CASE NOTES


CAN LIVESTOCK ANIMAL WELFARE REFORM COME FAST ENOUGH?

Glenys Oogjes, Executive Director, Animals Australia

Posted Flock & Herd March 2012

INTRODUCTION

Animals Australia is a non-profit charitable organisation financed through community support. We are a federation of 40 groups, and also have a large individual membership and supporter base. We have representation on all major state and national animal welfare committees.

Animals Australia's Statement of Purpose says relevantly that we exist to protect animals from exploitation and suffering and permanently improve the lives of all animals in Australia.

What we aim to do includes -

There is a perception, and perhaps even an underlying strategy from some in animal industries (and other animal use industries), to paint Animals Australia as radicals - we have been called all sorts of things - radical activists, extremists, animal rightists, even agri-terrorists.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and indeed it is quite counterproductive to a considered debate, and particularly if in so mis-labelling us, it leads to farmers and others taking licence to leave their heads firmly in the sand. Counter-productive too because in fact we are actually representing mainstream Australians who oppose unnecessary suffering.

What is clear, and what needs to be taken into account is that the vast majority of Australians do care about animal welfare and are appalled by animal cruelty.

Many industry practices that cause great suffering (putting aside why they have developed or persist), have only continued as a result of them being unknown to the public (e.g. sow stalls, mulesing, single penning of ultra fine wool sheep etc). The current level of public knowledge of farming practices is very low in Australia.

REFORM HAS NOT BEEN WELL MANAGED

Our progress on animal welfare reform initiatives in this country is (sadly) characterised by reactions to disasters - e.g. the Cormo Express rejection by Saudi Arabia leading to some minimal changes in live export standards, the expose of cattle having their tendons slashed and eyes stabled in Egypt's Bassetin Abattoir, a Tasmanian piggery cruelty debacle which highlighted intensive piggeries (and may well have then influenced the Tasmanian AWAC decision to ban sow stalls), the Four Corners expose of Indonesian slaughter house practices which came after a decade of evidence from Animals Australia being ignored, but then lead to total disruption of the northern cattle industry.

The community response to each of our exposes gets progressively bigger, but the Governments are still reactive rather than proactive on most welfare issues. As such, from my perspective animal welfare reform or progress seems not to be a linear progression, rather it moves in fits and starts.

In terms of community reaction too, we have observed that as any single issue is raised with people (highlighted in the media), it then leads to greater questioning about other issues and a surprisingly rapid awakening to hidden truths. So the 'mutterings amongst the masses' in regard to animal welfare are currently increasing substantially judging from the communications we receive and observe.

Further, each disaster or expose or high profile campaign leads to additional garnering of support from the legal profession, veterinarians, marketing and advertising firms, sympathetic journalist with editors that are pleased to run stories, online videos, requested profile and opinion pieces, overseas colleagues groups adding their muscle - all meaning that more rapid growth and influence is assured from hereon. You may not be surprised that the Indonesian live export debacle last year lead to over 50,000 news articles on the issue, and not surprisingly Lyn White (my Animals Australia colleague and our investigator and spokesperson on Indonesia) was (amongst numerous other accolades for her work) in January named ABC NewsRadio's NewsMaker of the year - beating Black Caviar (a horse apparently!) and Julia Gillard to the title. I have been an animal advocate for over 3 decades and never have we had this level of interest or support in the wellbeing of animals from many and diverse members of our community.

We have also seen an increase in assistance and alliances with our member groups and others - such as WSPA, RSPCA Australia and overseas groups such as Compassion in World Farming and the Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal welfare group in the world.

Relevantly, in more recent times as our profile has increased, we have started to receive reports of livestock cruelty (some from livestock workers), and have on occasions acted as official complainants to DPI and other agencies. I could provide you with catalogues of photos that are being sent in to me. I am sure there is much more cruelty and omission of clear duties to animals, neglect particularly, that should be acted upon. I feel everyone here who lives their lives amongst animal farmers has a role to play in assisting to raise standards.

DIFFERENT LEGAL STANDARDS

I must note here that the sins of the past, neglect of overdue animal reforms, are fuelling the current outrage. In particular, neither the legal profession nor the community can believe when first told of the inequitable legal protection that animals receive.

