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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”.

On 5th January 2018, the organisation issued a statement in which it said it had “slammed” key aspects of the Victorian state government’s recently released animal welfare action plan.

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”. Similarly, the Oxford dictionary defines the adjective “sentient” as “able to perceive or feel things“.

The government’s examples of pleasure and fear are psychological in nature, while comfort, discomfort and pain can be psychological and physical.

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

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

Jochinke claimed the proposal would “introduce language into law that can be manipulated by animal extremists for their own purposes”.

It is easy to brand people as “extremists” when they act on the belief that animals have a right to live without being exploited by farmers and others.

Are those farmers not extreme when they harm animals? At the present time (as referred to in more detail below), they are permitted to perform acts that would be illegal if they involved a companion animal such as a dog or cat.

The “purposes” of so-called “animal extremists” generally involve protecting the interests of animals, unlike the profit motive, at animals’ expense, of most farmers.

Cartesian scientists and farmers

The term “Cartesian scientists” stems from the seventeenth century philosopher René Descartes, who argued that only humans have minds and therefore the ability to think. His followers took the argument to also mean that animals cannot feel.

In his book “Animals like us”, author Mark Rowlands wrote:

“If you were an animal in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, then one of the things you should have made a point of avoiding would be Cartesian scientists. If not, then, you could expect to find yourself nailed to a vivisection board, being slowly cut open. You would be conscious throughout. The Cartesian scientists did not take any steps to prevent your suffering or pain for one very simple reason: they did not believe you were capable of suffering or feeling pain.”

Like most of us, VFF and its members may be horrified by the actions of Cartesians, as described by Rowlands. However, routine actions of farmers at the current time, with the full support of the law, are also deplorable. Such actions are currently permitted by means of exemptions to the erroneously titled “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act”.

As I have stated elsewhere, the government continues to outrageously claim the exemptions do not permit cruelty to occur when, by their nature, they do.

Here are a few examples (generally performed without pain prevention or relief): hot-iron branding; tail docking; ear notching; teeth clipping; castration; dehorning; removal of toe segments; lifelong confinement indoors (often in cages); forced separation of mothers and babies; and forced breeding, often involving stimulation by humans, penetration with artificial devices, and ongoing confinement.

A key concern for farmers

In an article written for Stock and Land, VFF livestock president, Leonard Vallance, stated:

“The introduction of sentience into law will only provide a platform for the argument against the existence of farm animal production systems as has been exposed by extremists in Europe.”

If Vallance is seeking to indicate that horrific routine practices only occur overseas, then his claim is not valid. Such practices have been extensively exposed in Australia, with a prominent example being the Aussie Farms website.

Vallance’s concerns about a platform for arguments against farm animal production systems may be well founded. Legislation that acknowledged sentience and was claimed by its authors to promote care and respect of animals, while also allowing acts of cruelty, could be regarded as callous and contradictory.

There is no indication in the government’s action plan that it intends removing legislative exemptions. Indeed, the plan appears to strongly support the livestock sector.

Even where standards or codes of practice stipulate protective practices, they are often vague and therefore easy to overlook. For example, the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep specify that “sheep and lambs should be provided with adequate shelter”. They go on to say that, in the absence of natural protection, “consideration should be given” to the provision of shade, windbreaks or sheds.

Farmers may briefly consider such measures, without necessarily doing anything about them. It was estimated in 2012 that around 15 million lambs die each year in Australia within 48 hours of birth due to inadequate protection in bitterly cold conditions.

VFF vice president creates a new word

The VFF’s vice president, Brett Hosking, recently released a video on Twitter, expressing concern over the government’s action plan. In it, he appears to have created a new word, “sentenance”. He used it or “sentinent” four times, presumably intending to mean “sentience” and “sentient”.

Hosking only referred to the psychological aspects, failing to acknowledge the physical component. (He used words such as “emotions”, “thoughts”, “happy”, “sad”, “nervous”, “anxious”, “scared”, “afraid” and “excited”.)

As indicated by these comments, he is not convinced that any animals are “sentinent”:

“Whether animals are ‘sentinent’ or not, I’m not really sure. I like to think that when my dog runs up to see me in the morning that he’s running up because he wants to hang out with me because I’m a fun fellow, but it could be just instinct because he’s used to, you know, [he] knows that things are all right when I’m around.”

