Animal welfare is an issue that generates significant media interest. There is a huge public outcry when animal mistreatment is reported by the media. One only has to think back to May 2011 when the ABC's 'Four Corners' reported on the mistreatment of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs. Not only was it all over radio, television and the internet, but the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry received hundreds of thousands of emails in one week.
Animal welfare also generates a significant amount of Ministerial correspondence in NSW on a day-to-day basis. In the six months from March to September 2011, the Animal Welfare Unit handled over 40% of the correspondence directed to the Biosecurity Division for response.
The Government, therefore, is very conscious that animal welfare cannot be ignored and is actively working towards improving legislation and systems that are in place.
The major animal welfare issue where the LHPAs intersect with DPI would be their involvement with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (POCTA) section 8 'Failure to provide' food and water cases. The majority of these situations can be managed to provide a good outcome for all involved. However, there are some that, for various reasons, have the potential to cause considerable problems. The Animal Welfare Unit is actively working on a number of fronts towards better management of these cases.
You may be aware of the Primefacts, 'Welfare decisions for beef cows' and 'Welfare decisions for sheep'. These Primefacts incorporate the welfare descriptors that were developed by Ian Blackwood, Brett Littler, Jane Kelly and others. The Primefacts have been accepted as useful documents for assessment of stock animals. They are being revised to make them even more useful in the field and have been published in small book format. Similar documents are under development for horses and dairy cattle.
In 2011, in conjunction with DPI Beef and Sheep Livestock Officers, we undertook training of over 60 officers from the three enforcement agencies, namely the Police, RSPCA and the Animal Welfare League, in fat scoring of cattle and sheep and application of the 'welfare descriptors'. They were also given practical experience in animal handling. They were very enthusiastic about the training and should now be able to better understand the condition of animals at the lower end of the fat scores.
We are working towards a major legislative change that will allow stock that are in a situation where it is obvious that they are deteriorating in condition and will continue to deteriorate below fat score 1, to be seized and sold. This power will allow animals to be seized before they slip into such poor condition that they must be euthanased. This will provide a better outcome for the animals, and for the owners. The detail of how this will work is still being negotiated.
You have heard of the development process for the livestock standards and guidelines today from Kevin de Witte. We are committed to implementation of the standards as mandatory provisions in NSW. They will be written as an Animal Trades Codes of Practice and adopted under schedule 2 of the Regulation under POCTA. This will be similar to the way the pig standards were adopted, in that there will be provisions within the legislation which must be complied with. The Animal Trades Code will be published on the NSW legislation website. The guidelines will not be regulated but the original standards and guidelines document will published on the DPI website as an educational tool. Links to the NSW animal welfare codes, legislation and other useful animal welfare-related information can be found by visiting: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au
We plan to implement the Land Transport standards in the first half of 2012. There is an important role for District Veterinarians (DVs) to play in education of farmers regarding the standards especially with respect to whether animals are fit to transport. There are specific provisions with respect to 'fit to load', and transport drivers will be empowered to refuse to load these animals. The standards make it clearer that drivers are partly responsible for selection of animals as 'fit' to travel.
Current guidance regarding selection of animals as fit for transport is given in the booklet titled 'Is it fit to load?' produced by Meat and Livestock Australia and published on their website. We have had enquiries regarding what to do with animals sent to saleyards that are unfit to load eg. advanced cancer eye etc. These animals should not be loaded and it will be an offence to load them once the transport standards are implemented.
On-farm education regarding these types of animal welfare issues will be increasingly important. DVs have access to farmers and are in a position to drive change where poor animal welfare practices are evident. For instance the POCTA regulatory requirements regarding pig husbandry could be promoted during swill feeding inspections to piggeries.
With respect to the on-going development of standards and guidelines, we hope that the cattle and sheep standards will be implemented in 2013.