We have totally unjustifiable multiple standards of treatment of animals, not based on their sentience or their needs, or their own welfare, but based rather on our perception of them as a pest, as a unit of production, as a laboratory subject, as a pet. Our Codes of Practice essentially exempt some animals from the reach of the cruelty provisions of law. What you can do to a farm animal, you cannot do to a pet - regardless of their similar abilities to feel pain and suffer. This is ethically and legally unjustifiable. And this will start to change now based on the changing expectation of the community, and through the work of the growing animal law movement, led by people such as the former high court judge Justice Michael Kirby. He has written only recently (The Australian, 1 October 2011):

Few countries subject so many animals to so much distress as Australia does through its live exports and through the raising of stock at the very perimeters of viability, often in harsh desert conditions that take their toll in animal suffering and death.

Animals, raised for slaughter, cannot explain the suffering, pain and fear that they feel. But humans who empathise sufficiently, can do so.

Justice Kirby and other leading legal people have urged the legal profession to embrace animal welfare law reform as the next social movement challenge - and many are now doing so.

CONCERN ABOUT CODES OF PRACTICE, AND NOW THE NEW STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES

The national Model Codes of Practice for farm animals were first written in the early 1980s as voluntary minimum standards. The incentive at the time was the emergence of the 'new' animal welfare movement, after Peter Singer's 'Animal Liberation' book was published and Animal Liberation organisations were established across Australia.

It may therefore not be surprising to learn that these codes, introduced largely as a defensive measure, then also only reflected and permitted routine practices of the time. Neumann, when discussing industry concern about the proposals for legal enforcement of welfare standards (the subsequent Standards and Guidelines process) reported concerns of industry leaders given that historically the involvement of the industries in Code development was based on documenting existing management practices and that compliance would be voluntary.

Once completed State legislators were then successfully lobbied by farming interests to ensure State laws recognised the Codes and made compliance with them (effectively) an exemption from a prosecution for cruelty. So, the painful practices described in the codes, such as tail docking and castration of cattle, sheep and pigs, and dehorning and flank spaying of cattle, all without any pain relief, and confinement of animals in cages and pens so small that to do the same to a companion animal would not be allowed, were thus lawful. Existing 1980s practices were immune from prosecution because the Codes existed, and the animals saw no real change.

As you will all know from the earlier address, some decades after the national Model Codes were drawn up, a move to replace the 'Codes' with legally enforceable 'Standards' and associated advisory 'Guidelines' was agreed. The land transport Codes were the first Codes to use the new review system. We are concerned by the process that is being used, fearing that the Standards will not substantially change the status quo. I say this as a member of the Reference Group for the Land Transport Standards review and because I have seen the pressure that is exerted within the Standards and Guidelines Reference Group and through outside political lobbying by industry leaders to maintain the status quo and to avoid true consideration of the growing body of animal welfare science and sound scientific opinion.

BOBBY CALVES - a pertinent example related to the decision on the maximum 'time off feed' (TOF) for bobby calves. The land transport Code review process involved protracted debate from 2006 about key issues such as the age at which the young calves are transported (5th day of life to 10 days of age), the time they are permitted to be transported and/or kept off liquid feed (12hrs - 30 hours), bedding and space on transports. Most recently the issue of time off milk continues to be contentious with Animals Australia (and RSPCA Australia) seeking to spare young bobby calves the extended period without sustenance, enduring transport and then often cold and uncomfortable holding before slaughter up to 30 hours later.

This is not primarily about long distances (few calves are transported for more than 12 hours), and it is not usually the fault of the transporter; it is just the current arrangement to suit all those along the supply chain. What the animal welfare groups suggested, and during discussion the Australian Livestock Transporters Association concurred, was that the usual practice be changed, such that the buying systems be adjusted to rationalise the process and deliver the calves to the abattoir instead for an afternoon killing shift. Alternately, it was suggested that the calves be fed later (in the middle of the day), taken for sale and transported to the abattoir that afternoon or into the evening, and slaughtered at first shift. The time off liquid food would be some 18 hours only.

However, rather than embrace the need for a change to reduce the period of stress and hunger for the calves during their last day (or two) of life, the dairy industry was keen to use 'science' to demonstrate that keeping a calf off liquid food (any sustenance) for 30 hours was physically acceptable, and thus 'shore up' the defence of the current system. I will not provide you with detail here - but suffice to say the study undertaken has come under considerable criticism for its methodology and for the manner in which its conclusions have been misused to justify the status quo.

At the time of writing, the PIMC was yet to determine the detail of the Standard, but it is assumed the Standard will be 30 hour TOF; if adopted this will mean virtually no change to current bobby calf transport arrangements, indeed it will continue to accommodate even those who market bobby calves interstate and are termed 'outliers' by Dairy Australia.

