This morning I read a very small item in the Dom-Post about large numbers of calves having to be shot by MAF on a farm owned by the Crafars, who've been in the news a lot lately for dirty dairying.
CraFarms, now up for sale, is New Zealand’s biggest privately-owned dairying group and produces 0.5% of Fonterra’s total output. It runs 20,000 milking cows and 10,000 other stock, and it has 200 staff and around NZ$200 million of debt.
A MAF spokeswoman said "The farm manager had had a serious accident and was unable to care for and manage the calves". That's odd, I thought. Then, looking for something else, I came across a Herald article which told a very different story.
"Poor management and the pressures of massive debts obtained during rapid expansion meant this farm was so poorly managed that none of the staff trained the calves to drink milk, allowing them to die of dehydration in a muddy pen even though their trough was often full. MAF's inspectors were called in to this farm and others in the Crafar Farms group many times in recent years, yet this and others like it were allowed to keep operating."
The farm manager had indeed had an accident, breaking both his legs, but this happened the day the MAF inspector arrived. His visit was prompted by a concerned local farmer who asked MAF to look into the conditions on the property.
According to the Herald, MAF gave farm staff advance notice, "prompting an impromptu slaughtering of those calves closest to death by workers who bludgeoned them to death with hammers or slit their throats." The MAF inspector shot the others. MAF has not yet determined whether it will take any further action.
A video of the starving calves was "obtained" by interest.co.nz, the site that ran the original story. This "news and opinion" site is sponsored by RaboBank and edited by Bernard Hickey, a veteran journalist and editor. He and his producer were attacked when they visited the farm.
Comments on the story are flooding in - a few in support of the Crafars. Many draw attention to the fact that the move to enormous dairy holdings (run by hired, often poorly paid staff) has been lauded by Fonterra.
There is no route back to a norm of smaller, owner-operated farms. But surely it's vital for NZ's reputation and its whole economic future - not to mention humane, sustainable practices and safe food - that such appalling abuses are swiftly picked up and severely dealt with.
Our animal welfare standards are said to be "world-class". But as MAF's replies to Hickey's queries show, it is "currently resourced" for precisely five animal welfare inspectors, with "part time assistance...utilised as required."
And despite all the concerns and fines, Fonterra has gone right on accepting Crafar Farms milk.
Apparently there'll be more on TV One's Close-Up tonight. Meanwhile the Dom-Post should be ashamed of itself for running such a pathetic apology for a story.