Farmed animals are on their own: The Victorian government is lying about animal cruelty

A BLATANT LIE

The image below is an extract from the Victorian state government’s page on the so-called “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” (POCTA) Act. [1]

The government claims that exemptions in the Act in favour of the animal agriculture sector and others do not permit cruelty to occur.

That is a blatant lie.

By definition and in practice, exemptions to animal cruelty laws permit cruelty.

The lie has been perpetrated since at least August 2014, when this writer highlighted it in the article “When does ‘cruel’ not mean ‘cruel’?” [2]

In March 2016, it was also mentioned in an open letter to the then minister for agriculture, Jaala Pulford. [3] The minister’s response ignored the concerns expressed about the lie.

The acts of cruelty are generally routine and widespread. They include (but are not limited to):

  • mutilating animals;
  • doing so without pain prevention or relief;
  • stealing babies from their mothers and sending them to slaughter;
  • macerating live chicks in the egg industry;
  • depriving ducks (a water bird) of water;
  • forcing animals to breed, often with stimulation by humans and penetration with artificial devices; and
  • confining animals indoors for their entire lives, often with much or all of the time spent in a cage.

Here is a one-minute extract from the 2018 documentary Dominion, showing the forced separation of mothers and babies in the dairy industry.

 

With some potential exceptions as referred to below, the government does not intend prohibiting practices such as those mentioned here despite formally recognising animal sentience and professing concern in its Animal Welfare Action Plan of 2017: [4]

“Animal welfare matters to all Victorians. Whether it is a beloved pet, farm animal or a wild animal, we all have a role to play in their welfare.”

The introduction of new POCTA regulations in late 2019 provided some relief but only within a very narrow band of specific measures, some of which relate more to administrative procedures than direct prevention of cruelty. They continue to allow all the practices referred to above with the exception that some pain relief is now required for the barbaric practice of “mulesing” sheep. [5]

The practice involves removing large chunks of skin from a sheep’s backside. It was introduced after sheep were bred to have more wrinkles and skin folds than normal so as to increase the yield of wool (and therefore profits), making them prone to flystrike.

The problem could be avoided if farmers gradually bred those features out of sheep. [6]

In its May 2020 response to a parliamentary committee report on the 2019 inquiry into animal rights activism, the government indicated it would review the treatment of chicks in the egg industry (as referred to above) and the use of blunt force trauma to kill goats, pigs and cattle. The review would be conducted “with a view to adopting ‘world’s best’ practice”. [7] [8]

FARMERS CONDEMN THE NOTION OF ANIMAL SENTIENCE

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) describes itself as “an active, powerful lobby group dedicated to the interests of farmers and making a difference to communities”. [9]

On 5th January 2018, the organisation issued a statement in which it said it had “slammed” key aspects of the Victorian government’s December 2017 animal welfare action plan. [10]

In what he described as a “stern warning to government”, president David Jochinke condemned the proposal to introduce the concept of sentience to animal welfare legislation.

In its action plan, the government had described “sentience” as the notion that animals “experience feelings and emotions such as pleasure, comfort, discomfort, fear and pain”. [11]

In condemning the government’s proposal, was Jochinke implying that animals do not experience physical and emotional pain?

Surely the notion that they do is self-evident to those of us who are willing to see the truth.

Alternatively, was he implying that any pain they may experience does not matter?

Why is it that farmers need convincing?

Jochinke was supported by former VFF vice president Brett Hosking, who suggested that the fact that “my dog runs up to see me in the morning” may reflect instinct rather than what he referred to as “sentenance”. [12]

It seems that many people will only see what they want to see.

VFF’s “stern warning to government” may have achieved the result the “powerful lobby group” intended, with the government strongly supporting farmers in subsequent communications, as referred to later in this article.

OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF RSPCA’S AUTHORITY

The widespread and routine cruelty that is permitted under the POCTA Act falls outside the scope of the RSPCA’s authority. The organisation focuses on companion animals and non-commercial farmed animals such as those on hobby farms, along with so-called “invasive” animals. [13]

Agriculture Victoria, which forms part of the Department for Jobs, Precincts and Regions, is responsible for addressing allegations of cruelty involving commercially farmed animals. A department whose purpose is “to create the conditions to sustainably develop the Victorian economy and grow employment” would seem inappropriate for matters pertaining to the health and well-being of animals. [14]

It is the same department that is ultimately responsible (through Agriculture Victoria and the Game Management Authority) for allowing the shooting of wild ducks for “recreational” purposes.

ADVISORY CODES

Another failure of the system is that most codes of practice or guidelines relating to farmed animals are advisory rather than mandatory. This means that producers may ignore aspects that are beneficial to the animals if they choose to do so. The current exceptions are those relating to: (a) pigs; and (b) land transportation of all major farmed animal species. [15]

An example of an advisory code of practice is the code for sheep. [16] Under the heading “Protection from Climatic Extremes, Natural Disasters and Predation”, the current Victorian code states:

“All reasonable precautions should be taken to minimise the effects of weather that produce either cold stress or heat stress in sheep. Freshly shorn sheep and newborn lambs are particularly susceptible. Windbreaks to reduce the effects of cold may be provided in the form of scrub or planted trees, long grass or artificial shelter.”

