The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines website states that ‘government and industry have agreed that national standards and guidelines are needed [for livestock] and are working cooperatively to develop the standards and guidelines under the previous AAWS.’ The website states that Animal Health Australia was commissioned under the previous AAWS to facilitate the development of nationally consistent standards and guidelines for livestock, but does not state which organisation currently has this responsibility.
An email response to a question to Animal Health Australia dated 17th May 2019 stated that the Animal Welfare Task Group was a committee of the Australian Agriculture Senior Officials Committee and Agriculture Ministers’ Forum. The email said the committee met regularly and ‘focuses on the development of nationally consistent animal welfare Standards and Guidelines to replace an array of Model Codes of Practice for the appropriate care and husbandry of animals in Australia’s animal use and livestock industries.’ There is no website for the Animal Welfare Task Group and it is not mentioned anywhere on the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines website, which lists its work. There are no details of resources for the Task Group, or about the expertise of its members. The standards and guidelines website says that ‘For the past 35 years, the welfare of livestock in Australia has been supported by a series of Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals. Community values and expectations have changed, and our international trading partners have placed greater emphasis on livestock welfare. A review of the Model Codes of Practice (MCOP) in 2005 recommended they be converted into Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. The welfare standards and guidelines for livestock aim to harmonise and streamline livestock welfare legislation in Australia, ensuring it results in improve welfare outcomes and is practical for industry.’ The standards and guidelines can be viewed on the website. The only standards and guidelines completed so far are those for cattle, sheep, land transport, and saleyards and depots. Work on the poultry rules is underway.
Rearing - pigs
In relation to standards and guidelines for pigs, the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines website states that a review of the scientific literature and international pig welfare codes and standards was undertaken to inform the upcoming development of rules. The review was undertaken by the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne and was funded by Australian Pork Limited. Two peer reviews of the scientific literature and international rules review commented that there was missing literature and certain welfare challenges had not been discussed. They also suggested that the protective elements of enrichment should be included; shoulder ulcerations/lesions had not been mentioned; and there should be a detailed discussion of the impact of prenatal stress.
The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs allows for the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates (Section 4 on ‘Accommodation’). Castration is presented as a way to limit aggression problems in group housing accommodation. Tail-docking, teeth-clipping and nose-roping are also put forth as preventative measures either to limit aggressions among pigs, or to prevent ‘adverse effects to the environment’ in the case of nose-ringing (Section 5). There is no obligation to use anaesthesia before carrying out the castration, tail-docking, teeth-clipping and nose-ringing of piglets.
Rearing - broiler chickens
The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry contains basic welfare provisions, notably on the lighting, ventilation, temperature and humidity of the rearing environment for egg-laying hens and broiler chickens. Appendix I specifies that the maximum stocking density for broiler chickens can go up to 46 kg/m2.
Rearing - egg-laying hens
The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Domestic Poultry contains provisions both for broiler chickens and for egg-laying hens. Three types of housing are laid out: cage systems, barn systems (where hens can roam inside a barn) and free-range systems (where hens are housed in sheds and have access to an outdoor range). There is no restriction on what type of cages can be used: all cages have to abide by 1995 standards.
The Proposed Draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry were released in November 2017 contain no provisions to ban cages. An article by a legal academic dated 12th February 2018 discussed the process for the development of rules relating to hens, noting that the draft rules excluded any phase-out of battery cages. Instead, the existing space allowance of 550 square centimetres for each laying hen would be retained – smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. The article said there was concern about how the rules had been developed, with allegations that governments were being unduly influenced by industry. Three scientists had complained about the selective and misleading use of their research to strengthen the case for conventional caged egg-laying systems. Western Australia’s Agriculture Minister also expressed concern about the draft standards, citing their failure to reflect both current scientific thinking and community expectations. Documents obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation appeared to show secret meetings between the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries and industry representatives, allegedly to manipulate the outcome of the process. Concerns were also expressed by Victoria. A media report dated 8 January 2018 said that the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries had allowed the drafting of new welfare standards for poultry to be ‘stage-managed’ by industry in a process lacking transparency, governance and independence. The New South Wales Department has been leading the development of new laws for the treatment of Australia’s 600 million poultry, the majority of whom are confined in battery cages. A widely expected ban on battery cages was not included in the new draft standards for poultry welfare.
