SPCA signs petition for a Parliamentary Inquiry into virtual fencing technology for dairy cattle
The petition calls for a review of whether virtual fencing technology, which relies on a GPS-enabled collar and electric shocks to contain cattle, is acceptable to the public, consumers, and export markets.
Virtual fencing technology is an emerging alternative to a physical fence, primarily used for cattle. A collar is placed on the animals which deters them from passing a defined virtual boundary. The boundary can be changed frequently based on GPS coordinates.
Generally, the collar will deliver an auditory cue first as the animal approaches the boundary, which if ignored will escalate to an aversive stimulus like an electrical shock. The animal is expected to learn to associate the auditory cue with the boundary over time.
SPCA opposes the use of aversive training techniques or equipment that punishes animals. Inescapable, unpredictable punishment such as via a collar which is programmed remotely is known to be particularly detrimental to welfare.
Each individual animal will learn and react differently to virtual fencing technology. While some individuals may be able to learn quickly and experience minimal problems, SPCA is concerned that some individuals will not adapt to the use of a collar and will experience poor welfare. In addition, infrastructure failure (in terms of animals being able to escape the fence, or in terms of collars malfunctioning) is a concern.
Organisations such as the UK’s Farm Animal Welfare Council stated that “As the use of virtual fencing systems significantly increases, develops and diversifies, an approvals process may be needed.” New Zealand’s National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, when reviewing virtual fencing, concluded that “training animals using aversive techniques is not considered best practice and NAWAC recommends that aversive techniques should not be used.”
SPCA considers that further research which addresses these welfare concerns is required before virtual fencing technology is deployed onto New Zealand farms, and that the technology may never be suitable for some applications. Therefore we support an inquiry into the acceptability of this technology to the public, consumers, and export markets.
The petition, started by the Rhodes Farming Partnership, closes on 6 March 2024.