Driving through the New Zealand countryside, you may see cattle dotted over grassy green hills, rusty tractors and a little house nearby and think, “Oh, farming. Cool.” But it turns out a substantial part of New Zealand’s beef industry isn’t quite so utopian.
Federated Farmers and SAFE have been at each other’s throats since the animal activist group released drone footage of Ashburton’s Five Star Beef feedlot and called for a ban of the controversial practice.
Once cattle have spent six months grazing on grass in open paddocks, they are locked in unsheltered barren pens, fed a diet of grain, and vaccinated to prevent disease. The biggest feedlot in the country holds up to 20,000 cows at any one time. Cattle stay there from anywhere between two-and-a-half and eight months before they are slaughtered.
SAFE campaign manager Marianne Macdonald told RNZ these feedlot farmers “are just wanting to make a quick buck” but that the practice is “putting our international reputation at risk".
Miles Anderson of Federated Farmers responded by saying SAFE are a bunch of “vegan fundamentalists” and that their main incentive isn’t animal welfare, it’s banning animal farming altogether.
Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor then ripped into SAFE, saying they need to “live in the real world” and realise that “New Zealand would be crippled if we listened to everything they said".
Environment Minister David Parker has also weighed in, saying he struggles to understand how feedlots are legal. His main concern was livestock sewage and nutrients spilling into streams, rivers and aquifers when it rains.
The worst part, Parker says, is that regional councils have had the tools to deal with these issues since the Resource Management Act was passed in 1991, but a lack of nationwide rules means some areas can just do what suits them.
He says the government intends to visit the feedlots and establish binding national regulations by the first quarter of next year.