Rearing - dairy cattle and calves
The ‘Cattle Background’ page for the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle states that the standards and guidelines were refined from the Model Code of Practice for the welfare of animals and aim to follow the principles described in the revised AAWS Development of Australian Standards and Guidelines for the Welfare of Livestock Business Plan. The revised version of that business plan is dated February 2009, meaning that the plan was developed even earlier than that. It is accordingly very out of date and attitudes to animal welfare have changed considerably in the past decade. It is concerning that new rules are being developed based on outdated material. The revised business plan said in 2009 that the aim was to reformat each of the existing Model Codes of Practice into standards and guidelines. It is disturbing and demonstrates a lack of commitment to animal welfare that, a decade later, so little progress has been made.
The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle were agreed by State and Territory governments in 2016 and are being regulated into law by most state and territory governments between 2017 and 2020. Details can be viewed on the website. These 2016 Guidelines state that ‘permanent or long-term tethering should be avoided.’
Section 9 specifically refers to the management of dairy cattle. Section 9.2 states that the milking technique should minimise the risk of discomfort, injury and disease. Cattle may be tail-docked only on veterinary advice and only to treat injury or disease. There are no provisions regarding housing, noting that the ‘the Australian diary production system is almost entirely outdoors and pasture-based.’
With regards to transport, there is limited relevant legislation at national level. At the end of 2012, the government introduced measures to address the welfare of exported livestock, the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme. Export permits for slaughter will only be granted where the exporter can show that they have control over the movement of animals within their supply chain and that the animals will be handled in accordance with OIE standards through the point of slaughter.
New measures and penalties have been announced in May 2018 through amendments to the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997 – last updated in January 2017 – and the Export Control Act 1982 – amended in November 2016. The announcement introduced penalties for live exporters who breach animal welfare standards. According to the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997, an application for an export licence will only be granted if it is made in accordance with the regulations in regards of the quality, standard and grading of meat and livestock, and by the Australian Code for the Export of Livestock which sets out principles in regards of the feeding, treatment, assembling, loading and transport of the livestock until their arrival at their overseas destination. The Export Control Act 1982 establishes the conditions of application of the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997, ascribing penalties in case of the breach of conditions or the occurring of offences. Moreover, it prescribes an approved export programme of activities to be undertaken by an accredited veterinarian or authorised officer, to ensure the health and welfare of livestock through monitoring, examining, testing or treating the exported animals.
Livestock exporters are bound to comply with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL), which provide the requirements to ensure animals are fit to export and manage the risks to animals’ health and welfare throughout the export voyage.
There have been a number of reviews of Australian live exports, leading to the establishment of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) and the development by industry of the Livestock Global Assurance System. Since 2011, ongoing investigations have revealed many failures in ESCAS in destination countries. In April 2018, Michael McCarthy was appointed to undertake an ‘independent, short, sharp’ review of conditions for sheep exported to the Middle East during the northern hemisphere summer. Dr McCarthy’s report was presented to the Government in May 2018 and concluded that live exports were at the crossroads: what had happened in the past must not happen in future and the industry must therefore retreat to a ‘safe’ position. Dr McCarthy said that the key issues relevant to sheep health and welfare during shipping to the Middle East were stocking density, ventilation and thermoregulation. Stocking densities were reduced by 28 per cent in the wake of the McCarthy review.
