Animal Welfare Man Retires after 44 Year MAF Career

3 July 2000

A Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry career spanning more than four decades has left Senior Animal Welfare Adviser, Ross Burnell, with an enduring passion for animal health and welfare.

It's a vocation he expects will continue long after his "official" retirement on June 30.

Throughout his long and successful career, Ross Burnell has developed a wealth of knowledge on animal welfare and it's this expertise that's often called upon by those in the agricultural sector and the media.

Raised on a Horowhenua dairy farm, Ross joined the then Department of Agriculture in Palmerston North in 1956. He was a 'supernumerary' Assistant Livestock Instructor in the days when the Livestock Instructors (formerly called District Stock Inspectors) were somewhat of an icon in farming districts. They were in farming circles, Ross says, carrying out stock inspection, meat inspection and field advisory work "They were in many respects a kind of bush vet as there were few qualified vets around when compared with today," he says.

One of Ross's early memories is of his first Divisional Conference, which he says was attended by the great and venerable men of the Department. A non-smoker, he recalls that by lunchtime, his eyes streaming, he could barely see across the room. He also has many fond memories of those early days. He recalls the Friday evening drinks at what was known as 'the Bloatshed' - where Massey research on bloat in cattle was carried out. There he socialised with what he calls an 'interesting bunch' including world-recognised scientist, the late Cam Reid. Indeed Ross says it's been his great good fortune to have worked with many talented people over the years, many of whom became important and influential people of their times.

During the spring of 1957 Ross was asked to spend two weeks on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour while the Quarantine Station's sole charge officer took leave. There followed a period of splendid isolation as the officer became ill and Ross's stay on the island extended to ten weeks. He vividly recalls his only contact with the city was when the Police launch would collect him on a Tuesday morning to take him to buy weekly supplies, and perhaps 'allow' him to see a movie before returning to the island.

The following year, Ross transferred to Whangarei to work on a joint NZ Wool Board/Department of Agriculture scheme studying sheep foot diseases.

Then in 1960 he moved to the Department's Papakura office as an Inspector, and began contributing articles on animal husbandry and welfare to the Journal of Agriculture. It was that same year that his passion for animal welfare began in earnest, with the passage of the Animals Protection Act.

"We've come a long way since those days", he says. "Standards have improved out of sight." Ross says MAF has been fortunate to have people in senior positions to promote animal welfare as a key component of sustainable agriculture. "Now it's recognised as an important strategic issue and the rural sector has recognised that good animal health, high productivity and animal welfare go hand in hand," he says. "Good welfare has everything to do with farming for profit."

In 1969 Ross became the first Supervising Officer for the South Auckland District and held that role in its various guises for the next 20 years - through the important periods of Tb and Brucellosis eradication schemes.

In 1987 he was appointed to the Ministry's Animal Welfare Group, and in 1988 became the National Service Manager for Animal Welfare - a post he held for the next ten years. When MAF Quality Management became AgriQuality in 1998, Ross moved to MAF's Enforcement Unit as the Senior Adviser (Animal Welfare) - a post he's held ever since. In this role, Ross has been a MAF spokesperson on animal welfare issues, putting him frequently in the media and public spotlight.

Some of the highlights of this period of his career include deputising as the National Director of Agricultural Security in 1996, and having some input into the Animal Welfare Act which became law on 1 January this year. Ross says it's proactive legislation, not bottom-of-the-cliff stuff, as was the Act it replaced.

Ross Burnell says there are still some animal welfare issues that concern him including a lack of shelter and shade for our livestock, practices such as tail docking and the induction of dairy cows, the bobby calf trade and concerns relating to the transport and nutrition of animals. "New Zealand farmers are, however, the best there are, and generally care for their animals well."

MAF's Director Animal Welfare, David Bayvel pays tribute to Ross's outstanding contribution. "In the ten year period that I have worked with Ross he has demonstrated the personal and professional qualities which epitomise the values of the public service. His (semi) retirement is a significant loss to both MAF and the NZ livestock industries," says Dr Bayvel.

Full retirement isn't really an option for Ross Burnell. He'll be spending more time with his family, running his South Auckland dairy farm, and indulging his interests such as his two acre home garden, classical music, art deco collecting and watching cricket and rugby. Then there's his interest in local and national politics. And if all this won't keep him busy enough, he plans to do some teaching, auditing and writing, and will put up his shingle as an "Animal Welfare Consultant".

For further information, contact:

Ross Burnell 021 894980
Gita Parsot, MAF Communications, 04 498 9806

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