Primary Sector Council merges science with the metaphysical in vision to guide the food and fibre sector

The Primary Sector Council’s vision for the country’s vital food and fibre sector (you can check it out here) promotes the government’s programme for blending science with the Maori belief system.

In a press statement, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor welcomed the “vision to unite the primary sector”, although he did not mention advice to unite science with matauranga Maori.

But on the vision website we learned:

By bringing together Mātauranga Māori, community based knowledge and modern science, we will form a body of knowledge that can guide and elevate our practices everyday, empowering us to elevate ourselves above compliance.

The vision describes “an active approach” and brings the metaphysical concept of “mauri” into considerations –

Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) is an active practice. Good Kaitiakitanga will involve taking action where things are out of balance and other parts of the system are being affected by resource use. Te Mauri o te Taiao provides a framework for everyone to effectively assess the mauri of all the elements within Taiao. We will look to develop assessment and monitoring tools to assist with implementing Te Mauri o te Taiao successfully.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, an independent committee formed to give advice on animal welfare to the Minister of Agriculture, is another organisation within his agriculture ministerial bailiwick to have embraced Maori matauranga.

In  a press statement last month, the committee said it had published its annual report for 2018 describing its work programme and achievements.

The press statement includes:

During the year, the committee was challenged to find ways to become more inclusive and open in its deliberations. It is committed to continue to develop more effective public engagement and transparency in its processes and to incorporate mātauranga Māori principles into its work.

Point of Order noted this commitment to incorporate mātauranga Māori principles into the committee’s work and put a few questions to NAWAC.  They were answered by chairperson Dr Gwyneth Verkerk.  :

* How is this being given practical effect?

 In August 2019, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) and National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC) held a joint workshop with the objective to begin to develop an understanding of mātauranga Māori.

 The aim was to begin to consider when and how those principles and processes might be applied to the work of the two Government statutory animal wellbeing advisory committees.

A subcommittee has been formed to continue to guide the committees to incorporate mātauranga Māori principles. The committee sees this as a journey, or a long-term piece of work, so it is still early to describe specific outputs.

  • Does this bring indigenous knowledge that otherwise would be denied the committee and – if so – can you provide some examples?

The committee is not denied this knowledge (or any knowledge), but this work will certainly deepen our understanding and help guide thinking into the future.

  • My understanding is that matauranga Maori principles fundamentally are cultural, rather than scientific, and incorporate spiritual considerations.  How do these enhance the committee’s work and what are the benefits for the animals whose welfare is at issue?

 There are many different understandings of mātauranga Māori and of animal welfare. Animal welfare is a complex issue– while science underpins all of NAWAC’s work, it takes a number of factors into account.

 NAWAC’s guidelines, which set out how the committee works, already describe how NAWAC takes science, good practice, ethics and public opinion into account.

See guidelines 5, 6, 7 and 11 in particular (

  • How would the committee’s work be disadvantaged or less effective if mātauranga Maori was not incorporated?

 NAWAC gives the Minister responsible for animal welfare advice on animal welfare in New Zealand.  In New Zealand, the Government has an obligation to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which sets out key principles of partnership, participation and protection.

If the committee does not engage with these principles, it would not be giving the best advice possible to the Minister responsible for animal welfare. The committee considers that there is value, to New Zealanders and for New Zealand’s animals, in incorporating a Māori world view into its animal welfare considerations.

With regard to the partnership principle which underpins NAWAC’s embrace of matauranga Maori, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage recently told Point of Order:

“The principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are not explicitly stated in the articles of the Treaty itself.  

“They have evolved primarily though jurisprudence…”  

Mark Burton, Minister of Justice in the Labour-led government at the time, in 2007 reflected on the history and development of the Crown-Maori “relationship”. 

He referenced Sir Robin Cooke, writing in 1994, who observed that 12 decisions from the Court of Appeal between 1987 and 1993 on matters relating to the Treaty of Waitangi

 ” … enabled a new line of jurisprudence to emerge in New Zealand – Treaty jurisprudence.” 

Burton acknowledged that “treaty principles” are hard to pin down:

” In the view of the Courts and the Waitangi Tribunal, Treaty principles are not set in stone. They are constantly evolving as the Treaty is applied to particular issues and new situations. Neither the Courts nor the Waitangi Tribunal have produced a definitive list of Treaty principles.

“As President Cooke has said:  ‘ The Treaty obligations are ongoing. They will evolve from generation to generation as conditions change’.”  

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