Most recently, Philip Moss was appointed as an independent reviewer by the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud. Mr Moss’s appointment followed the release of footage of sheep on a ship travelling from Fremantle to the Middle East in August 2017. Around 2400 animals died, mostly from heat stress. A whistleblower filmed the footage and it was provided to the NGO Animals Australia, which showed it to Mr Littleproud. He said he was shocked by viewing the dead and decaying sheep. He said that practices of the company involved would be examined. While the August 2017 shipment was en route to the Middle East, the Perth-based exporters were warned of possible prosecution over a shipment in July 2016 during which 3,027 sheep died. All live export shipments with mortality rates of more than two per cent are subject to review, but unless there is a whistleblower true conditions might not be revealed.
Mr Moss reviewed the Australian capability and culture in the regulation of live animal exports to (1) assure government and the Australian public that exporters meet high animal welfare standards and, (2) identify regulatory and investigative improvements that could be applied. A final report was released on 27th September 2018, highlighting the need for greater transparency and animal welfare indicators for the live animal export industry. Such animal welfare indicators should relate to every point of the export supply chain and for those indicators to become part of the regulatory framework. Following the release of the Moss report, the Commonwealth Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, announced on 31st October 2018 a ‘regulation reset’ for the live export industry, including the appointment of a Principal Regulatory Officer within the Department to improve regulatory practice, compliance and its culture as regulator. The Minister also announced an Independent Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports to oversee the Department’s regulation of live exports and provide assurance over Australia’s live animal export framework through independent evaluation and verification, and make recommendations for overall system improvements. The Minister said that an animal welfare branch within the Department and the development of animal welfare indicators would be used as part of compliance systems. Mr Littleproud said Australians had been appalled by the August 2017 footage and ‘further angered at their assessment the report of the incident did not match the footage.’ Mr Littleproud said he was ‘determined to clean up this industry and make it sustainable, because so many farm families and rural towns rely on it. ‘ He said that the live export industry needed ‘a tough cop on the beat and the Department must become a capable, trusted and effective regulator.’ Mr Littleproud said that, to change culture, the light needed to be shun on animal welfare and the threat of being caught and punished needed to be real. Ross Carter began work as the Interim Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports in March 2019. He will fill the role for 12 months while legislation is passed to establish the statutory appointment.
The Australian standards for the export of livestock (ASEL) define a reportable mortality level by species on a voyage or air journey as between 0.5 and 2%, or three animals whichever is the greater number of animals. The Department has been reviewing its investigations into processes for reportable mortality events to establish shorter timeframes for the conduct of investigations and was due to establish a new approach by March 2019. The Department with the agreement of the Live Export Industry Consultative Committee undertook to report on investigations conducted of consignments with reportable mortality events. Reports can be found on the Department’s website.
From April 2018, Independent Observers have been placed on voyages ‘to provide additional assurance of the effectiveness of exporter arrangements in managing animal welfare.’ Regular reports from the observers to the Department contain information about the daily care of animals and compliance against an exporter’s approved export programme. The Export Control (Animals) Amendment (Approved Export Programs and Other Measures) Order 2018 enables the publication of records and reports made by Australian Government Accredited Veterinarians and authorised officers relating to approved export programmes. The first Independent Observer’s report was released on 26 November 2018.
At present the slaughter of non-stunned animals remains allowed in all States and Territories in Australia. Many of the exemptions to pre-slaughter stunning are justified on religious grounds.
In the Model Code of Practice for Domestic Poultry, section 17 points out that ‘birds must be slaughtered in a manner that minimises handling and stress’. However, it is not mandated that birds shall be stunned before being slaughtered.
Other relevant legislations
In the Australian Capital Territory, sections 9A and 9B of the Animal Welfare Act 1992 prohibit keeping commercial laying hens and pigs in accommodation that is not appropriate, which is defined by reference to legislation. Section 9C prohibits beak trimming. Part 3 provides for codes of practice, which may be mandatory, to be made on various issues including transport, slaughter and welfare in intensive farming, and codes have been made on areas including sales yards and the welfare of specified species of livestock. The Australian Capital Territory banned sow stalls altogether in 2014, however this is largely symbolic as there are no intensive piggeries in that jurisdiction.