He also reiterated a point made by VFF in its statement, by arguing that using the word “sentinent” in legislation would mean, “what we’re kind of saying is that animal welfare depends on the animal, not on the person doing it.”

The VFF’s statement argued: “Animal welfare law is about addressing human behaviour towards animals, not addressing animals”.

Leonard Vallance made a similar point in his article.

In his video, Hosking went on to say:

It’s kind of like saying that if the animal doesn’t get sad or upset, then it’s all right to be cruel to them, and that doesn’t really rest easy with me. [It’s a] little bit like saying it’s okay to discriminate against someone as long as they don’t realise it’s happened.”

That is a fallacious argument, in that it fails to acknowledge the fact that all animals farmed by VFF members are sentient. Hosking and VFF seemingly fail to accept that the existence of animal sentience, and the need to prevent cruel practices, are inextricably linked.

Here’s the tweet:

Conclusion

With the Victorian government failing to indicate it will remove legislative exemptions in favour of the livestock sector, along with the VFF’s attitude toward sentience, what chance do “production” animals have of avoiding cruelty?

The most effective way to minimise cruelty in food consumption is to avoid animal-based products. We have a choice, and should use it for the benefit of those who have none.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

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 (accessed 22 Jan 2018)

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

Agriculture Victoria, Animal Welfare Action Plan, Jan 2018, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-action-plan

Rowlands, M., “Animals like us”, Verso Books, London, 2002 (p. 3)

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 (accessed 23 Jan 2018)

Victorian Farmers Federation, “Livestock Group”, https://www.vff.org.au/vff/Industries/Livestock/Industry_Structure/vff/Industry_Groups/Livestock/Industry_Structure.aspx?hkey=ffb4d11e-ed46-4217-8a21-426c01a08e2a (accessed 22 Jan 2018)

Vallance, L., “Farmers care about the welfare of animals”, Stock and Land, 11 Jan 2018, http://www.stockandland.com.au/story/5160138/farmers-care-about-the-welfare-of-animals/?cs=4587

The Aussie Farms Repository, http://www.aussiefarms.com.au/ (accessed 23 Jan 2018)

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines: Sheep, http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/sheep/

Neales, S., “End to the silence about 15 million dead lambs”, The Australian, 3 Sep 2012, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/end-to-the-silence-about-15-million-dead-lambs/news-story/dcfd08eddf63e33380a5f26004c596bf (This reference relates to the main image, as referred to below.)

Victorian Farmers Federation, “Board of Directors”https://www.vff.org.au/vff/The_VFF/Board_of_Directors/vff/About_Us/Profiles.aspx?hkey=ade72ab8-85f4-4c59-8572-e8cc5827c671 (accessed 22 Jan 2018)

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

Image

Melbourne Sheep Save

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Victorian animal cruelty

I did not expect to see significant improvements for animals in the Victorian government’s recently released Animal Welfare Action Plan, so I was not surprised when I read it. [Footnote 1]

It has outlined four areas for action: policy and legal framework; collaboration; education; and compliance and enforcement.

A draft version was released in 2016, and I highlighted two key points in my response:

  • Exemptions to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in favour of animal-based industries permit horrendous acts of cruelty to occur on a routine basis.
  • The community should be informed of the reality through advertising, public relations and product labelling, to enable informed purchasing decisions.

Neither issue has been addressed in the final plan, despite references to “care and respect” and “consumer confidence” (as referred in more detail below).

The government still claims elsewhere, as it has for over three years, that the exemptions do not permit cruelty to occur. That is an outrageous claim, which shows no respect for animals or people seeking information on the issue. By their nature, the exemptions permit cruelty.

Such government doublespeak is consistent with the failure to adequately address community education in the plan, with its intention (for example) to communicate “information about . . .  good practice husbandry”, as referred to under the item “improve general animal welfare knowledge”.

It appears that most animals have again been abandoned for the sake of political support from animal-based industries and others, with the government trying to give the impression that something meaningful has been achieved. (In referring to “most animals”, I note that the government has indicated there are more that 150 million farm animals in Victoria, compared to 6.7 million companion animals.)

The focus is unashamedly welfare rather than rights. A welfare approach treats the question of rights as a one-way street by taking the position that humans have the right to exploit animals.

It looks like a business plan

The banner heading for the plan’s vision and purpose is: “Victoria cares”

But does it?

The vision:
A Victoria that fosters the caring and respectful treatment of animals.”

