentenced after pleading guilty to failing to alleviate pain or distress in 230 injured dairy cows. A veterinarian discovered that 46 per cent of 500 cows had fractured or dislocated tail bones or soft tissue damage to the tail as a result of twisting or lifting of the tail.  Canterbury/Westland District Compliance Manager Peter Hyde said that this was the largest percentage of animals in a single herd that the Ministry for Primary Industries had seen with deliberate physical injuries.

Mr Jackson claimed that the practice of tail twisting was widespread in the dairy industry.


3 Smith

In August 2013, Ashburton dairy herd manager Kevin Smith was convicted after pleading guilty to the wilful ill-treatment of 154 dairy cows by breaking their tails and failing to provide treatment for the broken tails. Mr Smith also admitted striking the animals with a plastic pipe.


4 Belmont

In September 2013, former farmer Saul Beaumont pleaded guilty to breaking the tails of 46 cows. He was working on a Taranaki farm when he broke the tails of numerous cows on multiple occasions, continuing to do so after verbal and written warnings from his employer.

In addition to these cases of deliberate ill-treatment, there have repeatedly been cases in the media of cows and other farm animals being neglected and found in starving condition, often with many animals having to be put down to end their suffering.


5 Summers

In November 2007, Far North farmer Alan Summers was sentenced on charges relating to the breaching of a 2005 court order for three previous offences relating to starving cows.


6 Thomson

On 15 February 2012 a Dunedin farm labourer convicted of ill-treatment of a calf was sentenced. Joshua Thomson admitted that he hit a calf in the face with a steel pipe that was over a metre long and two centimetres in diameter. He then hit the calf forcefully a second time with the steel pipe. The calf received a serious eye injury and became blind in one eye. The animal suffered and was in severe pain following the assault and a vet recommended that the calf be euthanised.


7 Visser

A West Coast farmer in September 2012 was sentenced in relation to two charges of animal cruelty dating back to 2011. Tjeerd Visser failed to meet the physical and health needs of dairy cattle on the farm by not providing enough food and by leaving them in a swampy part of the farm. 60 cows were discovered dead or dying. None of them could be saved. Many of the remaining 1300 animals were found to be in poor condition, with 65 having to be euthanised.


8 Rotomanu

Also in September 2012, distressed cows were found on a farm at Rotomanu. A significant number of the neglected animals had to be put down.


9 West Coast

180 cows and calves found starving and near death on a West Coast farm in September 2012 had to be euthanised. Local veterinarians, a farm consultant and animal welfare officers assessed the animals and decided that they were in such an emaciated state that they could not survive. There were also welfare concerns about a further 700 cows at the farm.


10 Milk Pride Ltd

In May 2013, South Island company MilkPride Ltd pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to provide proper and sufficient food to 392 dairy cows.


11 Deal

In September 2013, Canterbury dairy farmer Geoffrey Deal pleaded guilty to animal welfare offences after 70 per cent of the cows on his farm were found to be in poor body condition with no feed available to them. Mr Deal had ignored warnings to improve his treatment of the animals.


12 Gisborne

In November 2012, three members of a Gisborne family were sentenced for ill-treating and neglecting their horses and cattle. A 2009 investigation found starving animals on the farm and no sign of adequate available feed or proper management of the animals. The family had been told to provide adequate feed for the animals or reduce the number of animals but the instructions were ignored. One of the family members had previous convictions for similar offending on the same property.


13 Rotorua

In January 2010, a Rotorua farmer was convicted of ill-treatment of animals after dead and starving animals were found on his property.


14 Gisborne - sheep

In April 2010, a stock agent and trader was sentenced in the Gisborne District Court for ill-treating sheep in his care.


15 Poultry

In May 2010 a poultry farmer was sentenced to jail for the wilful ill-treatment of broiler hens and roosters. More than 5000 animals had to be euthanised to end their suffering.


16 Johnstone

Northland farmer Lester Donald Reuben Johnstone was in May 2015 convicted of failing to ensure the physical and health needs of six calves were met. He was disqualified from owning stock for 20 years and fined $7500. He was directed several times by MPI staff to provide better grazing and supplementary feed for the animals but did not. Mr Johnstone had a significant history of similar offending.


17 Severing teats

An investigation was launched in September 2015 after a former Waikato farm worker allegedly mutilated his then-employers cows by severing the teats of 20 animals after a dispute with his employer.









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