In New South Wales, section 34A of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 provides for regulations, guidelines or codes to be made relating to the welfare of species of farm animals, and codes have been made relating to certain species. Section 24 prohibits firing or hot iron branding of the face of stock animals, as well as marking, tagging, branding, castrating, dehorning and preparing for food production in ways that inflict unnecessary pain.
While the Northern Territory Animal Welfare Act does not specifically address the welfare of livestock, as well as referring to the national codes of practice, it has the Northern Territory Livestock Act 2009 – which aims at protecting the health and welfare of livestock by establishing standards and procedures for managing livestock, controlling diseases and implementing the national biosecurity strategy and by other means. Mandatory welfare requirements regarding livestock transport are also provided through a link to the Land Transport Standards.
In Queensland, section 13 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 allows for codes of practice to be made, and under section 15, compliance with these can be compulsory. For this category of animals, there are compulsory codes on transport and partly compulsory codes on pigs and poultry, contained in the Animal Care and Protection Regulation 2012 ), with voluntary codes on other species and on slaughter.
In South Australia, there are mandatory codes of practice or standards on specified species, transport, sales yards and slaughter, incorporated under the Animal Welfare Regulations 2012. The Regulations also make rules about transport and about keeping poultry and pigs.
In Victoria, there are regulated standards and guidelines both developed and in progress of development which include land transport of livestock, welfare of pigs, cattle, sheep, and livestock at sale yards and deports. Animal welfare standards and guidelines for poultry and for livestock at processing establishments are currently in development, as of March 2019. These codes are voluntary for most commonly farmed species of animal. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (section 7) specifies procedures for the keeping, treatment, handling, transportation, sale, killing, hunting, shooting, catching, trapping, netting, marking, care, use, husbandry or management of any animal or class of animals; or about the premises, facilities, equipment or conditions at any premises to which licences granted.
In Tasmania, the Animal Welfare Act 1993, establishes animal welfare standards may be prescribed as minimum acceptable practices and must be complied with in the care and management of animals. Tasmania’s animal welfare standards are legally binding and enforceable and include provisions on the land transport of livestock as well as on the welfare of pigs and poultry. In 2010, Tasmania announced sow would be kept in stalls for a maximum of six weeks from 2014, with a total ban on stalls by 2017. However, the current status of these commitments is unclear.
In Western Australia, the government has produced codes of practice relating to specific species, transport and slaughter, which have guidance status under the Animal Welfare (General) Regulations 2003 , and compliance with the codes can be relied upon as a defence to prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 2002. This undermines the basic protections of the legislation and deprives millions of farmed animals of the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour and other fundamental animal welfare requirements.
With regards to the rearing of farm animals, there is limited policy at national level. The Model Codes of Practice form a series of policy documents in which guidance on various farming activities (from rearing to slaughtering and transport) are addressed, and which cover a variety of different species (including pigs, sheep, cows, poultry and goats). However, these Model Codes do not have legal status. State and Territory jurisdictions incorporated most of these Codes of Practice under their animal welfare legislation. The Codes still provide for wide exceptions to basic animal protections, legalising cruel practices such as battery cages and the extreme confinement of pigs. The Commonwealth Government is aiming to replace the Model Codes with nationally agreed Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. Development has been incredibly slow, with only four completed despite this course of action being set well over a decade ago. There has been strong concern about industry influence and conflicts of interest in the government agencies developing the rules. Unless significant resources are provided for education and monitoring and enforcement, the standards and guidelines will be ineffective.
With regards to pigs, confinement in sow stalls or farrowing crate is not forbidden. For broiler chickens, Section 3.1 recommends that maximum acceptable live weight densities be reviewed and adjusted according to advances in knowledge of animal welfare and husbandry. However, the maximum stocking density allowed (46 kg/m2) is still largely superior to other international standards (in the EU, for example, stocking densities cannot exceed 42 kg/m2). It is shocking that there is no restriction on the type of cages that can be used for egg-laying hens .With regards to dairy cattle and calves, it is regrettable that the permanent or long-term use of tethering is not explicitly forbidden: indeed, the use of ‘should’ instead of ‘shall’ proves that the guideline is weaker in that domain.
