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Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

New rules on who can carry out some surgical procedures on animals and how they must be done are expected to be in place from May 2020. 

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says the new regulations under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 will make it clear who can do what surgical procedures and how they must be done.

They cover a wide variety of surgical procedures carried out on a wide range of animals by veterinarians and others – from specialist procedures to routine ones such as disbudding, dehorning, and lamb tail docking. 

MPI’s director of animal health and welfare, Dr Chris Rodwell, a veterinarian, says the new rules will mostly allow competent people to continue doing routine procedures on animals. Some new rules will raise the standard.

“Procedures on animals must be carried out by the right people with the right skills and care, to ensure the wellbeing of animals,” says Dr Rodwell.

“People who own animals or are in charge of them – including people who work with animals – should check now to see if they need to change what they do or the way they do it.”

There are new offences and penalties for some breaches of the new rules – including some that may result in a criminal conviction and a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $25,000 for a body corporate.  These penalties target minor to moderate offending.  More serious offending can be dealt with under the existing offences in the Animal Welfare Act 1999. 

The new rules require that where a person who is not a veterinarian is allowed to carry out a surgical procedure on an animal, they must be ‘competent’.

“To be ‘competent’, a person should be experienced with, or have received training in the correct use of the method for the procedure, and have the appropriate skill and equipment to carry it out.

“The person carrying out a procedure must make sure they are competent to do so. The owner or the person in charge of the animal also has a responsibility to make sure that the person carrying out the procedure is competent,” says Dr Rodwell.

For some surgical procedures, the new rules require the use of pain relief.  It is up to a veterinarian to authorise what type and to decide whether to allow a competent person who is not a veterinarian to administer it or to administer it themselves. Examples of the required pain relief are general and local anaesthetics and analgesic drugs.

The new rules have been developed after wide public consultation. The Government has approved regulatory policies, most of which are expected to come into force in May 2020, with some expected to come into force in May 2021.

Find out more about the consultation and the new rules

Who can do what under the new rules?

The new regulations on surgical procedures under the Animal Welfare Act 1999:

  • continue to allow competent people who are not veterinarians to carry out some procedures – an example is treating sheep vaginal prolapses
  • make it clear that some procedures must only be carried out by a veterinarian – an example is castrating donkeys
  • make it clear that some procedures are banned, meaning no one, not even a veterinarian, can carry them out – an example is cropping dogs’ ears to make them stand up
  • make it clear that competent people can continue to carry out some procedures if the animal is given pain relief, with a veterinarian authorising what type and deciding whether to allow a competent person who is not a veterinarian to administer it, or to administer it themselves – examples are extracting wolf teeth from horses or other equids and disbudding goats.

What animals and procedures are covered?

The new rules cover a wide range of animals and a wide variety of surgical procedures.  Some rules cover all animals on which a specific procedure is carried out. Other rules cover a specific procedure on a specific type of animal, for instance:

  • farm animals – dairy and beef cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, deer, llamas and alpacas
  • equids – horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, other wild asses, zebras and any of their hybrids 
  • poultry and game fowl
  • animals involved in research, testing and teaching
  • wild animals under a person’s control
  • animals involved in routine conservation and fisheries activities
  • a number of other animals like dogs, rabbits and rodents.

Most of the rules cover surgical procedures but some cover other things – such as the use of electric prodders.

What are the new offences and penalties?

The new offences may result in penalties, targeting minor to moderate offending, which fall into 2 categories:

  • a prosecutable regulatory offence may result in a fine and may also result in a criminal conviction – the fine is a maximum of between $3,000 and $5,000 for an individual or a maximum of between $15,000 and $25,000 for a body corporate
  • an infringement offence will result in a fee but does not result in a criminal conviction – the flat fee for some offences is $500 but this may rise if there is more than one animal involved. 

More serious offending falls under the offences in the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Why make new rules?

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 says that ‘significant surgical procedures’ may be carried out only by a veterinarian or their supervised student – unless regulations say otherwise. From 09 May 2020, new criteria will be coming into force in the Act to make it easier to decide what a ‘significant surgical procedure’ is.

These criteria would potentially mean only veterinarians could carry out some procedures – for example, docking the tails of lambs – unless there are new regulations to make it clear who can do what and how it should be done.

MIL OSI