Olivers-2.1Imagine you are a meat-eating consumer who felt uneasy about the possibility of poor welfare standards at a major piggery. Would the following points help to allay your concerns?

  • The business had been supplying the giant supermarket chain, Woolworths for ten years, and at the time was supplying 20% of its fresh pork in your state.
  • The owner was appearing in Woolworth’s brochures as one of its “fresh food people”.
  • The piggery had passed a quality audit inspection just three months earlier.
  • A director and shareholder of the company that managed the piggery was also on the board of the peak industry organisation.

Based on that information, you might be willing to give the business the benefit of the doubt.

If you then found that the peak industry organisation was owned by producers and administered the quality accreditation scheme (including animal welfare aspects), some doubts might re-emerge.

All those facts applied in 2009, when animal activists entered the premises of Oliver’s Piggery in Winnaleah, Tasmania.

The activists thought conditions would be poor, but were shocked by what they found. Some key points: [1]

  • Three sows were destroyed by a vet soon after the activists gave police a copy of their video footage.
  • The sows were extremely emaciated, and unwilling or unable to stand.
  • Two had festering ulcers up to 12 centimetres in diameter, and one of that pair was unable to move because her snout was stuck under the bar of a mesh divider.
  • She could not reach food or water and her wounds were flyblown with adult and juvenile maggots.
  • Layers of faeces were deposited in group pig pens. The owner admitted the pens hadn’t been cleaned for two months.
  • More than 70 per cent of the 46 sows in farrowing crates had pressure sores on their sides needing treatment.

After the local RSPCA refused to become involved, the activists took their video to the police, who visited the piggery with the activists’ assistance. They charged the owner and the company that managed the piggery with aggravated cruelty offences, and both were eventually penalised by the courts. [2]

One of the two activists, Emma Haswell of Brightside Farm Sanctuary, appeared in numerous media outlets in relation to the matter, including “The Hidden Truth” on 60 Minutes (Nine Network). [3]

While Emma appears to have been widely regarded as a hero, her counterparts five years later are seemingly being demonised and targeted by potential “ag-gag” laws.

The animal advocacy group, Voiceless, describes ag-gag as “variety of laws which seek to hinder or ‘gag’ animal protection advocates by preventing them from recording the operations of commercial agricultural facilities.” [4]

Voiceless says that ag-gag laws generally target undercover investigators, whistleblowers and journalists, and may take the form of: (a) criminalising the undercover or covert surveillance of commercial animal facilities; (b) requiring that any footage obtained be turned over to enforcement agencies immediately rather than given to animal protection groups or the media; and (c) requiring potential employees of commercial animal facilities to disclose current or past ties to animal protection groups.

Within Australia, a relevant bill is before the Parliament of South Australia. Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture, Peter Walsh and the Minister for Primary Industries in New South Wales, Katrina Hodgkinson (with support from Federal Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce) have announced that they intend introducing similar legislation. [5]

Ms Hodgkinson, has described animal activists entering commercial establishments as “akin to terrorists”. [6]

The South Australian bill includes penalties of $15,000 or 3 years imprisonment for individuals who use, communicate or publish material collected through the use of surveillance devices.

So, from a time in 2009 when the police and the courts supported an undercover investigation by animal activists, today politicians are seeking to turn the tables.

Textbox-ag-gag-sharpenedA Woolworths spokesperson said the situation at Oliver’s was unacceptable and that the activists’ tactics “obviously exposed a serious issue at the farm”. [7]

During the trial, the defence lawyer said, “What has in fact happened is that an animal activist has entered the farm without any invitation from Mr Oliver or the family and that is a concern.”

In his response, the magistrate said, “It might well have turned out to be in the public interest . . . “

It was certainly in the animals’ interests.

Shouldn’t that be the ultimate test?

Author: Paul Mahony (also on SlideshareScribd, and Twitter)


The potential move toward ag-gag laws in Australia may be a response to the relatively recent exposure of dozens of establishments by activist group Aussie Farms (including investigations by Animal Liberation ACT and Animal Liberation NSW) and the onging work of groups like Animal Liberation Victoria, responsible for dozens of investigations of its own, as shown on its “Free Range Fraud” website and elsewhere.  Here are some relevant sites:

Aussie Farms, http://www.aussiefarms.org.au/

Aussie Pigs, http://www.aussiepigs.com/

Aussie Abattoirs, http://www.aussieabattoirs.com/

Free Range Fraud (Animal Liberation Victoria), http://freerangefraud.com/


[1] Carter, P. “Ashamed to be a human being”, Tasmanian Times, 1st October, 2009, http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/article/emma-haswell-hero

[2] Stateline, ABC, “Pig Cruelty”, Presenter Airlie Ward, 8th May, 2009, http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/tas/content/2006/s2564758.htm

[3] 60 Minutes, Nine Network, “The Hidden Truth”, 20th November, 2009, http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=973831

[4] Voiceless, “Ag-gag” (undated), https://www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/ag-gag (accessed 14th July, 2014)

[5] Voiceless, “Ag-gag hidden in new legislation”, 3rd July, 2014, https://www.voiceless.org.au/content/ag-gag-hidden-new-legislation and “Animal law in the spotlight: SA Bill acts as ‘ag-gag'”, 23rd June, 2014, https://www.voiceless.org.au/content/animal-law-spotlight-sa-bill-acts-%E2%80%9Cag-gag%E2%80%9D

[6] ABC News, “Animal rights activists ‘akin to terrorists’, says NSW minister Katrina Hodgkinson”, 18th July, 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-18/animal-rights-activists-27terrorists272c-says-nsw-minister/4828556

[7] Carter, P., op. cit.

Image: Extract from “The Pig Files: Scales of Justice” (footage from Oliver’s Piggery),  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpIrB6UOL7s

Further Reading and Viewing:

The Plight of Pigs: Oliver’s Piggery, Tasmania, https://terrastendo.net/2013/01/02/the-plight-of-pigs-olivers-piggery-tasmania/