Whilst farm animal welfare is an issue of national concern that appears to be informed by international guiding principles, the government has yet to act to phase out extreme confinement systems such as the battery cage and the dry sow stall. The phasing out of these practices has been achieved in other countries internationally and is a development that derives naturally from widely recognised concepts such as the Five Freedoms, which have a direct relationship with animal welfare. Most of the necessary principles to underpin these improvements can be found already in policy documents such as the National Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Livestock and the government is working on the development of nationally consistent standards and guidelines for animal welfare continues. It is noted that some individual jurisdictions have taken steps towards this; in Tasmania the Animal Welfare Regulations 2013 classify as an offence to possess or custody an animal that is confined, constrained or otherwise unable to provide appropriate and sufficient shelter or exercise, and in the Australian Capital Territory, inappropriate accommodation for pigs and fowls for commercial egg production. The commitment of the major retailer Coles in 2010 to end sow stalls by 2017 proves that animal welfare is very slowly becoming of some mainstream concern. With no national legislation dedicated to farm animals, the government does not do its utmost to respond to such a societal concern.
Moreover, Australia earns AUD$1.8 billion a year from live exports. More than 2.7 million animals are shipped from Australia to almost 20 countries. The animals are 1.8 million sheep and 900,00 cattle. Kuwait is the largest market for live sheep, followed closely by Qatar. Indonesia is the largest market for live cattle, followed by Vietnam. Over the past 30 years, Australia has exported over 200 million animals to the Middle East. During that time, more than 2.5 million animals have died en route and many more have suffered injury, illness and distress caused by being transported by sea.
Animal suffering can last for a total of one to two months. Animals are first mustered, then spend up to 50 hours travelling by road or rail to Australian ports. They are then held in pens before being loaded onto ships or planes. They can be confined on board for up to a month – 744 hours. High temperatures and poor ventilation can lead to fatal heat stroke, while ammonia concentrations cause pain and irritation. At the country of destination, the animals are unloaded and transported again. There are few checks on conditions in slaughterhouses. The economic returns to the country explain why live exports for slaughter are permitted to continue, despite many years of evidence of gross suffering of animals, both while being transported and in the countries of destination. There have been investigations by media outlets, evidence from whistleblowers and undercover footage.
In August 2012, an Australian ship carrying 22,000 sheep was prevented from unloading in Kuwait and Bahrain and sheep who had already been at sea for 33 days were left on board for almost two more weeks, in temperatures of up to 38 degrees. Eventually they were unloaded in Pakistan, where a recording revealed shockingly brutal treatment. The 2014-15 Australian government Budget provided for a saving of AUD$2.3 million over 2014-15 by ceasing the Live Animal Exports – Business Assistance – Improved Supply Chains and Official Development Assistance (Improved Animal Welfare Programme) one year early on 30 June2014. The programme offered aid funding to support improved animal welfare outcomes in countries importing live animals from Australia. It was set up in response to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Four Corners programme on 30 May 2011 which showed horrific scenes of cruelty to Australian cattle being slaughtered in Indonesian abattoirs. In 2017, the Commonwealth government allocated AUD$8.3 million over four years to implement the Livestock Global Assurance Program for the live export industry, evolving the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System.
Public opinion is strongly opposed to the suffering involved in live export. Even some in the live export industry do not believe it can continue. Geoff Davy, who worked in live exports for over 15 years, said that ‘We must plan for the future shutdown of the industry, which I think is inevitable. We’ve got our head in the sand if we think it’s not going to happen.'
The Department of Agriculture regulates the export of livestock under the Export Control Act 1982, the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997 and associated orders, regulations and standards. This includes the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock and the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System. The government advises that the core elements of the department’s compliance strategy are to assist stakeholders to understand their rights and obligations; to make it as easy as possible for exporters to meet their regulatory obligations; to support stakeholders who want to do the right thing, to actively pursue those who opportunistically or deliberately contravene Australian legislation that governs the export of live animals.