With such a disappointing national approach, it is likely that animal protection groups, including Animals Australia, will seek to have the various jurisdictions adopt higher Standards into State legislation, over and above the agreed national S&Gs.

ENFORCEMENT - In this forum I will note too that during the transport standards review State governments have said (in the regulatory impact statement and during meetings) that they do not intend to spend more on compliance with the S&G than they did with the Codes, and that was minimal. It will therefore clearly require some further community pressure to force greater surveillance and thus protection of transported animals.

THE FUTURE CODE/STANDARDS REVIEW PROCESS

As outlined, there are considerable concerns with the review process and the outcomes. In particular, the most recent reviews have not been so much based on sound science, as science being essentially 'used' to justify current practice.

There is also the inherent bias of this system - where the S&G Reference group is dominated by industry representatives (2-5 from each species group) with a modus operandi that effectively provides them in any event with ultimate veto on any standard they feel they cannot, or do not wish to, comply with. Add to this the PIMC decision-making process itself, which is administered by government departments whose main clients are rural livestock industries, and no one should be surprised that the animal welfare voice, the voice for the plight of the animals, is lost or drowned. We will work towards a fairer system as I am sure you too would wish to do.

SHEEP WELFARE ISSUES OF CONCERN

MULESING Despite the original 2010 deadline and the massive disruption of that campaign, still AWI estimates are that only some 8% of the 10.8 million lambs born for wool, some 864,000 were not mulesed. That means for 09/10 some 92%, or 9,936,000 lambs were mulesed. I don't need to explain how frustrating this has been given I have been complaining about this gross mutilation for over 30 years.

Pain relief, or more precisely temporary pain relief through the spraying of the topic analgesic Trisolfen is still not sufficiently widespread. Of the approximate 10 million lambs mulesed in 2009 (AWI figures), only 1/3rd were mulesed using pain relief. The more recent national sheep survey (Sheep CRC & DAFWA, Non Mulesing Network newsletter, DAFWA November 2011) indicated that still some sheep bred for meat are being mules (up to 10%) and half were having pain relief applied. The survey found 88% of all merino lambs are mulesed, with still only 40% of these lambs having pain relief. Whilst Trisolfen is not a panacea - it does not address the pain that persists during the several weeks during healing - why is any producer doing mulesing without it? Who wants to explain that to the Australian public and any wool buyer in the world?

Similarly it is concerning that lamb tail docking and castration without pain relief continues. Trisolfen, though recently fully registered, is still not registered for use for those purposes.

Further, even the promised training deadlines and accreditation for all contractors and for all operators performing the mules operation has not yet been enforced.

The sheep Code says

A comprehensive and audited training and accreditation process is available and mandatory for anyone who performs the mulesing procedure.

Mulesing contractors - who go onto farms to mules (tail dock and castrate) lambs - were supposed to be 'accredited' by the end of 2006, and training courses have been in place for almost 5 years now. Famers who mules their own lambs were to be trained and accredited by the end of 2008, but there has to my knowledge been no concerted effort to ensure this has happened. We should not therefore be surprised, but I was still appalled recently to see that the radical mules was being performed for the cameras during a recent Landline program on pain relief (http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2010/s3298418.htm).

It is also crucial that pain relief be extended to the other mutilations - tail docking, castration for example, whilst ever they are still being used.

ULTRAFINE WOOL PRODUCTION - Some 'ultra-fine' wool growers keep thousands of sheep in tiny individual pens to supply an elite international market and wealthy buyers from the world's foremost fashion houses. As you will know or understand, these specially selected and/or bred sheep are kept indoors, some in individual small pens, 24 hours a day for 5 or more years. But sheep are not designed to be kept indoors and should be grazing most of the day with their flock.

The impacts of chronic stress caused by an inappropriate environment are obvious. At one such shed in Victoria confined sheep continually chew on the wooden slats and strands of wire which enclose them. Repetitive head and body movements have been observed in both sheds - classic stereotypic behaviours caused by a barren environment (an expression of chronic welfare issues). Due to the low and infrequent level of feeding, the sheep exhibit food seeking behaviours. The slatted floor leads to foot problems (overgrown and 'separated' hooves).

A recent scientific observational study found a high level of 'conflict' behaviours which are seen as 'high frequency', 'especially in relation to that of sheep grazed outdoors'. For example, it found:

'71% of the observed sheep displayed the behaviours of pacing, head butting pen features or fittings, chewing pen features, nosing pen features, pawing pen features and rearing for more than 10% of the day and 36% of the sheep displayed these behaviours for more than 20% of the day.'