Across Australia, it is estimated that around 15 million lambs die each year within 48 hours of birth due to exposure to cold weather or a lack of shelter and food. The figure was quoted by The Australian newspaper’s former regional affairs reporter Sue Neale in 2012. [17]

She did not cite a source but she is a respected journalist who was awarded “Best Agribusiness Story” in the 2019 Rural Press Club of Victoria awards. [18] She now works for the Weekly Times, which says it has been “the voice of the country since 1869”, and describes itself as “Australia’s biggest, best and most comprehensive rural news service across print and online by a country mile”. [19]

A potential national replacement for state and territory-based codes of practice for sheep was agreed in 2016 in the form of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep. [20] Victoria intends to incorporate the standards and guidelines into its proposed Animal Welfare Act, which is currently being developed. The standards and guidelines may continue to be advisory rather than mandatory and subject to exemptions in favour of producers.

The national guidelines (which can effectively be ignored by producers) state:

“Sheep and lambs should be provided with adequate shelter. In the absence of natural protection, consideration should be given to the provision of shade, windbreaks or sheds.”

“Lambing ewes should be placed in a sheltered paddock with quality feed, especially if there is a risk of cold, wet or windy weather.”

GOVERNMENT BIAS IN FAVOUR OF FARMERS IMPEDES HONESTY AND TRANSPARENCY

The Victorian government recently released its response (as mentioned earlier) to a parliamentary committee report on the 2019 inquiry into animal rights activism.

In a submission to the inquiry, this writer stated: [21]

We teach children that honesty and justice are noble traits; however, such traits are sorely lacking in the treatment of animals within the animal agriculture sector.

“The lack of honesty is represented by the portrayal of animal-based food production by industry, media and government, and their failure to inform the community of cruel practices that are standard within the sector.”

“. . . Agriculture Victoria should conspicuously inform the community that cruelty is permitted when it involves animals bred for food and other purposes. That would assist consumers to ‘make their own judgements’ based on a clearer understanding of the truth.”

Similar comments appeared in the 2016 open letter to Jaala Pulford, referred to earlier in this article. The parliamentary committee’s report indicated that many others who submitted to the inquiry also raised the issue.

In its response to the report, the government supported most recommendations, including this one (number 6):

That Agriculture Victoria display online information about animal agriculture standard practices and related legislation and regulations.

However, most consumers may be unlikely to search for an obscure government web page in order to obtain information on the horrendous cruelty involved in their purchasing decisions.

Agriculture minister Jaclyn Symes has stated:

“The Report has also highlighted that more can be done to ensure a transparency in the animal agriculture industry. Everyone working in the industry must better understand some legitimate concerns of animal activists and ensure the best possible animal welfare outcomes.”

One wonders about the extent of “transparency” when the government insists that the measure would help to “build and maintain public confidence in agriculture”. [22]

Does the government intend providing the community with metaphorical rose-coloured glasses rather than enabling them to see the reality?

Other comments from Symes seem to point to that possibility (with the underline added here for emphasis): [23]

“These recommendations are not just about deterrence, but also education – the public deserve to know just how hard farmers and agricultural businesses work to keep their animals safe and well looked after.”

It sounds like the government’s PR machine will be working overtime.

That approach would be consistent with parliament’s web page summarising the inquiry’s findings. [24] In what seems a clear display of bias, it overwhelmingly supported farmers and demonised activists in describing “key findings” and recommendations that included:

  1. “Strong support for farmers operating businesses lawfully”
    x
  2. “Animal rights activists spread misinformation and frighten farming families”
    x
  3. “Regulators to help build public confidence in animal agriculture sector”

The first finding supports horrendous acts that are permitted on farms but are illegal outside.

The second implies that video and photographic evidence of routine and widespread cruelty is “misinformation”. How so?

Likewise articles such as this, which honestly inform readers of the cruel acts that are permitted under primary and subordinate legislation (in the form of acts of parliament and related regulations).

The third item is extraordinary, recommending that state regulators help build public confidence in the animal agriculture sector despite the state-sanctioned cruelty involved.

Although the government supports the committee’s recommendation to consider (with no guarantee at this stage) the mandatory use of closed-circuit television in slaughterhouses, there would always be a question about the extent of enforcement while regulators sought to support the sector in the manner described above.

CONCLUSION

Farmed animals are largely on their own, out of sight and at the mercy of those with an interest in killing and “processing” them for commercial gain in the most cost-effective manner possible.

It is time the Victorian government either ended the cruelty or, failing that, disclosed it fully and conspicuously to the community.

One option would be to inform purchasers through product labelling. If Australian federal legislation can require cigarette packaging to show graphic images of adverse smoking outcomes, then surely some sort of information can be provided with animal-based products.