Each state or territory animal protection act contains measures for inspection and enforcement by authorised officers, as well as a series of procedures and powers (including emergency powers) for prosecution.
The Australian Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals do not include enforcement measures but are referenced in state and territory legislation and should also assist the public in understanding and applying animal welfare measures at different stages of production and across different species. Queensland, South Australia and Victoria have mandatory codes of practice. In Victoria, failure to comply with the licence conditions that include animal welfare standards can result in a licence to operate an abattoir being revoked (Meat Industry Act 1993), and the Livestock Management Act 2010 implements management standards through compliance agreements. Tasmania has mandatory standards that are enforceable under the Animal Welfare Act 1993 and in New South Wales, animal welfare provisions are applied as a condition of licence on red meat abattoirs. Poultry processors in New South Wales are also required to have animal welfare procedures in place.
In November 2015, the Australian government asked the Productivity Commission to examine regulation of Australian agriculture. The Terms of Reference for the review focused heavily on ‘removing or reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens where doing so contributes to improved productivity for farm businesses as well as the wider economy’ and illustrate the Australian view that regulation is a cost rather than a protective factor, as well as the strong focus on economic returns from farming and the little attention paid to the welfare of the animals involved.
Few resources are provided for monitoring and enforcement of animal welfare, and most cruelty and neglect are not detected. Undercover filming has resulted in many cases of cruelty and neglect being revealed.
• Australia has limited legislation applicable at the national level with regards to farm animals. At present, the national Government is aiming to replace the Model Codes of Practice with nationally agreed Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, which are then enforced at the State and Territory level. However, not all Model Codes have so far been translated into Guidelines.
• The Government of Australia is urged to end the extreme confinement of farm animals. As a priority, the Government of Australia is strongly encouraged to ban the confinement of pigs in sow stalls and farrowing crates, building upon the example of the Australian Capital Territory’s legislation. Similarly, the Government of Australia should fully ban the use of cages for egg-laying hens. At the very least, the use of conventional battery cages should be forbidden.
• The Government of Australia is highly encouraged to ban the practice of piglet mutilations without anaesthesia. In addition, analgesics should be used. At present, the Model Codes do not prescribe that anaesthesia should be used for castration, tail-docking, teeth-clipping and nose-ringing.
• The Government of Australia is urged to mandate the humane slaughter of all farm animals. Animals should be instantaneously rendered unconscious and insensible to pain and distress prior to slaughter. Today, there is growing consensus amongst religious authorities worldwide that pre-slaughter stunning is compatible with religious principles. Humane halal slaughter allows for the animal to be temporarily rendered unconscious via stunning prior to slaughter, as long as the animal's skull remains intact and the animal would regain consciousness in time should slaughter not occur. Therefore, animals should be unconscious before being bled, and no further processing should occur until irreversible loss of consciousness is confirmed. No animal should be forced to witness other animals being slaughtered as this is inherently distressing.
• Furthermore, ccameras should be installed in all slaughterhouses and resources should be provided for monitoring the footage, in order to reduce deliberate cruelty acts perpetrated to animals at slaughterhouses.
• Additionally, live exports should be banned immediately. More than 2.5 million animals have died during live export in recent decades. Many more have suffered both physically and psychologically but survived the experience, only to be brutally killed in destination countries. Numerous reviews and regulatory changes have failed to achieve any significant improvements. Regulators have been ineffective and reporting systems have been unreliable, as those involved in the industry have a strong financial interest in concealing animal suffering. There are no controls on the treatment of animals in destination countries. Live export is inherently cruel, and no changes can be implemented to prevent animal suffering. Animals are mustered, transported for up to 50 hours to ports, sent by ship or air, unloaded, further transported and then slaughtered. Their ordeals may last for up to two months. They suffer heat stroke, disease and some stop eating after their diets are forcibly changed. Live export is a stain on Australia’s reputation and immensely damaging to the country internationally. It is a clear example of animal welfare being completely disregarded in the interests of economics.