The purpose:
“To ensure Victoria continues to improve animal welfare and is well respected globally for animal welfare practices.”

It seems the plan has been created largely with the aim of ensuring that Victoria is well respected globally, with the related aim of protecting export markets.

Most animals are clearly regarded by the government as products, with reference to “production animals” and “ethical and responsible animal production”. However, it is not in an animal’s interest to become someone else’s product.

That means they are being exploited.

Exploitation is unethical.

It is irresponsible.

It does not reflect “caring and respectful treatment”.

With contradictions such as those, the “vision and purpose” statement does not represent a strong base on which to establish a plan for the benefit of animals. They are only some of the contradictions and inconsistencies within, or related to, the plan.

The vision statement also refers to the need to avoid “unnecessary” harm. However, it is all unnecessary. For example, in respect of diet, both the American Dietetic Association and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council have written favourably about a vegan approach.

Within her foreword to the plan, the minister for agriculture, Jaala Pulford, states (with my underlines):

“The government is also committed to promoting market access and maintaining consumer confidence in Victoria’s livestock industries.”

The economic theme is prominent throughout. Here are some more examples (with my underlines):

“The way animals are treated reflects on Victoria’s national and international reputation, including market access, consumer confidence and the ability to create and sustain jobs.”

Australian and overseas markets are experiencing growing demand for humane and responsibly produced food. Many of the world’s food production companies are setting animal welfare standards for their suppliers. Many industry quality assurance programs include animal welfare requirements to provide confidence to consumers and markets about Victoria’s standard of care for production animals. This is important to maintain and expand Victoria’s domestic and global market access in an environment where there is growing demand for animal products that are produced in animal welfare credentialed systems.”

“The new Act must be capable of evolving to keep pace with animal welfare science, community expectations, industry practices, and domestic and international market access opportunities.”

“For example, Victoria’s agricultural industries recognise that animal welfare underpins productivity.”

“The Victorian Government values and continues to support key animal industries and activities, such as agriculture, sport, recreation (including hunting and fishing), research and teaching, invasive species management, pets, breeding and exhibition.”

I accept that economic issues need to be treated seriously by governments. However, animals should not be forced to pay the price for the well-being of the human population. The government is virtually admitting that “production animals” are regarded as economic cannon fodder, while pretending to be concerned about them.

Other animals, such as those used in research, sport and entertainment, are suffering a similar fate, with financial motives again often playing a part.

Some more contradictions and a massive generalisation

In her foreword, Jaala Pulford also states (with my underlines) that we all have a role to play in ensuring the welfare of pets, farm animals and wild animals.

Similarly, the minister’s ambassador for animal welfare, Lizzie Blandthorn, states that we must protect animals from cruelty and support their quality of life, including on farms and in their natural environment.

Those statements are from members of a government that (as indicated earlier) exempts many animal-based industries from the provisions of cruelty prevention legislation.

They are from members of a government that permits the shooting of ducks, kangaroos and other wild animals as “recreation”.

Allowing people to shoot animals “in their natural environment” is not my idea of protecting animals from cruelty. Many suffer horrendously before dying, and those left behind in their family and social groups are forced to fend for themselves, if they are able. Many victims of shooting are supposedly protected species.

A grave concern in respect of kangaroos is that the prime targets of shooters are the largest, strongest individuals, with potentially critical impacts on the prospects of their mob (the term used to describe their group), along with the gene pool and the resilience of the species in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

The minister also claims that “animal welfare matters to all Victorians”. That is a massive generalisation in a state of over six million people.

Sentience

Much of the media reporting of the plan’s release focused on the intention to recognise animal sentience within legislation. However, that may be a form of tokenism, without meaningful benefits for animals.

According to the plan:

“Science demonstrates that animals are sentient. This means they experience feelings and emotions such as pleasure, comfort, discomfort, fear and pain. Sentience is the primary reason that animal welfare is so important. All people and industries within Victoria have a responsibility to treat all animals with care and respect.”

Do we really need science to tell us that? Any child who has interacted with an animal knows it.

As to treating animals with “care and respect”, here are some examples of practices permitted by legislative exemptions, most of which I highlighted in a letter to the minister in March 2016 and in my plan submission:

Pigs:

  • 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, ear notching, teeth clipping and castration, all without anaesthetic or subsequent pain relief.