We understand there are several ultra fine wool sheds in NSW.

LIVE SHEEP EXPORT - Whilst a huge community issue, this may be highly relevant to this audience, though clearly some sheep and perhaps some cattle (for dairy) will be transported from NSW to be exported from southern ports. In addition to the long journeys from NSW to those ports (Portland, Adelaide), the onboard suffering of animals has not been adequately addressed. For sheep, the primary cause of the ongoing 'routine' deaths are enteritis (inanition, salmonella) and heat stress. And why is that?

"It is generally accepted that precipitating factors such as transport, intensity of stocking, and deprivation of feed (stressors/triggers) are necessary to cause Salmonellosis" - (anonymous veterinarian, former shipboard vet)

75% of the 27,000 that died on ships in 2010 died due to these causes, and of course more in importing countries. These sheep do not receive effective treatment, most are simply found dead in the pens and disposed of daily. These causes have been known for 25 years, but not fixed. AQIS recommendations to address these issues go unheeded, including in recent years the need to introduce lower stocking densities to help address heat stress, and the need for a protocol to treat enteritis onboard. The sheep, goats and cattle that arrive in the Middle East will be killed whilst fully conscious in most cases.

OTHER ISSUES OF CONCERN

SALEYARDS -Some of the most persistent and frustrating issues we are contacted about is the suffering of animals at saleyards. After transportation some animal may be injured or depleted - or perhaps they started out unfit from the farm - and then are not well treated at the saleyard. This has recently been highlighted in Victoria, leading for us to call for CCTV at all saleyards and other places where animals are congregated (e.g. abattoirs), and for the current Codes and accreditation programs to be substantially improved.

LONG DISTANCE TRANSPORT - Sending stock across the Nullarbor because they can get more money for them is a good example of this issue. Over a million sheep and hundreds of thousands of cattle went from WA to the South Eastern States last year. The new Land Transport Standards allow 48 hours without food and water - that is a very long time, and particularly troubling when there is little surveillance and enforcement likely of even these extremely long periods.

PEST ANIMAL POPULATION CONTROL - Another issue that is no doubt a challenge for farmers, district vets and animal welfare people is the treatment of pest animals - wild dogs, dogs used to hunt pigs, foxes, rabbits, mice. Without debating whether they must be killed or not, and what methods are effective, our concern is the cruelty of the methods used, and the lack of any real changes in decades - centuries in the case of some methods.

A key illustration of how slow this process is the way some of the cruellest methods have been dealt with in recent years. In 2007, the Commonwealth, States and Territories agreed to ban five control methods considered unacceptable because of the cruelty they inflict on animals:

In 2010, we were assured that this would be signed off shortly by the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC) and that the ban would be in place in 2013. Yet early this year, PIMC decided to delay the implementation on the basis that there had not been sufficient consultation.

Most recently too, I was appalled at the NSW Government, through the instrument of the NSW Game Council promotion of pig hunting using dogs in NSW. In April last year, the NSW Game Council promoted the hunting of pigs using packs of dogs. We, the NSW Greens and the RSPCA all publicly opposed the practice. And I see now that pig dogging, even using dogs at night to attack and hold pigs, will be allowed in 19 State Parks. All this is against sound scientific evidence that recreational killing is not an effective population reduction method.

FACTORY FARMING - This practice affects the greatest number of animals, and is thus a major focus of Animals Australia campaigns and advocacy. I think you will all be well aware of our concerns about what goes on in those long windowless sheds dotted around the country; the close and barren confinement and the denial of any opportunity to express normal physical and social behaviours. But my understanding is that you have less to do with these intensive farming practices (pigs and poultry) compared to the grazing livestock industries, and so I will not directly address it here.

HOW CAN DISTRICT VETS ASSIST ANIMALS

Different to many businesses and professions, farming animals is usually conducted away from public sight - few if any customers coming through, only rare visits from authorities. If something is going wrong, it may be reported by a concerned (or disgruntled) employee, sometimes a farmer next door blows the whistle, but often the poor practice will simply continue undetected. The 'victims' don't have a voice or a union to complain to. Against this backdrop, the access and entre that a District Veterinarian may have to the farm and the farmer is close to unique and I am sure can be (and no doubt is to an extent) used to modify bad practice from within.

