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Animal welfare regulations 2018: Large animal veterinarians

With new animal welfare regulations set to come into effect, Richard Wild, Specialist Advisor, Verification Services, Ministry for Primary Industries, looks at the ramifications for production animal veterinarians.

Summary

The next tranche of animal welfare regulations is due to come into effect on 1 October 2018. The vast majority of the requirements in the regulations are not new, and currently exist as minimum standards in codes of welfare. Raising these minimum standards to the level of regulations gives these welfare issues a higher profile and a greater focus for industry and regulators.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and industry organisations, including the NZVA and VCNZ, are working to develop a national communications strategy to ensure that all relevant parties (and persons in charge) are aware of the regulations before they come into effect, and that they receive consistent messaging from all stakeholder organisations.

Background

The New Zealand Animal Welfare Act came into effect in 1999. It is based on several key principles, including the responsibility of persons in charge of animals for their welfare. Codes of welfare were developed to provide best-practice guidance, as well as to define minimum standards to meet the requirements of the Act.

In 2015 the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill was passed. It made a number of changes to the Act, including:

  • recognition of animal sentience
  • provision for the development of regulations to provide further tools to manage lower-level offending
  • provision for the issuing of compliance notices by inspectors to persons in charge to resolve welfare issues.

Prior to these changes to provide for the ability to make regulations, MPI was limited in its ability to take action where there was low level offending, and could only issue warnings or seek prosecution through the courts. The ability to develop regulations and issue infringement notices and compliance notices has provided MPI with a greater range of tools and options for individual cases of welfare compromise.

What is the desired impact of the regulations?

The key outcome is the further enhancement of animal welfare in New Zealand. With respect to the regulations that will directly or indirectly affect veterinarians, there are several channels through which the regulations seek to improve welfare. These include, but are not limited to:

  • changes in the attitudes and behaviours of persons in charge of animals (ie, farmers, transporters, livestock agents and processors)
  • changes in farming and transport practices in line with the standards set by the regulations
  • increased accountability of transporters and farmers when defective stock are transported
  • ability for MPI to identify and infringe low level offending.

Experience with calf regulations

The first set of regulations to be implemented was the young calf regulations that came into effect in 2016 and 2017.

In early 2018, the Minister for Animal Welfare issued a report detailing the results of the MPI/industry calf programme and regulations.

From 2008, MPI and its predecessor organisations coordinated a voluntary bobby-calf animal welfare programme working with industry groups along the supply chain. This focused largely on improving the welfare outcomes of the more than two million bobby calves that were sent to slaughter each year. MPI used mortality as a proxy for measuring welfare improvements, and at the commencement of the programme in 2008 the national mortality rate was 0.68%. During the intervening years, this voluntary programme gradually reduced the mortality rate to 0.25% in 2015. The implementation of the calf regulations in 2016 and 2017 saw this mortality reduce further to 0.12% in 2016 and 0.06% in 2017. In 2016 MPI implemented animal welfare regulations for the first time and worked with industry bodies, agreeing to take an educative approach. Fewer than 20 infringement notices were issued in 2016 during the educative period, but in 2017, when a less tolerant approach was taken to regulatory offending, 155 infringement notices were issued.

Experience from the past two years has shown that including regulations in the suite of available tools has been effective in providing a greater focus on calf welfare, and a heightened level of activity and coordination across the supply chain for further improvement in calf welfare and minimising the reputational risk to the New Zealand meat and dairy industries.

The NZVA and veterinarians have played a significant part in the results that have been achieved to date. However, further improvements can be made, and it is good to see the work going into developing livestock production systems that further reduce poor welfare outcomes for young calves.

The 2018 Regulations

In October 2018, 60 animal welfare regulations are scheduled to come into effect. These include a number of regulations related to dairy and beef cattle, sheep, deer, goats, pigs, layer hens, llamas, alpacas and dogs. Also included is a series of regulations that relate to stock transport and veterinary certification.

Experience from implementing the calf regulations is that the implementation phase of a package of regulations is resource intensive. It requires a comprehensive and coordinated communication programme between MPI and industry to raise the awareness of all those in charge of animals along the supply chain. MPI is working with the NZVA and other industry organisations on a comprehensive education and awareness programme.

Although veterinarians are generally not deemed to be persons in charge of animals under the Animal Welfare Act in most situations, it is important that veterinarians are aware of the regulations that are relevant to the animals that they work with and can provide appropriate advice to their clients if asked about the animal welfare standards and regulations.

Of course, all registered veterinarians will be aware of the expectations of veterinarians regarding animal welfare as spelled out in the VCNZ Code of Professional Conduct.