The Australian pig industry’s so-called voluntary ban on sow stalls allows them to be used for up to eleven days per pregnancy, and is not be binding on individual producers. In any event, the ability to monitor compliance is questionable, while the alternative of “group housing” is also inherently cruel.

The industry has not indicated any action in respect of farrowing crates, which are even more restrictive than sow stalls.

Chickens and turkeys:

  • life-long confinement indoors, including (for egg-laying hens) 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”, whereby they are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.

Cattle:

  • 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;
  • forced separation of cows and calves in the dairy industry within a day of birth to enable human access to the cow’s milk, with most male calves being sent to slaughter and many females retained for future production.

All:

  • forced breeding, often involving stimulation by humans, penetration with artificial devices, and ongoing confinement.

Here’s an image of a calf being branded with a hot iron, which I included in my submission responding to the draft plan.

Here’s an example of group housing of sows, which is the main alternative to sow stalls. [Footnote 2]

What appears to be the intended continuation of exemptions in respect of practices such as those described above is particularly damning when a stated outcome in relation to the legal framework is for the law to provide for “reasonable and considerate treatment of all animals, regardless of species, use or activity”.

Does this mean that the relevant practices are considered “reasonable and considerate” for “production animals”, when many could result in jail terms if committed on companion animals?

Conclusion

With the release of the new plan, the Victorian government has effectively abandoned animals and misled the community.  The plan represents a classic and tragic example of government doublespeak and disregard for others. We and the animals deserve much better.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. For the purpose of the article, my usage of the word “animal” is based on the definition used in the plan, being “an animal covered by Victorian animal welfare legislation”.
  2. In nature, pigs are clean animals, and do not defecate where they eat and sleep. Wallowing in mud is an evolved behaviour, which they share with other animals, such as the hippopotamus. In a paper published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, researcher Marc Bracke from the Wageningen University and Research Centre reported that pigs and other wallowing animals did not develop functional sweat glands because wallowing was a part of their lifestyle. The mud now helps them to regulate their body temperature. Most pigs and other production animals lack the opportunity to undertake natural behaviours, with resultant detrimental impacts on their well-being.

References

Mahony, P., “Submission in Response to Victorian State Government’s Draft Action Plan 2016 – 2021 ‘Improving the Welfare of Animals in Victoria'”, 11th October 2016, https://terrastendo.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/vic-animal-welfare-submission-p-mahony-v-2.pdf

Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, “Animal Welfare Action Plan” (accessed 7th January 2018), http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-action-plan

Agriculture Victoria, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, “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

Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, “Victoria’s Animal Welfare Action Plan”, 18th December 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTdl8EfHP5w

Preiss, B., “New laws to recognise pain and fear suffered by animals”, The Age, 31st December 2017, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/new-laws-to-recognise-pain-and-fear-suffered-by-animals-20171231-h0bs2a.html

Mahony, P., “Open Letter to Jaala Pulford”, Terrastendo, 31st March 2016, https://terrastendo.net/2016/03/31/open-letter-to-jaala-pulford/

Bracke, M.B.M., “Review of wallowing in pigs: Description of the behaviour and its motivational basis”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science , Volume 132 , Issue 1 , 1 – 13, http://www.appliedanimalbehaviour.com/article/S0168-1591(11)00021-9/fulltext, cited in Braconnier, D., “Wallowing in mud is more than just temperature control”, Phys.org, 2nd May 2011, https://phys.org/news/2011-05-wallowing-mud-temperature.html

Images

© Frances Jane Lea, “Alpaca Llama Lama”, Shutterstock

© androdphoto, “Branding a calf”, iStock

© Aussiepigs.com, Golden Grove Piggery, NSW 2013

Related articles

Victorian animal cruelty

I recently created a two-page infographic containing charts and images I had used in various articles and papers. The infographic highlights the following issues:

  • Livestock-related land clearing in Australia
  • Livestock production’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of animal-based foods
  • Livestock production’s share of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The relative nutritional value of plant-based and animal-based foods

The infographic can be seen and downloaded here:

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Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef

Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem

Eating for a safe climate: Protein and other nutrients

Less Meat Less Heat: Falling short of what’s required

Author

Paul Mahony

Recent material from the federal and Victorian governments on the treatment of food production animals includes some disturbing examples of political doublespeak and propaganda.

We should not be surprised, as governments generally support the livestock sector at the expense of animals, arguing along the lines of the federal government’s current “jobs and growth” mantra. (The “left” and “right” divide is virtually non-existent in Australian politics.)

