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Pig Farmers: The NZ Pork Industry Board Is Keeping Your Secrets Safe Tonight

And these are the crates they'll let us see...

The nationwide furore over the conditions in which pigs are intensively farmed has finally prompted voluntary audits of conditions in piggeries around Aotearoa New Zealand.

Today, a leaked email was released in which the New Zealand Pork Industry Board, a statutorily-created entity, is shown attempting to develop a legal strategy to avoid the results of those audits being made public. To quote the Dominion Post:

The leaked email, sent to farmers on behalf of the Pork Industry Board, said: “It is likely there will be a number of farms requiring corrective actions and … those actions could cause embarrassment to the farmer if made public and could cause embarrassment to the industry if used by animal welfarists, [so] some alternatives to current procedures were put forward.”

A suggested alternative would mean only the farmer and auditor would hold “completed documentation”, with the board notified of pass, fail, or “pending corrective actions (unspecified).”

Board chief executive Sam McIvor said its legal advice suggested the audit report would belong to the farmer, meaning it was personal information.

Some very serious questions need to be asked of a statutory body – albeit one that is mostly funded by farmers – that considers protecting piggery owners from “embarrassment” justification for its connivance to avoid a general obligation under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) to make information ‘held’ by them available to the public.

In any event, this tactic will simply not work. The Pork Industry Board is listed in the schedule to the OIA and section 2(5) of the Act is clear that “official information” includes:

Any information held by an independent contractor engaged by any department or Minister of the Crown or organisation in his capacity as such contractor shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to be held by the department or Minister of the Crown or organisation.

Mr McIvor goes further to say that a balance has to be struck between the interests of farmers and the interests of the public:

He said the board wanted to be accountable to pork-buying customers, but most customers did not care about farm conditions, just whether they had passed a minimum standard. “There does have to be some trust and the customers need to be able to trust us that we have the processes in place.”

Indeed. The kind of trust that holds so long as you don’t ask any embarrassing questions.

Leaving aside this deft identification of the Board’s constituency as being only “pork-buying customers”,  it is statements such as these that lay bare the true issue: It is not privacy, it is certainly not animal health, it is secrecy. Secrecy that allows an industry with some  demonstrably cruel operators to continue to avoid public scrutiny of their profiting from the suffering of animals.

A report on the current review is due next week. We’ll keep you updated.

Catalonia Bans Bullfighting

Spain’s Catalonian regional parliament has banned bullfighting in a vote of 68 – 55 with nine abstaining.

It is the second Spanish region after the Canary Islands (which banned bullfighting in 1991) to outlaw the practice and the first on the mainland.

Bullfighting is a brutal spectacle  in which the torture and death of the bull is the end of a life-long process of abuse and mistreatment (I’ve written on this in more detail here) and this is a significant victory for a coalition of Catalonian animal rights groups called “Prou!” meaning “Enough!”  They initated the vote by submitting a 180 000-signature petition to the parliament, calling for a ban.

The vote was not a cut-and-dry animal welfare issue as the rejection of this emblematically Spanish tradition is also widely interpreted as animated by separatist sentiment. Of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions, Catalunya has the greatest degree of autonomy along with the Basque region. It has even been suggested that the vote was calculated in last-minute lobbying as retaliation for a recent decision from Spain’s Constitutional court which has curtailed some of the proudly-independent region’s autonomy in law-making.

This is an exciting advance made against one of the most tradition-bound forms of animal suffering. The commercial significance of the ‘sport’ falls far short of that in the Spanish capital of Madrid and Andalucia to the South, when the law comes into effect in 2012 it will close Barcelona’s last remaining bullring, La Monumental. This may limit the spread of the ban to the other regions.

But there is still work to do. Activists have now set their sights on a ban on the Correbous, an annual festival in the region in which flaming torches and even fireworks are fastened to the bulls’ horns and they are set loose, frightened, disoriented and often suffering burns, to run around  an enclosure for the amusement of onlookers.

Guest Post: The Australian Whaling Claim

by William Fotherby

Will is a graduate of the University of Auckland and a solicitor at Bell Gully.  In 2008, he was one of the editors-in-chief of the Auckland University Law Review.

Australia has taken its campaign to end Japanese whaling to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  The Australian statement of claim, dated 31 May 2010, alleges that Japan is in breach of its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW).  It seeks an order revoking any permits by which Japan has conducted scientific whaling in the Antarctic and assurances from Japan that it will not conduct similar activities in the future.  New Zealand, among other countries, has indicated that it will look seriously at joining this court action.  This, after attempts to reach a political solution at the IWC’s annual meeting, in Agadir, Morocco, failed. Continue reading

Scientising Whale Slaughter

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The announcement of the first whale death (cetaceacide) from the Shell Deep Horizon oil spill proved an ominous portent ahead of the 62nd Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Whaling is one of the more politicised areas of animal law, in which passions and national identity run high. There are only 3 countries that currently allow commercial whaling, a minority trend which often leads to racialised politics. New Zealanders tend to think of it as a non-negotiable issue, up there with bans on nuclear power and weaponry, and genetic engineering.

Whaling is one of New Zealand’s oldest industries and much of the earliest colonial experience was comprised of contact between Maori and Pakeha whaling and sealing crews. This era of New Zealand’s colonial history centred on Kororareka, by the 1830s it was the largest whaling port in the Southern Hemisphere, popularly known as the “Hell-hole of the Pacific“. Our domestic whaling industry collapsed in 1964, and in resuming our membership in the IWC the NZ government issued the uncompromising view that “…whales should not be killed even if it could be shown that whaling does not threaten the existence of the species.” This proclamation was backed by the declaration of an international moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, coming into effect in 1986. However, a new approach has been mooted in light of the previous failures to agree at the IWC, a compromise approach (reducing the total number of whales slaughtered) that envisions an eventual cultural transformation. Labour MP Chris Carter has been extremely critical of the limited commercial whaling promoted by the Key administration, despite recent suggestions that Carter and Phil Goff had engaged in diplomatic negotiations along the same terms. Amidst this mess, Foreign Minister Murray McCully and Sir Geoffrey Palmer spent the week in Agadir, Morocco, attempting to reach an agreement, despite McCully’s fears that the IWC is presiding over a return of “anarchy” to the high seas. Continue reading