The 2018 Stock Transport Regulations

The current Animal Welfare (Transport within New Zealand) Code of welfare 2011 Minimum Standard 6 (g) states, “Animals must not be transported if they display any injuries, signs of disease, abnormal behaviour or physical abnormalities that could compromise their welfare during the journey, unless a veterinary declaration of fitness for transport has been completed”. Since the publication of the code in 2011, MPI, the NZVA and VCNZ have worked closely to develop transport guidelines for clinical practitioners and MPI veterinarians to reference, so that an agreed standard is understood by all veterinarians. These guidelines have to a large extent ensured a consistent national approach by veterinarians, and have been the starting point for a campaign to set the standard for managing these issues along the supply chain for farmers, transporters, agents and processors.

A consistent message from the veterinary profession has been a key part of this programme. The stock transport regulations will further raise the profile of this issue within the farming, transport and processing industries, and veterinarians may see increasing requests for certification. The profession needs to ensure that we provide this service in a consistent manner that sends the right messages about disease prevention and management, rather
than, ‘If all else fails, call the veterinarian for a certificate’.

There are 16 stock transport regulations in the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2018 coming into effect on 1 October. Six of these regulations provide for diseased or defective animals to be transported if they are accompanied by a veterinary certificate. These include the following conditions:

  • Ingrowing horns.
  • Injured horns or antlers.
  • Cancer eye (cattle, sheep or goat).
  • Injured or diseased udders (cattle, sheep or goat).
  • Late pregnancy (cattle, sheep, deer, pig or goat).
  • Lameness (cattle, sheep, deer, pig or goat).

These conditions were identified for regulation because they are the six most common conditions identified at slaughter premises by MPI Verification Services (VS) veterinarians.

Role of veterinarians: Fitness for Transport Certification

The primary role of veterinarians is to ensure the best outcomes for the animals. This may or may not involve certification for transport, and all other
options should be considered as well.

When it comes to fitness for transport veterinary certification, it is recommended that veterinarians consider the following points when asked to provide a certificate for a compromised animal, irrespective of whether the condition is subject to regulation:

  • Has a thorough clinical examination been conducted and is there a diagnosis of the likely cause of the condition?
  • Has due consideration been given to the animal’s ability to arrive at their destination in a similar state to when certified?
  • Has discussion with an MPI VS veterinarian been undertaken (if the animal is being transported for slaughter)? This will help with calibration and communication, and allow for priority slaughter or other appropriate action on arrival.
  • Has evidence (photos/videos) been collected to support the certification decision at the time it was made?
  • Has consideration been given to getting a second opinion if uncertainty or undue pressure to provide a certificate is affecting decision-making?

VCNZ Professional Advisor Wayne Ricketts wrote a couple of very good articles in the November and December 2017 editions of VetScript on this subject that I recommend you read.

As Wayne emphasises in his articles, there is no rush to provide a transport certificate. Take your time to consider the appropriate course of action; in many cases, certification will not be the appropriate response. Be aware that these transport regulations relate to the transport of livestock to any destination, not just to a slaughter plant.

Talk to your colleagues, and talk to the VS veterinarian at the slaughter premises if you propose sending the animals for processing. This may include sharing photos or videos. The list of VS contacts is on the NZVA website, and while the names of the veterinarians at the slaughter plants are not listed, the phone numbers are and the names and numbers of the six VS National Animal Welfare Coordinators and myself are listed as well. We welcome the opportunity to talk to you about any cases. 

Training and calibration of veterinarians

MPI VS employs more than 220 veterinarians in our Establishment, Circuit and Live Animal (Import/Export) businesses. MPI also employs 25 animal welfare officers in its Compliance group.

All these staff are warranted inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act. MPI is currently running a series of workshops across the country to ensure that all our warranted inspectors are trained and calibrated to ensure a consistent national approach to the plan for implementing the regulations.

MPI procedures are being revised, and we are working with the NZVA and VCNZ to ensure that procedures relating to regulations involving veterinary certification are consistent with the NZVA/VCNZ procedures/guidelines. At the time of writing, a series of regional roadshow presentations from MPI/NZVA/VCNZ is being conducted across the country.

MPI has developed a series of training and calibration modules, including a range of photographs and videos of cases that will elicit an escalating range of responses from MPI to the persons in charge, from education and warning through to infringement fines and recommendation for prosecution. These have been developed specifically for use by MPI, but we are happy to work with other organisations to assist with education and raising awareness.

No doubt the lameness regulation will be the most challenging of the regulations involving the transport of animals for farmers and veterinarians. Our video library of lameness cases and dispositions will be an important tool for helping to achieve a consistent approach.

Conclusion

The stock transport regulations will raise the profile of this issue within the farming, transport and processing industries, and veterinarians can expect to see an increasing level of awareness and likely an increasing demand for certification. The profession needs to ensure that we provide this service in a consistent manner and in one that sends the right messages about disease prevention and management.

For some farmer clients, the implementation of the regulations will provide some impetus for them to work more closely with their veterinarians on improving the health and welfare of animals in their care. This will help ensure that they stay within the law and comply with the regulations relevant to their farming enterprises. Issues such as lameness and the constraints of transport resulting from lameness are likely to drive farmer behaviour towards more preventive programmes and a different approach to their use of veterinary services