Kiwis set to ban inducing early labour in cows

Caitriona Murphy

New Zealand is set to ban the controversial practice of inducing cows into early labour in the face of growing animal welfare concerns among consumers.

Speaking at the International Dairy Cow Fertility Conference in Moorepark on Thursday, Scott MacDougall, from New Zealand's Animal Health Centre, said the practice was "on its way out in NewZealand" because milk processors could no longer risk losing market access for their milk.

Induction of labour using drugs has been used in New Zealand since the 1970s as a way of ensuring that cows that conceive more than eight weeks into the seasonal breeding programme calve down earlier than their due date in the subsequent lactation. Following a series of injections, the cows give birth to calves that are either born dead or euthanased shortly after birth.

Mr MacDougall told the conference that inductions were first used in New Zealand in the late 1970s and early 1980s and became widespread in later years. It is believed that between 100,000 and 200,000 cows were induced every year in the country until strict rules were imposed on farmers two years ago.

A 2010 agreement between the New Zealand Veterinary Association, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, DairyNZ and the Federation of Farmers of New Zealand has reduced the maximum acceptable level of inductions in a herd from 15pc in 2010 to 8pc last year and 4pc this year.

The issue of cow inductions hit the headlines in mainstream media in New Zealand and around the world in 2010, prompting outrage among the public.

A YouTube video showing dead calves, the product of induction, scattered on a New Zealand farm fanned the flames of the controversy.

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Henry Van Der Heyden, chief executive of the country's largest creamery, Fonterra, was also embroiled in the scandal when it emerged that induction was used on his farm.

Talks aimed at reducing induction use on New Zealand farms to zero are underway this month.

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