Two animal welfare groups taking Govt to court over failure to ban rodeo

Two animal welfare groups are taking the Government to court for failing to end rodeo events.

The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and SAFE filed proceedings against the Minister of Agriculture for what they say is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

SAFE chief executive Debra Ashton told The AM Show on Tuesday rodeo needs to go.

"Under the Animal Welfare Act people responsible for animals are obligated to ensure their physical health and behavioral needs are taken care of - they're also responsible for ensuring the animals are not under unreasonable or unnecessary stress."

She says rodeo causes pain and distress to animals.

"Every year they cause torn ligaments, broken bones, bruising and internal damage. These injuries can be so severe that bulls and horses are killed."

A SAFE opinion poll in 2020 showed 51 percent of respondents would support a ban on the use of animals in rodeo, and 66 percent agreed it causes a level of pain and suffering which is not worth the entertainment value presented by rodeo.

Deaths at rodeos and similar events have made headlines in recent years, which the Rodeo Cowboys Association has regularly dismissed either as one-off incidents and "regrettable" mistakes. 

President Lyal Cocks said in January rodeo is "thriving" in New Zealand, "with the largest number of members for several years, especially juniors (under 15) and females".

"Spectator numbers have been at record highs at rodeos just completed such as Taupō, Te Anau and others.  The sport is scrutinised by MPI officers to ensure we are complying in all ways," he told Newshub. 

The Government promised before the 2017 election flank straps, electric prodders, and calf roping would be banned - and if that meant the end of rodeo then so be it.

However, in 2020 the Government backtracked on this promise, with agriculture minister Damien O'Connor saying an animal welfare watchdog deemed it unnecessary.

"The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee assessed welfare at rodeos as a whole, including assessing the current standards," he is quoted as saying by RNZ.

"It didn't recommend bans but pushed for the Rodeo Cowboy Association to establish a rodeo welfare committee, with independent members, to ensure improved monitoring and reporting."

Ashton says this shows there are issues with rodeo.

"The Government's own advisors have signalled serious concerns with rodeo activity and intend to look at the code in due course. Our issue is this is taking far too long."

She says as the Government has been "too slow" to act, it's time to take the case to court. 

It's not the first time the two groups have filed legal action against the Government.

In 2019 NZALA and SAFE filed court proceedings for the continued use of farrowing crates. In 2020, a judge ruled the Minister of Agriculture and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee acted illegally by failing to phase the crates out.