How much could you lose? How much could you gain? Pigs in NZ's High Court

It's not unusual for a private organisation or a charity to conduct a court case challenging governance performance, standards or positions. PETA, Greenpeace and the Animal Legal Defence Fund ("ALDF") are just a few of the many organisations who have taken their challenge to the courtroom.

In July 2020 the New Zealand Animal Law Society went to the High Court to review whether the use of cages in pig farming is illegal under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Media reports on the internet and on television demonstrate the polarised views of advocates versus industry.

The position of the NZALA has been reported as: "The argument is that there isn't enough scientific basis or justification for allowing farrowing crates, that alternatives are possible, that NAWAC should have looked at those, and the failure to do so meant that they exceeded their powers under the Animal Welfare Act".

Science is one informant to government decision-making, but it's certainly not the only factor that guides decision-making. Of course, decisions must indeed be lawful but the Animal Welfare Act enables a broad discretion to be applied with its stated qualifying terminology permitting subjective views about what is "necessary" or "reasonable".

According to International Animal Law, there is an inherent tension within the Animal Welfare Act created by governance that purports to apply standards of "good practice and scientific knowledge" (Section 10, Animal Welfare Act 1999) but where the applied scientific knowledge of the Act references science that is half a century old (i.e. the principles of the Five Freedoms, see section 4 Animal Welfare Act 1999) rather than the genuine up-to-date animal welfare science of the Five Domains.

On that note, how much stronger do you think the argument of the New Zealand Animal Law Society would be if the law actually applied the science knowledge of the Five Domains and a consequent duty of care requiring people in charge of animals to provide them with opportunities for comfort, interest, pleasure and other positive states – rather than simply operating on lowest common denominator standards of justifiable pain or distress?

Have a look at the media commentary and see if you can spot the contrasting arguments. What would your position be if you were an advocate for banning farrowing crates? How would that differ if you represented the pig industry? And what would be your thoughts if you were sitting in the chair of the government decision-maker trying to fairly balance and appropriately prioritise the interests of all stakeholders, including the animal, under 200 year old law which focuses on just the animals negative states of pain, distress and suffering?

You might also like to consider what the impacts potentially are as a result of the Court's decision. For example, a win for the NZALA has potential wider ramifications for other animal husbandry practices beyond the pig industry. On the other hand, a loss arguably risks entrenching the current system and, similar to opinion about another case that was run on similar grounds in the UK, potentially hindering animal advocacy and lobbying initiatives by a decade.



Mellor, D.J. Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living”. Animals 20166, 21.

Integrating practical, regulatory and ethical strategies for enhancing farm animal welfare; David Mellor and Kevin Stafford,
Positive animal welfare states and reference standards for welfare assessment; DJ Mellor;