New Zealand Animal Law Conference

This blog post was written by Whangarei Vegan Society member, Ian Duffield.


The New Zealand Animal Law Association had its second conference In Auckland last Saturday, and three of us from the Whangarei Vegan Society, Cathy, Nellie, and I, were lucky enough to be able to attend. The NZALA is a group of lawyers and law students who work together in the legal arena to improve the lives of animals in New Zealand. They provide free legal assistance to animal protection organisations, make submissions to Parliamentary committees on proposed new legislation (or changes), assist with animal cruelty prosecutions, and generally help improve public awareness of animal law.


The conference at AUT didn’t have the big stars that the first one offered, where they had the famous primatologist Jane Goodall and the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG (the patron of NZALA) speak, but their second conference was every bit as interesting. After an introduction from the NZALA chairperson, Saar Cohen- Ronen, the programme rolled forward. The keynote speaker was Camille Labchuk, who, as an advocate for Animal Justice in Canada, was able to offer her insights into the methods used by “trailblazing lawyers” to advance the welfare of animals in Canada.


Another speaker, whose books are well known to many at the conference, was the ethnologist Jonathon Balcombe. Jonathon, speaking via Skype, gave many examples in his address to show how fish could be shown to be “sentient, aware, sociable, and even Machiavellian.”


Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere, a Senior Lecturer in Animal Law at Otago University, explored the paradox of the animal law position in our country: while we have a world-leading Animal Welfare Act, the application of the so-called codes undermines the intention of the Act.


Speakers who generated interest were Dr Mike King, a bioethicist from Otago, who spoke of the balance in animal experimentation between the greater good of the community, and the reality of the suffering of the animals involved in the experiments. James Dunne, who has oversight of the self-regulation of standards in the NZ Harness Racing Organisation, spoke via Skype about the situation in the racing industry, and Oska Rego, a Resource Management solicitor, and an NZALA Executive Member also spoke with this group about possible alternatives to the Animal Welfare Act framework.


The conference also had a number of panels. The first combined the early speakers with Steve Glassey, a Ph.D student at Otago, and a representative from the SPCA. They discussed the need for an Animal Commissioner for our country, and for better enforcement roles by the SPCA and the police – the case was made for a combination of these roles as has happened successfully in New York.


Another panel involved the sharing of ideas on effective advocacy for change in New Zealand. Taking part were: Sasha Borissenko, a journalist, Gareth Hughes, the Green M.P., Debra Ashton, the CEO of SAFE, and Samantha Beattie, a barrister and an NZALA Executive Member.


The afternoon wound up with addresses by Asher Soryl, a Ph.D student, who offered a case study on the use of poison, genetic modification and other methods for controlling introduced animals, and Dr Christine Sumner, a Science Officer with the SPCA, who spoke on balancing animal welfare against other legal and ethical considerations.


The organisers of the conference should take a bow for their efforts; they produced another fascinating day for those interested in animal welfare developments in New Zealand, the addresses and panel discussions were all interesting, they were chaired well, and most importantly, the vegan food offered during the breaks was excellent.