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Animal Welfare: Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing

  • By: Mecardo .
  • Jan 08, 2018

It’s the relaxed time of the year when everything slows; so, any significant proclamation from governments can give rise to conspiracy theories that perhaps they are hoping it will slip under the radar.

I am not sure if we are a being paranoid, or adding 2 plus 2 and getting 5 …. but the announcement on 2nd January that the Victorian Government has released Victoria’s first ever “Animal Welfare Action Plan” set of an alarm bell.

The Minister explains that the plan recognises the sentience of animals, reflecting strong evidence that animals experience sensations such as pleasure, comfort, fear and pain.

“The extensive plan covers all animals, including pets, livestock, native animals, aquatic animals, those for research and teaching, and animals in tourism and recreation. The Plan recognises the sentience of animals, reflecting strong evidence that animals experience sensations such as pleasure, comfort, fear and pain” according to the media release.

The action plan will:

  • REVIEW codes of practice relating to hunting.
  • CLARIFY roles and responsibilities for enforcing animal welfare legislation and work with enforcement groups to ensure they are clearly understood. (Currently the RSPCA’s Special Investigation Unit is excluded from entering farms to investigate animal welfare concerns relating to commercial livestock.)
  • ESTABLISH Animal Welfare Victoria as the new body that will bring together all aspects of domestic animal and animal welfare research, policy, education and compliance.

Some obvious concerns emerge from this announcement, including wether agricultural pests such as management of wild dogs is included (under this proposal can baiting or trapping be condoned?).

For mainstream agriculture though, the focus should be on current animal welfare and husbandry practices.

Accepted practices such as de-horning, mulesing and castration could all come under intense scrutiny. Will it eventually lead to the requirement that any surgical operation must include pain relief, or may only be performed by a trained practitioner (vetinarian?) Will this spark a new focus on intensive industries such as egg, chicken and pork production and the sentient well-being of these animals?

Change in legislation affecting how farmers operate is not a new concept, DDT and arsenic were once common in farm use but we have adjusted to not having these tools.

Farmers response

This increased government interest cannot be dismissed by traditional farmers or their organisations. The response of “we know what’s best for our animals and always have their welfare interests covered”; or “this is another example of city based politicians not understanding what we do” will not be enough.

It also cannot be ignored; in the 90’s the wool industry missed the message regarding mulesing resulting in this issue dogging the wool industry to this day.

It will be imperative that the farming organisations engage in this decision, quickly, consistently and with a well-presented argument. They must present the practical farm operational view.

They will also need to enter with an open mind – the Minister for Agriculture has signalled that the future will not be “business as usual” where animals are involved. Mainstream farming will need to explain and justify every practice applied in the day-to-day management of farm livestock.

Challenge or opportunity?

The continued disengagement of city folk makes this a challenge, today there are less of the population with any connection to the land than ever before and therefore we have less who understand the business of farming.

To put a positive spin on the issue, there is an opportunity here.

What about getting on the “front foot”, and developing the story about modern farming, how it produces more food than ever, in a more ethical and sustainable model than ever before?

Those in agriculture know the great progress the industry has made, and the use of science that has propelled Australian agriculture into being the world leader in many areas.

This success needs to be explained and celebrated so that our city cousins also feel the pride we have in farming.

If we don’t, then expect that practices on farm that we have used forever will come under increased scrutiny and that legislation will force changes.

If, however, we take up this occasion in a positive light, we just might be able to engage a significant section of the city based population and build the profile of our wonderful agriculture sector.

This is as much a challenge for the farmer representative organisations as it is for individual farmers.

Robert Herrmann