Animal Rights Advocates Use Animal Welfare Law to Challenge Rodeo’s Legality

The legality of the rodeo was challenged today in the High Court.

Around 35 rodeos are held each year in New Zealand.
Photo: 123rf

The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and animal rights group SAFE want to put an end to what they say is “useless and illegal” sport.

Although a judge’s ruling does not ban the sport, the group says the government could have their hands tied doing so if the case is in their favour.

SAFE and NZALA are suing the Minister of Agriculture and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) over their welfare code for rodeos, seeking judicial review.

Their lawyers argued today that proper procedure was not followed for the adoption of a rodeo-specific animal welfare code in 2018, and that rodeo under that code is in violation of animal protection law.

The main tenets of the law are that no animal should suffer unnecessary distress and pain.

Around 35 rodeos are held each year in New Zealand.

These events include activities such as calf roping, bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling, barrel racing, team roping, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding.

A welfare code (rodeos) was established in 2014 by the Ministry of Primary Industry and updated in 2018.

SAFE and NZALA say the code normalizes the mistreatment of animals at these events and therefore violates animal welfare law.

SAFE chief executive Debra Ashton said animal welfare must be a priority for legislation.

But the judicial review will not result in an outright ban on rodeo.

One of the group’s lawyers, Victoria Heine QC, clarified for court today.

“It’s the business of the legislator, but this assertion misunderstands how the law works,” she said.

“The law does not explicitly authorize or prohibit, with few exceptions, particular activities and it certainly does not authorize or prohibit rodeo.”

High Court judge Mr Justice Churchman questioned whether a ruling in their favor would, however, make people reluctant to organize or attend a rodeo.

However, Ashton thinks that if they win their bid, the rodeo could be banned by the government.

“If we win this case, it goes back to the government, basically, and a draft social protection code is reworked,” she said.

“Or, potentially, the rodeo is terminated because the government cannot produce a welfare code that would align with the law.”

In 2020, SAFE and NZALA won a lawsuit against the government on similar grounds.

The High Court found that the use of farrowing crates and mating crates for pigs breached animal welfare law.

This case was mentioned in most of the arguments today.

Crown attorney Ken Stephen told the court the government recognizes it made a “mistake” with some of the processes for passing welfare codes.

“Our theory of the case, which is different from that of our learned friends, is that what was foreseen, for example if it had happened, in the [20]18 code had not been put in place or tagged, and the [20]14 had two relatively minor changes, so we wouldn’t be there,” he said.

The New Zealand Rodeo Society is the third claimant in the case, asking to be involved last year.

Its spokesperson said the band would not comment until a decision on the case was made. The case will continue tomorrow.

Comments are closed.