Animals deserve vote of support

Animals deserve vote of support


There's been a proliferation of pre-election political panels in the run-up to this election - more than I can remember, which is a healthy sign in our democracy.

But the most interesting one I have attended was a political panel on animal welfare - a first for this country.

When I entered Parliament 15 years ago, MPs could not take animal welfare seriously. They would snigger, crack jokes or yawn loudly whenever the subject was raised. But as more and more incidents of animal cruelty have come to light, such as the recent footage of a pig farmer clubbing a pig to death with a hammer, concern about animal welfare is rising.

And that is no doubt why all the main parties turned out to debate whether factory farming has a future here.

Factory farming is a huge and secretive industry. Ninety million animals are reared inside factory farms each year - 3 million hens, 85 million chickens and 700,000 pigs. 

Rabbits, ducks and fish are also reared intensively, as are beef cattle in several feedlots.

Most of these animals are locked up inside aluminium sheds that only a few people are permitted to enter. The only way most of us can find out what happens inside these factory farms is when groups such as Farm Watch film them illegally.

Thanks to their footage, and the work of animal advocacy groups including SAFE (Save Animals From Exploitation), we know the awful conditions factory farmed animals are forced to endure during their short and miserable lives, locked up in cages or crammed inside sheds.

Pigs are highly intelligent and sociable animals, and far surpass the mental capacity of dogs. Hens, too, are curious and sociable creatures, with a surprising intelligence and a language of their own. And this begs the question, do we have a right to require intelligent and sociable animals to live miserable lives of suffering, just to satisfy our desire for cheap meat and eggs?

Surprisingly, perhaps, all of the MPs on the political panel agreed that factory farming practices such as battery hen cages, farrowing crates and sow stalls are cruel and unacceptable, and must be phased out.

Even dairy farmer and National party MP Shane Ardern, who chairs Parliament's committee, agreed that battery hen farming is cruel, and that the tiny bit of extra space hens will have when battery cages are finally phased out in 2022 and replaced by so-called "colony" cages, is unacceptable.

Where the MPs differed was on how long these cruel forms of factory farming should be allowed to remain. Sow stalls are supposed to be gone by December next year, but poultry farmers can continue to use battery cages for another eight years, and then replace them with "colony" cages.

Trevor Mallard told the meeting that Labour is committed to phasing out cruel factory farming practices, including "colony" cages, and hopes to have legislation in place in 2016.

Mojo Mathers said the Green Party wants cages and all other cruel forms of factory farming phased out immediately.

"These animals work incredibly hard for us," she said. "The least we can do is treat them humanely and with respect."

New Zealand First and National have no such plans, and no clear animal welfare policy either. Both Richard Prosser, from New Zealand First, and Shane Ardern, from National, acknowledged that keeping hens in "colony" cages is cruel. But their parties support the present legislation that will allow hens to remain in such cages indefinitely.

But whatever their policies, it was refreshing to see parliamentarians debating animal welfare seriously.

Animals cannot vote in the upcoming election, but we can, on their behalf. Now, thanks to the pre-election debate (which was filmed and is being shown on SAFE's website), we know where political parties stand on animal welfare, and can vote accordingly.

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Sue Kedgley

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