Here is my letter of 31st March 2016 to Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford. I have informed Ms Pulford that I would be posting the content of the letter online. Some of the material was included in my article “When does ‘cruel’ not mean ‘cruel’?” of 31st August 2014.
The Hon. Jaala Pulford MLC
8 Nicholson Street
31st March 2016
Dear Ms Pulford,
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act
I note that the Agriculture Victoria website states as follows regarding exemptions under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act:
“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.”
I also note the following definition of the word “cruel” from the Oxford Dictionary:
“Wilfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.”
When one considers the practices that are permitted under the codes of practice, standards and related legislation, I wonder how they could not be considered cruel.
Here are some examples from a small sample of codes and guidelines:
Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs (3rd Edition)
The code permits the following practices, most of which apply routinely to the vast majority of pigs 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.
The Australian industry’s so-called voluntary ban on sow stalls, scheduled to commence in 2017, will allow them to be used for up to eleven days per pregnancy, and will not be binding on individual producers. In any event, the ability to monitor compliance must be questionable.
The industry has not indicated any action in respect of farrowing crates.
Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry (4th Edition)
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
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;
- 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.
Please also see comments regarding the dairy industry below.
National Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments
- 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
- 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
The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned using the CO2 method.
Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals.
Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University, made the following points after viewing a video recording of the process from an Australian abattoir:
- 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 best gas to use in the stunning chamber is argon, or a mixture of argon and up to 20 per cent 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.
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.
Although not legislated, relevant industries have established a national standard whereby they can avoid feeding calves aged 5 to 30 days, who are being transported without their mothers, for up to 30 hours at a time.
The RSPCA and potential mandatory reporting
The RSPCA has called for mandatory reporting of animal cruelty. The organisation’s Chief Executive, Heather Neil, has said:
“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 extent of the legal variety.
Agriculture Victoria’s claim that exemptions to the POCTA Act do not allow cruelty to occur could be construed as an attempt to hide the truth.
I am reminded of the following statement from former Labor Premier, Steve Bracks:
“When you’re proud of what you’re doing, you don’t want it hidden; you want people to know about it. You only keep secret the things that you’re ashamed of.”
He also said a feature that would differentiate his government from that of his predecessor was:
“leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn’t afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements”
In the spirit of the comments from Steve Bracks, I feel that Agriculture Victoria should amend the relevant page by noting 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.
Another option would be to remove the exemptions. Surely it is unjust to have one law for certain animals, and a different law for others.
Regardless of the outcome, better-informed consumers may choose to avoid animal products altogether on the basis that any use of animals for food and other purposes is a form of exploitation, and arguably unethical.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with you if you would like to do so.
Co-founder Melbourne Pig Save
END OF LETTER
Image: Edgar’s Mission Farm Sanctuary
Footnote: This article also appears on the Melbourne Pig Save website.
Link: Agriculture Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals page