WORLD Animal Protection has released a new report suggesting animal welfare standards are declining in Australia, in seeking to broker political support for an Independent Office of Animal Welfare (IOAW).
The report – written by Dr Jennifer Ford – points to a lack of national leadership and funding to progress domestic animal welfare standards in Australia strategically.
In calling for the new IOAW, it says national programs like the $1 million per year Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) program axed by the Coalition shortly after coming to government in late 2013, must be re-established urgently.
“At any one time, Australia has stewardship for the lives and welfare of over 76 million sheep, 29 million cattle, two million pigs, almost 99 million chickens, approximately 33 million companion animals, as well as wild animals in captivity and animals in the wild,” it said.
“As a major livestock producer, the responsibility to care for farm animals is particularly important to the Australian community.
“However, Australian animal welfare policy and regulations are failing to keep pace with international best practice and community expectations and are failing to protect the welfare of animals.
“Consequently, animal welfare scandals are a regular occurrence, with regulators and industry often on the back foot rather than taking a proactive approach to achieving good animal welfare.”
The report also points to outcomes from a national forum held in Canberra last year hosted by the Australian Veterinary Association, National Farmers’ Federation and the RSPCA that resulted in agreement from “many participants” that national coordination and consistency was needed “rather than a patchwork of differing standards”.
WAP Head of Campaigns Nicola Beynon said her group discussed the report’s contents with politicians from all sides of the political divide in Canberra this week in asking them to commit to IOAW heading into the federal election.
“The current system is not working for animal welfare and that poses risks to industry as much as it does to animals,” she said.
Ms Beynon said the proposed IOAW would act as a forum for debate and dialogue with a clear agenda to move animal welfare forward proactively, to benefit animals and industry.
She said the concept had not been costed but would comprise a small office with a CEO and secretariat to serve a ministerial advisory committee on animal welfare standards - but regulatory functions would remain with States and Territories.
“We’re not talking about a big bureaucracy,” she said.
“The live exports sector for example would continue to be regulated by the Commonwealth and the IOAW could review the animal welfare issues in the live export sector and report on them and make recommendations to the minister.”
However, recent history suggests the WPA’s proposal would struggle to gain traction.
An inquiry by the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee tabled late last year recommended not passing legislation for another IOAW model, proposed by NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon.
Ahead of the 2013 federal election, the former Labor government proposed establishing an independent Inspector General of Animal Welfare focussed on the live export trade when Joel Fitzgibbon was the Agriculture Minister under Kevin Rudd.
But new Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce decided against implementing Labor’s plan saying the regulatory position would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy without delivering any practical benefit.
Senator Rhiannon has accused the Federal Department of Agriculture of having a conflict of interest in overseeing the expansion of animal production industries while overseeing animal welfare outcomes - which her Bill sought to resolve.
“An Independent Office of Animal Welfare would remove the political conflicts of interest and would respond to the majority of Australians’ expectations that governments should ensure the health and wellbeing of the animals,” the Green’s dissenting report said.
But in a submission to the Senate inquiry, the Department said there was a strong link between animal welfare and livestock profitability with improved practices leading to “healthier animals that produce a higher quality, safer, and higher value product”.
Ms Beynon said the WPA’s proposed IOAW was “very similar” to the one mooted by the Greens.
The report said the core aim for national and State Agriculture Departments was to achieve the economic goals of improving industry productivity and profitability.
“Due to a common conflict between animal welfare and industry productivity, regulatory problems arise when these departments are also delegated with responsibility for administering animal welfare laws,” it said.
Ms Beynon said sometimes animal welfare and productivity and profitability go “hand in hand” and complement each other while at other times an “obvious tension” existed between those interests.
“Very often animal welfare - if there is competition between the two - will lose out to profitability,” she said.
“Having an independent office of animal welfare would help deal with that tension.
“There is growing consumer demand for higher welfare products and growing awareness of production systems so this is something consumers would welcome.
“If consumers know there’s a champion for animal welfare at the commonwealth level and they know there’s a body that’s giving a fair hearing to all sides, then consumers can feel confident in that and consumers of course want to know producers are getting a fair hearing as well and being treated fairly in the market place.”
Ms Beynon said a meeting with Mr Joyce had also been requested but had not yet been responded to.