Definition of “cruel” (Oxford dictionary): Wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.

Many people and organisations who use animals as units of production seem to use the word “cruel” in a different way to those at the Oxford Dictionary.

Here’s an example.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (POCTA) Act, Victoria, Australia

This is an extract from the website of the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (with my underline): [1] [Footnote 1]

“There are a number of exemptions built into the POCTA Act for activities undertaken in accordance with other legislation, codes of practice made under this Act, and the Livestock Management Act Standards. However this does not permit cruelty to occur.”

How could the department, which is responsible for administering the local prevention of cruelty to animals legislation, justify saying that the arrangements do not permit cruelty to occur? A small sample of the “activities” it refers to are outlined below. Would they be acceptable if performed on a conventional companion animal, such as a dog or a cat?

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (3rd Edition) [2]

The code, like other codes, is used as the basis of legislation in various states. It permits the following practices, most of which apply routinely to the vast majority of pigs (where relevant) used for food:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic.

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition) [3]

The code permits:

  • life-long confinement indoors, including cages;
  • beak trimming of chickens without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid. In the case of chicks, there is no soaking in liquid. They are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle [4]

The standards permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age (see video below);
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic (see video below).

Please also see comments regarding the dairy industry below.

National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments [5]

  • The standards allow stunning prior to slaughter by: pneumatic captive bolt guns; controlled atmosphere (CO2) stunning; and electrical stunning
  • They state that CO2 concentration should be greater or equal to 90% by volume, and no less than 80% when gaseous mixtures are used. (Variations are allowed following a
    monitoring and verification procedure that demonstrates effective stunning.)

Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments [6]

  • Like the standard referred to above, in respect of pigs, the code allows stunning prior to slaughter by: pneumatic captive bolt guns; controlled atmosphere (CO2) stunning; and electrical stunning.
  • It notes that the CO2 concentration recommended in Europe is 70% by volume, and that the recommendation may need to be modified for Australian conditions as experience with local conditions increases.

Evidence of a standard procedure in action: CO2 stunning of pigs

Activist group, Aussie Farms, says that the great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned using the CO2 method. [7]

Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. They may rely on statements from people such as free range farmer, Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms, who has said that the pigs are lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber and rendered immediately unconscious. [8] An undercover video released by Aussie Farms appears to show otherwise. It is from the Corowa, New South Wales establishment of major pig meat producer, Rivalea. Jonai Farms reported in June, 2013 that they were sending their pigs to another Rivalea facility, Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, near Melbourne.

Here’s an edited version of the Aussie Farms video, released by Animals Australia.


Some thoughts from Professor Donald Broom, Cambridge University

Aussie Farms sought comments in relation to the video from Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University. Some of his points [9]:

  • The use of CO2 stunning represented a major welfare problem, as the gas is very aversive to pigs.
  • The extreme reactions were typical for pigs lowered into a high concentration of CO2. The welfare of the animals was very poor for 20-40 seconds.
  • The best gas to use in the stunning chamber is argon, or a mixture of argon and up to 20% CO2. Pigs do not detect argon, so are stunned without being aware of the gas.
  • For financial reasons, efforts are generally made to reduce the time taken to unconsciousness so CO2 is often used. It is somewhat cheaper than argon.

From Professor Broom’s comments, it would appear that there are options available that would cause less stress to pigs than high concentrations of CO2, and that many in the industry may be avoiding those methods for financial reasons.

What does the industry say about another cruel process, confinement in sow stalls?

Sow stalls are cages used for pregnant pigs. They are so small that the pigs are unable to turn around. They can be confined that way, day and night, for the full term of their pregnancy, around 16.5 weeks. The Australian industry’s so-called voluntary ban on sow stalls, scheduled to commence in 2017, will still allow them to be used for up to eleven days per pregnancy, and will not be binding on individual producers. [10] The industry has not indicated any action in respect of farrowing crates, which are more restrictive than sow stalls, and can be used for weeks before and after birth.

Referring to sow stalls, Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork Ltd, has said [11]:

That’s pig heaven, sow stalls are good for pigs . . .

Sow stalls are more than okay, they’re fantastic, and sows love them.

Spencer argues that the stalls protect sows from other sows who may be aggressive. The problem is that they become aggressive due to the ongoing confined conditions. Who would enjoy spending their life indoors? The industry’s response seems to be to apply one form of cruelty in order to overcome problems created by another.

The position of a major retailer, Coles

Coles is one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains. It is part of the Wesfarmers group, which is the seventh largest company on the Australian Stock Exchange, with a market capitalisation of around $49 billion. [12]

It has gained signficant PR mileage in recent times by a decision to become “sow stall free”. However, the move only applies to “Coles Brand” fresh pork and local and imported ham and bacon. The relevant producers are still permitted by Coles to use sow stalls for up to twenty-four hours per pregnancy. (I assume they rely on the producers to act in good faith in that regard, as it’s difficult to imagine an audit program that would ensure they complied.)

On 22nd November, 2012, John Durkan, then merchandise director (now managing director) of Coles was asked the following question: [13]

In terms of animal cruelty, do you think your customers are aware  . . . of the legalised cruelty that still exists in terms of mutilation of piglets, for example, without anaesthetic? That is tail docking, ear notching, teeth clipping, castration, etc., and should consumers be made aware of those sorts of things to help their [purchasing] choices?