SPREADING THE WORD - Whilst I am critical of the current failure of the Code review system to deliver reasonable national Standards for livestock transport, and of the existing Codes and laws, the mere review of the old codes has already increased industry awareness of the animal welfare imperatives due to publicity about the introduction of enforceable standards. Awareness is a good first step, and no doubt DVs can play a huge role in alerting to farmers (particularly those still with 'head in sand') to the approaching ability to enforce these minimum standards, and to explain what is required and point to available education tools. That alone can influence change and improve compliance.

EYES WIDE OPEN - In addition to the educational and extension role though, such entre to farming properties also carries a huge community-based obligation to ensure that critical non-conformity with minimum animal welfare standards and laws is reported and curtailed, including cruelty prosecution (if warranted). Perhaps controversially, we suggest and support mandatory reporting of clear cruelty cases being imposed on professionals working in the field - veterinarians. The principle is no different to the argument for child abuse requiring mandatory reporting by health professionals - the defenceless and voiceless being harmed and needing assistance. Granted it may be some time before such a requirement is introduced, the need is current.

This dual role (advisor and enforcer) can no doubt be very challenging, but that is the current usual set up across Australia with Departments of Agriculture undertaking both the promotion of agricultural produce and trade and concurrently administering animal welfare policy and laws. The DVs just happen to be real people who can and must juggle both roles.

THE FUTURE

From our perspective, there has been a road block to change - and that is the blinkered support of government for rural industries. Both sides of politics have not wanted to rock the boat, and so have assisted to protect agricultural industries, and the Codes of practice exemptions are a key part of that. Even now, with the introduction of the new Standards and Guidelines, there is a concerted push to ensure they do not impose any significant new standards, nor in some cases to even enforce existing standards, in case a few cannot meet them!

In our view, and I think increasingly recognised by some progressive farming groups, this has not been in the longer term interests of industries. The mulesing debate is a case in point. The refusal to acknowledge the need for change means industries will now need to play catch up.

We do concede things cannot be done overnight - but the industry has had decades?..

I have statements as far back as the mid-1980s (this one from the Vic Department of Agriculture) saying that they were developing alternatives to mulesing, including seeking fly strike resistant sheep. Yet some producers say that strong selection measures can actually provide the same protection for breech strike over 2 - 3years as does the mules operation. But it has not happened yet.

Day to day some consumers may buy only on price - but whole markets can be affected, industries jolted, if community views mean a practice is stopped. Further, retailers such as Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, are all looking for a market advantage, and they know that the community cares about animal welfare. If decisions to change only rely on market forces, that is, some price incentive, then industry may be setting itself up for significant grief when any apparent 'social licence ' is removed abruptly, as occurred in regard to cattle export to Indonesia.

CASTING OUR MINDS BACK JUST 10 YEARS - At that time there was little appreciation of animal welfare issues outside those beavering away (frustratingly) on Code reviews and on various committees. Back then the Cormo Express experience had not occurred to alert the community to the risks of the live export trade, no Animals Australia investigations had occurred, no PETA mulesing campaign, no (enforceable) Standards and Guidelines on the horizon, very little talk of training or competency, low stress handling was an unknown concept to most, and importantly too, social networking, web-based advocacy did not exist.

Thus, the changes in community awareness of animal welfare issues will continue to grow. The ability to get information to hundreds of thousands of interested people means that the push for reform will only increase, and concerns grow with that awareness. I think the farming industry needs strong leaders and support to realise the need for change and assistance to achieve it.

MY 5 YEAR VISION NOW IS THAT THE FARMING INDUSTRIES WILL:

There are many other issues to address of course, and you will know them better than me, e.g,

and more, so that animals can live quality lives free of unnecessary stress and suffering. Surely that is the least the industry and farmers can do given they are raising and using them as commercial units.

I would think that District Veterinarians are in a prime position to address animal welfare issues as they arise - as they see them, and to assist farmers to avoid welfare issues and to adopt more humane practices. Both the industry and its supporters and advisors need to progress reform. To fail to take proactive action when the vast majority of Australians want unnecessary suffering to end, will merely lead to a greater city/rural divide and a loss of support.

Thanks for inviting me to address you.

REFERENCES

  1. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals, New York: New York review/Random House, 1975
  2. Geoff Neumann & Associates Pty Ltd, Review of the Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, February 2005 (page 3)
  3. 2009 'Describing the time budgets and incidence of abnormal behaviours in individually housed Sharlea Sheep', December 2009, Mariko Lauber, University of Melbourne (for the Animal Welfare Science Centre)

 


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