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MPI called out over its handling of doping in animal racing industry

An expert in animal welfare law says the Ministry for Primary Industries isn’t doing it’s job properly after failing to lay charges over two recent cases of doping in the racing industry.

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Marcelo Rodriquez is questioning why trainers involved in two doping cases aren't facing criminal trials. Source: 1 NEWS

Harness racing driver-turned-trainer Jesse Alford appeared at a Judicial Control Authority Hearing this week after investigators caught him injecting two horses with the banned substance formalin, which contains 10 per cent formaldehyde.

It comes after last month’s hearing of greyhound trainer Angela Turnwald, who was handed a $3500 fine and a temporary racing ban because her dog tested positive for meth.

University of Otago senior lecturer Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere says he believes both incidents are “open and shut” cases under the animal welfare act that should lead to prosecution, but MPI says it hasn’t laid any charges.

“It's a clear breach of the act in my opinion and it's something both MPI and New Zealanders in general should be very concerned about” he says.

“The problem is MPI is a very reactive organisation, they’re ill-resourced and simply not well equipped to investigate and enforce the law in every given circumstance, its simply not good enough.”

MPI’s Director of Compliance Services Gary Orr told 1 News it takes animal welfare “very seriously”.

“MPI is engaging an independent expert to provide additional advice regarding the application of methamphetamine to a greyhound as well as formalin/formaldehyde and bicarbonate of soda to a horse," he said.

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Animal welfare advocates say that's nowhere near enough punishment, with the trainer's dogs were still racing today. Source: 1 NEWS

"Just like other agencies that have prosecution powers, animal welfare cases require a high standard of evidence to be successful in court.”

The criticism comes as the greyhound industry is facing a government review over welfare and transparency concerns, but SAFE NZ says it would like to see that review extended across the industry.

It said a review could be overseen by a Commissioner for Animal Welfare, something animal welfare groups have long called for.

“We think a review should be done across all racing codes, animals are getting injured and dying every day in the name of entertainment and gambling” CEO Debra Ashton said.

“It's very clear animal abuse issues are slipping through the cracks. A Commissioner for Animals would be able to oversee something like that and ensure all of the codes of welfare comes under one umbrella.”

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Animal welfare advocates say that's nowhere near enough punishment, with the trainer's dogs were still racing today. Source: 1 NEWS

Racing minister Grant Robertson says an all-of-racing review is unlikely.

“There's very specific issues in the greyhound sector that mean we are doing that review, we believe the racing integrity board that we're establishing is the right way to look across all the codes to make sure there is a fair go for everyone.”

NZ Thoroughbred Racing says it doesn’t think a review across all codes is necessary.

It hasn’t seen a case of deliberate doping since 2014, when former top jockey and trainer Brett McDonald had four horses return positive tests to a banned pain killer on the same race day, one of them breaking its legs and dying.

NZTR welfare and sustainability manager Marty Burns says while it’s individuals that bring different codes into disrepute, more could be done to improve racing's reputation as a whole.

“It comes down to having good knowledge of what’s happening within the industry, participants having good knowledge of expectations and us as industry bodies… being open and transparent and communicating well to the public and the government.”

He says the organisation would welcome more involvement from MPI in the industry.

“We're open to scrutiny but I feel confident that our participants have responded in a responsible way to the expectations that we give.”