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UPSIDE DOWN WORLD: There are tougher government penalties for pollution than animal abuse for New Zealand farmers

A New Zealand farmer was convicted and fined $3,750 for cutting teats off 12 cows with a pair of scissors and no pain relief, while another who let effluent discharge into a stream was fined $57,375.

ESTHER TAUNTON: Over seven weeks in early 2018, hidden cameras filmed a Northland farm manager lashing out at cows with an alkathene pipe and a metal bar. One was beaten so severely about the back legs with the bar that both of her legs were badly swollen and she struggled to walk. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) launched an investigation after receiving the footage, which was captured by animal rights group Farmwatch, and later filed six charges against 62-year-old Michael Ian Luke.

Five of the charges, filed under the Animal Welfare Act, were dropped after the judge excluded the hidden camera footage. Although it showed the mistreatment of animals, Farmwatch activists had trespassed to obtain it and their actions could encourage copycat behaviour, the judge said. In June, Luke was convicted on the sole remaining charge for failing to minimise pain and distress in dairy cattle and fined $3130 after pleading guilty. He was not disqualified from owning or controlling animals.

In three separate cases a month earlier, four farming entities were fined a total of $159,674 for unlawfully discharging farm effluent into the environment. The fines ranged from $14,250 to $61,837. In June, Tony Michael Kuriger, the son of National MP Barbara Kuriger, was ordered to pay vet and expert report costs of $4060 after admitting to causing a herd of dairy cows prolonged and severe pain. He was not disqualified from owning or controlling animals.

In 2016, Taranaki farm manager Claudio Nubio Da Costa was convicted and fined $3750 for cutting teats off 12 cows with a pair of scissors and no pain relief. Like Kuriger and Luke, Da Costa was not disqualified from owning or controlling animals. According to MPI, its inspectors respond to more than 1000 animal welfare complaints from the public each year. “Almost all” are followed up with an inspection of the animals and farm involved. In more than half of cases no animal welfare offence is detected and “while well-meaning, what the complainant is observing is part of normal farming practice”, the ministry said…

The “slap on the wrist” was widely criticised for appearing to fly in the face of New Zealand’s animal welfare legislation, which has been held up as among the most comprehensive in the world… These actions were an appalling example of animal abuse and the outcome of his case was shocking… given the penalties that were imposed on farmers who breached environmental rules… Recent cases highlight the disparity in sentences. In February, a Waikato farmer who let effluent discharge into a stream intermittently for three-and-a-half years, was convicted and fined $57,375…

Animal lawyers said the low rate of prosecutions reflected MPI’s significant under-resourcing to perform its animal welfare duties. Of the $660 million allocated to the ministry for the 2019 financial year, just $10.8m or 1.6 per cent was earmarked for animal welfare enforcement, education and policy advice. “In 2018 those resources allowed MPI to recommend prosecution in 26 cases (or 2 per cent) of the 1190 complaints it received,” the researchers said. SOURCE…

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