MIA Matters: Animal welfare priority area for red meat sector

Over the past year, animal welfare has been a high priority for the red meat sector with a lot of work going on behind the scenes, writes Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Tim Ritchie.

The welfare and handling of animals within the export meat industry was already well regulated under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, with a high level of oversight by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). However, disturbing incidents last year – which took place outside the meat processing and marketing industry – along with subsequent media attention, highlighted the need to ensure that everyone involved in handling animals takes their responsibilities for animal welfare seriously.

Therefore MIA has been actively working in four areas, alongside other industry bodies, to ensure New Zealand’s hard-won reputation for careful and respectful animal handling is retained.

We are, firstly, part of a cross sector bobby calf working group, with MPI and dairy industry representatives, which undertook a systematic review from farm to processor to identify opportunities for improvement in the handling of bobby calves. The group has produced a ‘bobby solutions’ document that identifies 14 key work programmes to be delivered across the supply chain, strengthening best practice.

Secondly, over the year MIA has been consulting with MPI on a number of proposals for new regulations made under the Animal Welfare Act – particularly on the eight directly relating to the treatment of bobby calves. After two months of public consultation, the new regulations came into effect on 1 August 2016.

One of the key changes we welcomed in the new regulations is the introduction of infringement notices for lower level offending, ranging from $300 to $500. For a prosecutable offence under the regulations, fines are now up to $5,000 for an individual or $25,000 for a body corporate with no criminal conviction. Previously, the only option available to MPI has been a prosecutable offence under the Act, which has a high threshold.

MIA is also actively involved in the Farm to Processor Animal Welfare Forum, which shares animal welfare information and initiatives across pastoral livestock production and meets twice a year. MIA and its members provided input to the many initiatives underway. These included the Safeguarding Our Animals, Safeguarding Our Reputation programme and the proposed technical specifications from the International Standards Organisation (ISO) supporting the implementation of OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health) animal welfare principles and guidelines and codes of welfare.

Finally, I can report back as chair of an MPI/industry working group set up by the Primary Industry Chief Executive’s Forum to examine how information can be shared so we can better predict, prevent and mitigate any animal welfare issues. MPI now provides quarterly anonymised data on animal welfare complaints to help animal industry organisations better target advice and activity with farmers.

It is critically important that New Zealand retains its excellent reputation for animal welfare, given society’s expectation that all animals should be treated in a humane fashion. Animal welfare will therefore continue to be a priority area of activity for the meat industry and MIA.

This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (October/November 2016) and is reproduced here with permission.

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