Council insists winter grazing improving in Southland, despite 'appalling' footage shared by animal rights group

Environment Southland insists it is continuing to see improvement on the issue of winter grazing in the region, despite new footage showing what an animal rights group says are "appalling" conditions on farms.

SAFE on Thursday released images and footage it claims was taken between July 31 and August 8 near Lumsden and Mossburn, in Southland.

The group says the footage was taken from the roadside adjacent to five farms in the area.

The footage shows a cow in labour in a mud-filled paddock and another which has recently given birth.

"It's appalling that cows and their vulnerable young calves are being kept in these conditions," said Marianne Macdonald, SAFE campaigns manager.

"This clearly breaches the Animal Welfare Act 1999, which states animals must be provided with adequate shelter."

Macdonald said animals should never be forced to stand and give birth in mud.

"The reality on farms is that animals continue to suffer in muddy fields with no access to dry areas, due to intensive winter grazing practices."

Winter grazing - where animals are strip fed a crop - has caused controversy in recent years. 

Activists say winter grazing is an environmental and animal welfare issue, with cows at risk of suffering painful health problems if they are kept in muddy paddocks.

The issue received nationwide coverage last year after a campaign sought to highlight the issue. That campaign led to Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor setting up a taskforce to investigate the matter, and an action group was subsequently established in March of this year to implement recommendations to improve animal welfare.

But SAFE says more needs to be done, and is pushing for intensive winter grazing to be banned outright.

SAFE called the conditions "appalling".
SAFE called the conditions "appalling". Photo credit: SAFE

Gary Orr, director of compliance for the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), on Friday told Newshub the industry "takes animal welfare very seriously and is committed to looking into every complaint we receive".

He said an investigation was undertaken after MPI was alerted to the images and footage on Thursday.

"Until that investigation is complete, no further comment will be given," he said.

"It is disappointing MPI was not informed of this issue more than 20 days ago when the footage was available so that we could have acted sooner."

Simon Mapp, compliance manager for Environment Southland, said the council stood by its earlier findings.

"Environment Southland completed three flights of Southland this winter," Mapp said.

"In this year's aerial inspections we have seen widespread examples of environmental good practice, showing that farmers have taken the advice from Environment Southland and other industry groups to implement good management practices to protect waterways.

"However our message remains that winter grazing is a high risk activity with regard to water quality and, although we are seeing significant improvements so far this year, we urge people not to become complacent."