The Government has launched a plan aiming to boost primary sector export earnings by $44 billion over the next decade.
“Images of cows up to their knees in mud, unable to lie down and rest and calving in these conditions is unacceptable to me and I’ve heard loud and clear from the public that it’s unacceptable to them too,” he says.
“Winter crop grazing is necessary in some parts of the country to provide enough feed for stock at a time when there’s not a lot of pasture. Done well, it provides animals with quality feed to keep them warm over winter. Done badly it means cattle can be knee deep in mud which gives rise to completely justifiable concerns for their welfare. Winter grazing also has an environmental impact and the government is working on ways to address that too.”
The Government has bottom lines on animal welfare and there are some people falling well below acceptable practice, he adds.
“Unfortunately, it’s another situation of a small number of farmers letting the side down and bringing everyone into disrepute.”
O’Connor says it’s time for greater co-ordination, faster action and consequences.
MPI’s Animal Welfare unit has stepped up its compliance activity and is keeping a very close eye on the situation.
“Our international reputation depends on getting this sort of thing right, as does our social licence to operate within New Zealand,” he says.
“I know industry groups have been working to improve wintering practices and protect animal welfare. I want to add extra impetus to that work.
“I am bringing together a taskforce of vets, industry leaders and officials to identify the issues and bring me some solutions. I’ve asked the group to meet for the first time in the next few weeks and to present back to me with first-steps by the end of the month”.