Full and conspicuous disclosure would enable the population to decide whether or not it wished to contribute to the horrors that currently exist.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

[1] Agriculture Victoria, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-legislation/prevention-of-cruelty-to-animals-legislation#

[2] Mahony, P., “When does ‘cruel’ not mean ‘cruel’?”, Terrastendo, 31 August 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/31/when-does-cruel-not-mean-cruel/

[3] Mahony, P., “Open letter to Jaala Pulford”, Terrastendo, 31 March 2016, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/31/when-does-cruel-not-mean-cruel/

[4] Agriculture Victoria, “Animal Welfare Action Plan”, December 2017, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-action-plan

[5] Agriculture Victoria, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation, op. cit.

[6] The Sydney Morning Herald, “‘Wrinkle-free’ sheep don’t need mulesing”, 19 May 2008, https://www.smh.com.au/national/wrinklefree-sheep-dont-need-mulesing-20080519-2fza.html

[7] Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture Report, Victorian Government Response, May 2020, p. 8, https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/SCEI/Animal_rights_activism/Government_response_to_AA_inquiry_report.pdf

[8] Parliament of Victoria, Legislative Council, Economic and Infrastructure Committee, Inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture, February 2020, https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/SCEI/Animal_rights_activism/Report/LCEIC_59-02_Impact_of_animal_activisim_on_Victorian_agriculture.pdf

[9] Victorian Farmers Federation, “About us”, https://www.vff.org.au/vff/The_VFF/AboutUs/vff/About_Us/About_Us.aspx?hkey=d1685f71-c8b5-43ae-b571-a2594d327d9d

[10] Victorian Farmers Federation, “Farmers condemn unnecessary animal welfare legislation”, 5 January 2018, https://www.vff.org.au/vff/Media_Centre/Media2018/Farmers_condemn_unnecessary_animal_welfare_regulation.aspx

[11] Agriculture Victoria, Animal Welfare Action Plan, Dec 2017, p. 14, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-action-plan

[12] Hosking, B., Twitter @HoskingBrett, 17 Jan 2018, https://twitter.com/HoskingBrett/status/953428962943819776

[13] Agriculture Victoria, Reporting animal cruelty, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/reporting-animal-cruelty#

[14] Agriculture Victoria, About Us, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/about-us

[15] Agriculture Victoria, Victorian codes of practice for animal welfare, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-legislation/victorian-codes-of-practice-for-animal-welfare

[16] Agriculture Victoria, Code of Accepted Farming Practice for the Welfare of Sheep (Victoria) (Revision Number 2), http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-legislation/victorian-codes-of-practice-for-animal-welfare/code-of-accepted-farming-practice-for-the-welfare-of-sheep-victoria-revision-number-2

[17] Neale, S., “End to the silence on dead lambs“, The Australian, https://www.theaustralian.com.au/subscribe/news/1/?sourceCode=TAWEB_WRE170_a&dest=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theaustralian.com.au%2Fnews%2Fnation%2Fend-to-the-silence-about-15-million-dead-lambs%2Fnews-story%2Fdcfd08eddf63e33380a5f26004c596bf&memtype=anonymous&mode=premium and https://www.alv.org.au/end-to-the-silence-about-15-million-dead-lambs/

[18] The Weekly Times, “Rural Press Club of Victoria awards 2019: The Weekly Times recognised”, 23 August 2019, https://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/news/victoria/rural-press-club-of-victoria-awards-2019-the-weekly-times-recognised/news-story/9078be6ccd3d912d47c4222aa0033e7f

[19] The Weekly Times, About Us, https://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/help/about

[20] Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep, http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/sheep/

[21] Mahony, P., “Submission to inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture: Challenging tyranny against animals”, 30 June 2019, p. 3, https://globalvegannet.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/vic-govt-inquiry-submission-paul-mahony-v.4-1.pdf

[22] Inquiry into the Impact of Animal Rights Activism on Victorian Agriculture Report, Victorian Government Response, May 2020, op. cit., pp. 2 & 6

[23] The Hon Jaclyn Symes MP, Media Release, “Standing with farmers against biosecurity threats”, 4 June 2020, https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/200604-Standing-With-Farmers-Against-Biosecurity-Threats.pdf

[24] Parliament of Victoria, Inquiry into animal rights activism on Victorian agriculture, Key Findings, Key Recommendations, https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/SCEI/Animal_rights_activism/Media/Animal_activism_inquiry_v2.pdf

Images

Aussie Farms, “Piglet after tail cut off VIC 2014”

Lamb Care Australia

Video

Dominion (2018), written, directed, edited and produced by Chris Delforce. Extract narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.

Please note

All links and references were current at the time of publishing but may subsequently change. An example is the Victorian government’s page dealing with the POCTA Act, on which it states: “Please note that this page will be progressively updated to reflect changes in the POCTA Regulations 2019. Due to the wide-ranging content and the scale of the task this may take some time.”

Related article and page

AJP’s claimed victories from animal activism inquiry may be overstated

Victorian animal cruelty

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