We are persuaded by psychoanalytical techniques

The difficulty arises when governments concurrently feign concern for animals, ignoring the fact that all animal-based food production is a form of exploitation driven by consumer demand, which in turn is largely generated by sophisticated advertising and PR (public relations) practices.

Indeed, it was “the father of PR”, Edward Bernays, who successfully applied principles of psychoanalysis that had been developed by his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to convince Americans in the 1920s that bacon and eggs should become a standard choice for breakfast. He had been commissioned by the Beech-Nut Packing Company, which specialised at that time in vacuum-packed pig meat products.

Here’s how his campaign has been described in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology:

“But in creating the new Freudian-style campaign, Bernays asked himself, ‘Who influences what the public eats?’ His answer was to survey physicians and ask them whether they would recommend a light breakfast or a hearty breakfast. Physicians overwhelmingly recommended a hearty breakfast, paving the way for Bernays to convince Americans to swap their usual juice, toast and coffee for the now-ubiquitous, all-American ‘hearty’ breakfast of bacon and eggs.”

If interested, you can see a video here of Bernays discussing the pig meat campaign. Elsewhere, Bernays freely used the word “propaganda” (including as the title of a book), and regularly interchanged it with the term PR.

Bernays was also famous for developing the “torches of freedom” campaign that convinced women that it was acceptable to smoke in public. Decades later, he said he would not have accepted the American Tobacco Company’s assignment if he had known of smoking’s health dangers.

With subsequent warnings from the World Cancer Research Fund and the World Health Organization on the dangers of consuming pig meat, it may be reasonable to assume he would have felt the same about his assignment for Beech-Nut had he been aware of those dangers at the time. Indeed, he said in 1928 that a PR practitioner “must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society”.

Some of the physicians surveyed by Bernays for the pork industry in the 1920s suggested bacon and eggs as a “hearty” breakfast. That may have been consistent with a tobacco industry survey of doctors in the 1940s, which portrayed cigarette smoking as a beneficial practice.

Here’s an extract concerning Edward Bernays from the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”:

“Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations for the first time how they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires . . . It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today.”

How much more beneficial for human and non-human animals would our world have been if such domination had not occurred.

Victorian Government’s Draft Action Plan

The Victorian government is currently considering responses to its Draft Action Plan 2016-2021 “Improving the Welfare of Animals in Victoria”, released in September 2016.

In the draft plan, the Minister’s Ambassador for Animal Welfare, Lizzie Blandthorn MP, states that we must protect animals, including those on farms, from cruelty. That’s a noble suggestion that most people would probably agree with, but it seems to be the type of comment that would fit neatly into a Bernays-style propaganda campaign.

The statement does not reflect our current reality, which may be unlikely to change in a meaningful way as a result of the government’s action plan process. If we fail to acknowledge an injustice, then we have little chance of removing it.

Many consumers may be blind to the fact that the livestock sector is largely exempt from complying with Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and similar legislation in other states and territories, which permit acts of cruelty specified in industry codes of practice.

As an example of the injustice involved, exempted practices in relation to poultry include: life-long confinement indoors; beak “trimming” (debeaking) without anaesthetic; removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic; removing segments of toes without anaesthetic; forced breeding; killing of “surplus” chicks in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or being sent into an industrial grinder while still alive.

Despite those and other permitted practices, Agriculture Victoria remarkably claims that the exemptions do not permit cruelty to occur.

That claim is outrageous!

Whose definition of cruelty is Agriculture Victoria using?

I anticipate cruel practices continuing after the Victorian Government completes its review. I have raised the issues with the Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford. However, when responding, she effectively ignored my key points, including those made in this article.

Free Range Egg Labelling

At the federal level, the government recently released its new information standard for free range egg labelling. The standard allows eggs to be labelled as free range where there is an outdoor stocking density of up to 10,000 birds per hectare. Coles and Woolworths nationally, and Aldi in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, had already adopted the limit of 10,000 for their home brand free range products.

To provide some perspective, the limit applying under various voluntary free range standards in Australia ranges from 750 to 2,500, while European Union and UK free range standards range from 1,000 to 2,500.

Not only is our new outdoor stocking limit exceptionally high, the standard does not specify a minimum period of time to be spent outdoors or the density of indoor areas. To make matters worse, many of the practices of mutilation, stunning and killing described earlier are permitted in respect of free range establishments under the CSIRO’s code of practice for domestic poultry, which is a voluntary standard that includes free range guidelines.

