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17 March 2005
Illegally and incorrectly develvetting deer without anaesthetic saw three men
and a company fined when they were sentenced on animal welfare charges in the
Rangiora District Court today.
John Craig Rutherford, 51, a farmer, of Culverden, and his company, Morna
Downs Limited, faced a charge of procuring any person to do an act, namely
develvetting of deer, as a result of which an animal suffers unreasonable or
unnecessary pain or suffering, and another charge of performing a significant
procedure on a stag not being a veterinarian or under the supervision of a
veterinarian. Rutherford was fined $5000, while his company was fined $7500.
His employees, Hamish Arthur Zuppicich, 26, a stock manager, and Jason Edward
Neal, 26, a shepherd, each faced a charge of performing a significant procedure
on a stag not being a veterinarian or under the supervision of a veterinarian,
and a charge of ill-treatment of deer. They were each fined $750.
The trio and the company pleaded guilty to the charges, laid under the Animal
Welfare Act 1999, in March.
Develvetting is a controlled surgical procedure that can only be carried out
by a veterinarian or an Accredited Velvetter who has completed a course run by
the National Velvet Standards Board (NVSB). Rutherford had applied to become an
Accredited Velvetter, but had not done any work to complete the programme, which
enables continued exports of venison to Europe, where develvetting is illegal on
animal welfare grounds. As recently as 2003 exports into that market were
challenged by European deer farmers.
The offending first came to light on 10 December 2003 when eight of 20 stags
sent to the PPCS deer slaughter plant at Islington were found by a MAF
veterinarian to have been develvetted, with the antler cut too low. Five were
cut below the pedicle, the soft growing area, which is fully supplied with blood
vessels and nerves until the antler hardens off. The veterinarian believed,
judging by the roughness of the cut, that it had not been done by a licensed
operator and that no anaesthetic had been used.
Veterinary advice is that unless anaesthetic is used, removing velvet is
similar to amputating a finger. Accepted practice is for deer to be develvetted
about 1cm above the pedicle to ensure future antler growth is normal.
The eight stags were traced to Morna Downs Limited, the defendant company,
operated by Rutherford, who was informed that develvetting was a controlled
surgical procedure that could only be carried out be a veterinarian or an
Accredited Develvetter. Rutherford had applied to become an Accredited
Develvetter, but had not done any work to complete the programme.
The offending occurred after Rutherford was sent information by both Deer
Industry New Zealand, the agency responsible for administration of the NVSB
velvetting programme (in November 2002) and a Velvet Bulletin prepared by the
NVSB (in March 2003). The bulletin reminded deer farmers that "Velvet can only
be removed by a veterinarian or by a trained and certified farmer".
When a search warrant was executed at Morna Downs on 19 March 2004, a pair of
loppers used for develvetting deer and rubber rings of a type that had been used
for develvetting were found. The rubber rings were the sort used to castrate and
dock lambs and calves, and not Natur O rings – the only analgesic rings approved
for develvetting deer.
In subsequent interviews, Neal and Zuppicich stated they had develvetted the
stags in December 2003, under instructions from Rutherford to remove the antlers
about 50mm above the top of the head. Neal stated he and Zuppicich took turns to
remove the antlers, using a pair of loppers.
Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry Compliance & Enforcement Group
Media contacts: Earl Culham MAF Team Manager, Animal Welfare Phone: 0-9-300
1642 or 021 767 864 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Phil Barclay MAF Senior Communications Adviser Phone: 0-4-470 2753 or 027 229
9145 Email: email@example.com