New Zealand has long been one of the world's most successful dairy producers, but the industry's fortunes have been spoiled more than once in recent years. Earlier this month, a video emerged of a farm worker beating a calf to death, embroiling New Zealand in controversy and sparking worldwide concerns about the harsh realities of the country's dairy production.
Now, as the industry responds to increased scrutiny of its practices, one of New Zealand's former animal-welfare inspectors is speaking out about the brutality he witnessed during his time as an overseer. Hans Kriek, who now works for the animal advocacy group SAFE, told VICE in a recent interview that the calf-bashing video is just one example of the brutality that goes on in New Zealand dairies:
I've been at the slaughterhouse when the calves are unloaded. They have to come down a ramp, but they are so small and weak, and the ramp is so steep, that they don't want to go. So you have these workers pulling them by their ears and holding them by their tails and dragging them off the ramp. Then they throw them in wheelbarrows, because some of them just can't walk.
Finally, the animals are taken to the slaughterhouse, and they are shot in the head and killed, so that's what the industry in New Zealand calls high standards and humane. In our book it's absolutely inhumane.
According to Kriek, the government doesn't monitor calves that remain at dairy farms, making it nearly impossible to estimate how many stay alive or are killed. Calves are only part of the equation because cows (like humans) must be pregnant to produce milk, and the government's lack of oversight leaves the animals open to rampant abuse:
For one, most calves are born too early, because in NZ there's a process called calf induction. That's when veterinarians inject the cows to abort their fetuses so the farmers can start milking the animal earlier, which is a brutal practice...
When I worked as an SPCA officer, I had a complaint about a dairy farm, and when I went out there I saw this pile of little calves that the farmer had bashed to death with a claw hammer... he had just bashed them on the head. So we don't know how many calves in New Zealand are disposed of in this way, but the fact is that it's not just a few. It is fairly routine practice.
Kriek said he and his colleagues at SAFE have suggested that New Zealand institute an independent animal welfare watchdog, to increase oversight and ultimately put an end to industry abuses. He also advocated for more open dialogue about the costs of a lucrative dairy industry.
"The dairy industry is lauded as being wonderful for New Zealand because it brings in a lot of money, but there are downsides to that industry," Kriek said. "We already know that there are severe environmental downsides. But now people can see there are animal-welfare downsides."
You can read the rest of Kriek's interview here. For more on what you can do about mistreatment in the New Zealand dairy industry, visit SAFE's campaign to stop factory farming.
ACTION GUIDE: Factory Farming/Humane Eating
An increasing number of people are concerned about the industrial production of meat -- the environmental impact, the potential health drawbacks and the needless suffering of millions of animals. If you are interested in trying to find meat that has not been produced in a factory farm, trySustainable Table'sEat Well Guide. The USDA providesthis guideto finding local farmers markets.You can also shop products that have theAnimal Welfare Approvedsticker, or a number label from theGlobal Animal Partnership (5 is the hightest and best). The different labels can be confusing, though -- the HSUS createdthis helpful primeron the major ones. For humanely gathered eggs, we recommend thisorganic scorecard; for fish, the Monterey Aquarium'sSeafood Watch is a great guide. (Of course, the most humane meat is no meat at all -- here are some great tips onvegetarian and vegan eating.)