Panel editorial: New Standards and Guidelines fail to protect basic welfare

15 April 2013


The Panel notes with deep concern how the Standards and Guidelines developing under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy seem bound to perpetuate poor welfare standards for farm animals. The first Standards and Guidelines, Standards and Guidelines for Land Transport of Livestock, are a shameful first case in point.

It may be simply noted by way of example that under SA4.1 an animal is only not fit for a journey if it is “severely emaciated”; or “visibly hydrated”; or “showing severe signs of severe injury or distress”; “blind in both eyes” etc. Even if assessed under this Standard to be not fit for the intended journey, the animal can still “be transported under veterinary advice”.

The Standards and Guidelines are to ultimately replace the existing Codes of Practice, which in turn are and have been responsible for denying even rudimentary welfare to more than half a billion animals a year where it conflicts with producer self-interest. Compliance with the low welfare thresholds of the codes creates a defence or immunity from prosecution for practices which would otherwise constitute a cruelty offence under the local animal protection statute. Like the Codes, the Standards it seems will only serve industry’s interest, not the public interest. The federal department of agriculture (DAFF) is the lead player, and it shows. Contrary to claims on the Department’s website, these Standards will not remotely satisfy community expectations.

The AAWS was initiated and co-ordinated under the auspices of the federal department of agriculture and sanctioned by the Australian Primary Industries Ministerial Council, now known (from 11 September 2011) as the Standing Council on Primary Industries ( SCOPI) and comprising all Australian Ministers with responsibility for primary industry matters.

Browsers are referred to the DAFF link : http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/about/ , where it states that under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS), Animal Health Australia was commissioned to facilitate the development of nationally consistent standards and guidelines for livestock, and that the welfare standards and guidelines are based on the revision (read replacement) of the current ( 22) Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals .

Standards use ‘must’. Guidelines use ‘should’. The recommended Standards only assume the force of law if implemented by a State or Territory (into its local legal regime). If implemented, breach of a Standards provision will give rise to an offence and exposure to penalties. Guidelines are just that and if breached will not give rise to an offence. That said, it is expected that in a given case, they will be sought to be relied upon as a defence.

So far as BAWP is aware only South Australia at this point has implemented the Standards and Guidelines for Land Transport of Livestock. As to enforcement, in South Australia the Standards have been promulgated as Regulations (and the relevant codes repealed) under the SA Animal Welfare Act 1985. RSPCA (SA) and the local state department will thus assume an enforcement responsibility and role.

In Victoria, it is believed the Standards will be implemented under the Livestock Management Act 2010, a statute unique to Victoria and the true object of which in our Chair’s view is to further shield producers and others who deal with livestock from independent scrutiny and exposure to penalty. This Act is dealt with in Graeme McEwen’s e-book, Animal Law: Principles and Frontiers , Ch.1, para 42 et seq: http://www.bawp.org.au/animal-law-e-bookIn brief summary, by sec 4(3) for example it is a defence to an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 if the person was carrying out “… a regulated management activity and acting in compliance with a prescribed livestock management standard”. It is understood that in Victoria the Standards for Land Transport of Livestock together with future Standards such as for the welfare of pigs, will be implemented by their promulgation as Regulations breach of which will give rise to an offence and exposure to penalties. Victorian Department of Primary Industry officers are responsible for enforcement of the Livestock Management Act 2010. The interesting question is whether RSPCA (Vic.) will be designated as also responsible for enforcement of these Standards when promulgated as Regulations.

According to the DAFF website, the federal department of agriculture is ultimately responsible for the quality of the Standards. The department suffers from the most self-evident conflict of interest in its animal welfare responsibility, as it views itself as the ‘friend of industry’. Would a minster for resources be put in charge of the environment?

It is not surprising then that revision is not contemplated except at intervals of many years, save that it may be earlier in the case of controversial measures for bobby calves such as 30 hours off feed and water. Due to criticism of the historical slowness and manner of review and revision of Codes, the federal department of agriculture has just retained Price Waterhouse Coopers, chartered accountants, to review and report (by the end of June 2013) on the existing system for review of Codes and Standards.

Any meaningful review would conclude that if animal welfare objects are to be served in revision of such instruments, then the process of review should be removed from the federal department of agriculture and assigned to an independent national statutory authority established to honour the public interest by securing proper animal welfare. The federal department, on the other hand, aided and abetted by its State counterparts, has systematically subverted the reach and application of State and Territory animal protection statutes over the last 30 years by the introduction of codes of practice, and now the progressive and future introduction of Standards and Guidelines. The very existence of codes/standards and guidelines is an admission of how producer self-interest continues to prevail in defiance of the public interest . They are a sad indictment of the widespread inhumanity of the practices of producers and others in agribusiness. And they point up the stranglehold of the federal department in particular over animal welfare and how it has chosen to abdicate its public responsibility and instead make the case for its inevitable forfeiture in time of any role in animal welfare. There is underway a well-advanced shift in public opinion, and it is ignored by agribusiness and the federal department at their peril.




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