Thousands of rodeos take place in the world every year, around 35 in New Zealand. Originally arising out of cattle herding practices in Mexico and Spain, today they are held as mass entertainment, and to test the skill and speed of ‘cowboys and cowgirls’.
Most rodeo activities cause the animals they use pain and distress, Physical injuries include broken necks, broken bones, bruising, and ruptured skin. The animals – sometimes just babies as in ‘calf roping’ – also suffer extreme psychological stress.
In this article, Lynn Charlton of Anti-Rodeo Action argues that the violence we continue to allow against defenceless animals is at odds with our own Animal Welfare Act. Rodeo contradicts New Zealand’s self-proclaimed high animal welfare, and could damage our overseas trade.
(First published as an Opinion Editorial in stuff.co.nz.
Feature image: Lynn Charlton of Anti-Rodeo Action NZ.)
Photo credit: Bejon Haswell/Stuff
Last week, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor warned that international markets have indicated that New Zealand farming practices are going to come under increasing scrutiny, so “we all have to lift our game”.
“We live in a fishbowl whether we like it or not,” O’Connor said.
In 2017, the minister warned: “Disruption is upon us. If we don’t have better environmental management, if we don’t have more sustainable land use and uphold the highest standards of animal welfare, we won’t be able to sell our products into … high-value markets.”
Despite these warnings, resistance to doing the right thing is rife in New Zealand, as the farming community, fearful of change, demonstrates so well.
One area of resistance from farmers is in the violence committed against animals at rodeos.
That same year, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) convened an expert animal welfare panel which, applying science (though most people could see that it was cruel), found that animals experienced moderate to severe impacts in every rodeo event bar one – and that one isn’t without its problems. With the rodeo travelling-cruelty-circuses resuming this coming weekend, the assault-as-entertainment will be perpetuated by the same farmers that profit from exports based on our supposedly high animal welfare standards.
Retired beef, sheep, dairy farmer and anti-rodeo campaigner Alice Hicks, one of the few farmers willing to speak out publicly against rodeos, was asked to comment for this article. She said, “If farmers treated animals in their day-to-day business the way rodeos treat animals, they would be prosecuted, and have frightened, non-productive animals”.
Soon it will be five years since legal and animal welfare experts produced their findings.
The country has watched animals being brutalised every summer since, slowed only by Covid-19. This year legal action in the High Court to stop rodeos was passed back to NAWAC, when Justice Churchman acknowledged he did not have the expertise to assess each rodeo event. Fair enough.
In a radical change for NAWAC – and one decades overdue – a recent stakeholder document on a proposed new rodeo code of welfare includes banning calf roping, calf riding, steer wrestling, team roping, breakaway roping and spurring.
We await the next phase of public consultation on this, and no doubt the farming lobby, profiting from exports, will be claiming rodeos have great animal welfare, and being thrown around and spurred in the neck doesn’t hurt animals one bit. From their point of view, if animals can walk away after the assault, it didn’t hurt them. Loathe to say it, but that mentality was once commonly used against women who had suffered assault.
“We await the next phase of public consultation on this, and no doubt the farming lobby, profiting from exports, will be claiming rodeos have great animal welfare, and being thrown around and spurred in the neck doesn’t hurt animals one bit.”
The problem is that farmers and their lobby groups have too much say in government, and every government, is and has been, lassoed, washing-lined, and hog-tied into submission by them. Farmers are rodeo. Without them, rodeos would not exist.
Meanwhile, clubs have been recruiting children and young people and practising away from public scrutiny. Following rodeo association guidelines, they’ve avoided posting videos and photographs because of public outcry. This Government and any other government will be failing to uphold the rule of law by allowing rodeos to continue, confirming to farmers that violence towards animals is state-sanctioned.
While it shouldn’t take concerns over profit from export to inspire us to do the right thing by animals, we’ve been warned, and will get what we deserve.
Discerning international markets are watching and will increasingly be watching how we manage the environment and animal welfare.
The Government must do the right thing, and those farmers who are genuinely concerned about animal welfare should speak out and call for a ban on this violence.
“The Government must do the right thing, and those farmers who are genuinely concerned about animal welfare should speak out and call for a ban on this violence.”