A free range animal’s final day may also be far more horrific than most people realise. For example, birds raised on free range farms are generally slaughtered alongside those raised in conventional facilities.

After being packed tightly into crates and transported without food or water, the slaughter process generally begins with birds being hung upside down on a conveyor with their legs shackled. They are supposed to be stunned by having their head dipped in electrically charged water before their throat is cut, but there is no guarantee of that happening. There is also no guarantee they’ll be dead before reaching the scalding tank, which aids the removal of feathers.

In February 2017, animal rights group Dreamer’s Hen Rescue released this undercover video, reported to be from an Australian slaughterhouse. It shows the full slaughter process, and includes chickens entering the scalding tank while still alive. [WARNING: Graphic footage]

xxx

The massive scale of the industry reflects the effectiveness of industry PR and advertising campaigns, and is demonstrated by the fact that around 580 million chickens were slaughtered in Australia during the most recent reporting period, 2014. That’s equivalent to more than eighteen per second, day and night.

Such huge numbers mask the fact that every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one species is smaller than another, or perceived as less animated or sociable, does not reduce the suffering. If we treated our companion animals the way we generally treat those we use as food, we could rightfully spend time in jail.

The unconscionable avoidance of honest communication

Governments must start to communicate honestly with the community about the plight of animals, cutting through the fairy tales that they and the livestock sector have created and propagated. To do anything less would represent unconscionable behaviour.

The Victorian Labor government simply needs to adhere to the words of former party leader and premier, Steve Bracks, who 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”.

He also said (with my underline): “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.”

The Bracks government subsequently performed poorly in relation to openness and accountability, but surely it is not too much to ask of the current government.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

Barth, J., “Beech-Nut to leave Canajoharie after 118 years”, 11 April 2009, http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/beechnut_to_leave_canajoharie.html

Held, L., “Psychoanalysis shapes consumer culture”, Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Dec 2009, Vol 40, No. 11, Print version: page 32, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/12/consumer.aspx

The Museum of Public Relations, Edward Bernays, 1929 Torches of Freedom, http://prvisionaries.com/bernays/bernays_1929.html

Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, undated, https://www.hsph.harvard.ed/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective”, Washington DC: AICR, 2007, http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/expert_report/report_contents/index.php and http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/cancer_resource_center/downloads/Second_Expert_Report_full.pdf, Chapter 12

Bernays, E., “The Business of Propaganda”, The Independent, Vol. 121, No. 4083, 1 Sep 1928, via The Library of Congress, “Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929”, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=amrlm&fileName=me18page.db&recNum=0&itemLink=r%3Fammem%2Fcoolbib%3A%40field%28NUMBER%2B%40band%28amrlm%2Bme18%29%29

Adam Curtis, “The Century of the Self – Part 1 – Happiness Machines”, broadcast on BBC TV in 2002, http://pialogue.info/books/Century-of-the-Self.php

Victoria’s Draft Action Plan for animal welfare, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/victorias-draft-action-plan-for-animal-welfare

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

Mahony, P., “Open letter to Jaala Pulford”, 31 Mar 2016, https://terrastendo.net/2016/03/31/open-letter-to-jaala-pulford/

FAOSTAT Production – Livestock Primary – 2014

Pearce, L., “This Is What The Government’s New ‘Free Range’ Egg Guidelines Look Like”, Huffington Post, 28 Apr 2017, http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/04/27/this-is-what-the-governments-new-free-range-egg-guidelines-lo_a_22059101/

Dowling, J., “Bracks’ Secret State”, The Age, 24 Sep 2006, http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/bracks-secret-state/2006/09/23/1158431942575.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap2

Baker, R., “How Bracks is failing to honour his commitment to openness”, The Age, 16 July 2003, http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/07/15/1058035003170.html

Image

Palugada, “Happy farm animal cartoon collection”, Shutterstock
(The image has not been used in government or industry PR campaigns to my knowledge, but has been used here to symbolise the world of make-believe created by those campaigns.)

 

P1030563

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.

x

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.

Conclusion

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)

Footnote:

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.

References

[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), 2.6.2.8 – 2.6.2.10, 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)

http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/cattle-painful-procedures.php

Branding cattle (Animals Australia)

http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/cattle-painful-procedures.php

Forced separation of cow and calf

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYJPbrxdn8w

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