SENATOR Chris Back urges greater audience scrutiny of misleading messages about livestock industry practices promoted on a controversial animal activist website.
Animal rights campaigner Chris Delforce this week pledged his group would run a counter-campaign against Australian Pork Limited’s (APL) “bacon week” promotion.
Mr Delforce is operations director of activist group Aussie Farms, which runs a website of the same name.
He promised the website would be “exposing cruelty at one additional piggery for each night of the week”.
The counter-campaign escalates another ongoing battle that’s seen video footage gathered from 18 Australian piggeries over the past two years through illegal trespassing by activists, industry has alleged.
“Aussie Farms hopes this surge of exposure will lead to a lot of people questioning their support of the industry,” the media statement said.
Mr Delforce said if the pork industry wanted people to eat more bacon, “it’s only fair that those people should know the truth behind how it was produced, from the factory farm right through to the slaughterhouse gas chambers”.
“The majority of Australians are compassionate, they’re just not aware of how pigs and other animals are raised and killed,” he said.
“And with the ‘ag-gag’ legislation currently being pushed by farming groups it seems these industries are as desperate as ever to maintain that level of secrecy that they depend upon.
“Consumers have a right to know what their dollars are supporting."
But Senator Back - a former veterinarian and long-running campaigner for better community education on actual animal welfare practices in the live export industry versus the views perpetuated by activist groups - said the website was misleading.
He said he was “annoyed” at the lack of understanding about pig welfare and mortality displayed in general commentary on the activist website.
One particular image of a pig situated in a farrowing crate being kept warm under a lamp was “an example of excellence”, he said.
“It’s remarkable that you can take a photo of something like that and then add some words around it, trying to humanise the animal, but the reality is a long way off,” he said.
“It just demonstrates a complete and utter lack of understanding about real animal welfare management and the benefits of these practices.”
Senator Back said sows and piglets left to fend for them-selves in an uncontrolled situation faced greater danger and mortality rates than they did in furrowing sheds, due to sunburn, parasites, foxes and other feral animals.
He said sunburn was a particular issue for pigs given their light skin texture and the potential severity of the Australian climate.
“In my view if something is sound in its policy development then it is sound and it doesn’t need stunts like this to give it greater emphasis,” he said.
“But if there is video footage of any genuine animal cruelty, the community’s demand is for that evidence to be handed over to the relevant authorities without protracted delays, like you would with child abuse or any other serious crime, so those authorities can examine that evidence properly and lay criminal charges, if necessary.”
Senator Back said activists who “act illegally” to gather video footage in anti-farming campaigns “need to be dealt with by the law”.
Last week Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce backed new laws that strengthen penalties for illegal trespass on intensive farming operations including piggeries, dairies and poultry farms, amid concerns about biosecurity breaches.
He said he was also working with State Agriculture Ministers on a cohesive approach to implementing new laws targeting “vigilante groups”, to strengthen property rights.
Mr Joyce said the activists were not only associated with committing a crime but they also had “the hide” to request public donations to aid their cause and claim those payments as a tax deductable gift.
“We can’t have vigilante groups deciding that they’re the enforcers of law,” he said.
“If people believe a crime has been committed, then that is a role for the police not a role for vigilante groups.”
But Mr Delforce told ABC radio this week that the push to introduce US style “ag-gag” laws had only steeled the resolve of animal activists.
“I think it's just kind of hardened their resolve that the industry is getting more and more desperate and people are starting to wake up,” he said.
He said the video footage uploaded onto the Aussie Farms website was shot in November 2013 and sent to his group “anonymously”.
“If we do find things that are illegal then we do forward them onto the relevant authorities but it's proved to be a pretty useless exercise, to be honest,” he said.
APL chief executive Andrew Spencer rejected any assertion the Aussie Farms video footage was a typical reflection of industry standards.
“The people who take the footage have no interest in objectively representing what goes on on pig farms,” he said.
“What they are doing is raiding people's homes and properties, misrepresenting what they do, lying about them and defaming them on the Internet - and that's just absolutely nothing to do with transparency.”