Extract of Durkan’s response:

What they do want to know is that there is no cruelty to animals, that they’re treated well . . .

If, as John Durkan says, customers “want to know that there is no cruelty to animals, that they’re treated well”, then why are the animals from whom Coles’ products are extracted treated cruelly as standard practice?

A basic requirement of efficient markets is fully informed buyers and sellers. Coles and other retailers should either inform their customers of the practices involved in supplying their products, or sell only cruelty-free products.

Additional comments on the dairy industry

Cows are continually impregnated in order to produce milk. However, the milk is intended for humans, so the cow and calf are separated almost immediately after birth, with the calves either going back into the dairy industry, to veal production or almost immediate slaughter. This process is an inherent component of dairy production and seems almost unimaginably cruel to the cow and calf.

Apart from the cruelty aspects, it seems bizarre that humans are the only species that consumes mammalian milk beyond a young age, and the only one to routinely consume the milk of another species. Consuming cows’ milk is natural for calves, but not for humans.

A short video on the issue of forced separation can be seen at the bottom of this page.

The RSPCA and potential mandatory reporting

The RSPCA in Australia has recently called for mandatory reporting of animal cruelty. The organisation’s Chief Executive, Heather Neil, has said: [14]

But there are some people who, by the nature of their role, are expected to know what animal cruelty is and when action should be taken. These people should have a legal obligation to report cruelty when they see it.

Although the RSPCA may not have identified the issue itself, its proposal highlights the strange dichotomy that exists between legal and non-legal cruelty. The organisation’s proposal is presumably aimed at non-legal cruelty, without seeming to acknowledge the horrific extent of the legal variety.


This article has barely scratched the surface of the cruelty that is endemic in the commercial use of animals. Double standards abound, including within the consumer population. The type of exemptions referred to here are common in other jurisdictions.

Although we like to believe that we live in a civilised society, our practices in relation to animals seem to indicate otherwise. Much of the problem arises from social, cultural and commercial conditioning, and could end with some compassionate, objective thinking.

The choice is ours.

Author: Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Slideshare and Scribd)


At the beginning of 2015, responsibility for administering the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals legislation was transferred to the newly formed Agriculture Victoria, within the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources. The reference and link were updated on 13th January, 2016.


[1] Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-legislation/prevention-of-cruelty-to-animals-legislation (accessed 13th January, 2016). (The link has been updated from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation: Summary of Legislation, http://www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture-and-food/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-legislation/prevention-of-cruelty-to-animals-legislation (accessed 26th August, 2014))

[2] Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (3rd Edition), http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/5698.htm

[3] Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition, http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/3451.htm

[4] Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle, http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/cattle/

[5] Australian Meat Industry Council, “National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments”, Second Edition (2009), P6.2, p. 36 and  http://www.amic.org.au/SiteMedia/w3svc116/Uploads/Documents/Industry%20Animal%20Welfare%20Standards.pdf

[6] Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments (2002), –, p. 10, http://www.publish.csiro.au/pid/2975.htm and http://www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=2975

[7] Aussie Farms, Australian Pig Farming – the inside story, “Corrowa Piggery and Abbatoir”, http://www.aussiepigs.com/piggeries/corowa

[8] Jonas, T., Response of 6th June, 2013 to open letter from Melbourne Pig Save, http://www.melbournepigsave.org/open-letters

[9] Statement by Prof. Donald Broom: http://www.aussiepigs.com/documents/Pig%20slaughter%20video%20Broom.pdf

[10] Hatten, R., “Minister backflips on sow stall ban”, Sydney Morning Herald, 9th Nov 2012, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/animals/minister-backflips-on-sow-stall-ban-20121109-292lx.html

[11] 60 Minutes, Nine Network, “The Hidden Truth”, 20th November, 2009, http://sixtyminutes.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=973831

[12] Smart Investor, Share Tables, Securities as at 30th April, 2014, published 8th May, 2014, http://www.afrsmartinvestor.com.au/share-tables/;jsessionid=B7AC5862FA6CEC4040C2EFCD4A587C00 (accessed 4th June, 2014)

[13] ABC Radio National Bush Telegraph and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry AgTalks event, “Australians don’t care where their food comes from, as long as it’s cheap and looks good”, 22nd November, 2012, broadcast on 26 November, 2012.

[14] McAloon, C., and Barbour, L., “RSPCA calls for laws to make reporting of animal abuse mandatory”, ABC Rural, 25th August, 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-22/nrn-rspca-animal-laws/5689764

Main image: Courtesy of Aussie Farms, http://www.aussiefarms.org.au/; http://www.aussiepigs.com/

Video: Animals Australia, “World-first video: pigs being ‘put to sleep’ in ‘humane’ abattoir”, http://vimeo.com/93703613 and http://www.animalsaustralia.org/features/not-so-humane-slaughter/, based on video supplied to Aussie Farms, http://www.aussiepigs.com/piggeries/corowa/videos

Additional videos:

Dehorning cattle (Animals Australia)


Branding cattle (Animals Australia)


Forced separation of cow and calf