AUSTRALIAN Pork Limited (APL) CEO Andrew Spencer says stronger legal protections are needed against animal rights activists raiding pig farms in the dead of night and persistent harassment on social media.
Mr Spencer spoke to Fairfax Agricultural Media about core recommendations made in the Productivity Commission’s draft report into agricultural red tape released last week on animal welfare standards.
The Commission has demanded feedback on biosecurity risks caused by on-farm trespass by animal rights activists which was an issue raised by stakeholders, in submitting to the inquiry.
APL has previously vented concerns about activists trespassing on multiple pig farms, to gather video footage then used in campaigns designed to end pork production - but without proper biosecurity clearances, potentially moving diseases between facilities and creating adverse animal welfare outcomes.
The Commission has asked for information on strategies to discourage farm trespassing and whether existing laws are sufficiently enforced by authorities.
Mr Spencer said the farm raid issue was an area of regulation that needed greater consideration by law-makers.
“We have many farms, pig farmers, either living under the constant threat of a raid in the dead of night, of some of them being continually harassed through social media and threatened with such raids,” he said.
“It’s completely unfair because they’re performing completely legal operations and running them really professionally according to best practice and their animals are really well looked after.
“We are looking for some more protection for these people.”
Mr Spencer said the farm raids also presented an enormous biosecurity threat because pig farms operated individually, with varied biosecurity statuses.
He said many pig farmers were free of certain diseases that other farmers in the region may have and people entering farms uninvited, “is a significant biosecurity threat”.
“We need that to be addressed in law somehow and I know some states are doing better at that than others,” he said.
“Some great steps have been taken forward in NSW where they’ve got some newish legislation in this area and we’re keen to see how that works but in other states nothing like that exists.”
Mr Spencer said APL wanted a process implemented - like the Commission’s recommendation to harmonise national animal welfare standards - where an independent body would consider appropriate biosecurity standards, to cover entry onto farms.
He said once a national standard was developed - which could include potential penalties - the states can implement their own legislation.
“The animal rights groups claim that by putting up the videos that they take during these farm raids that they’re actually improving transparency but our experience is that those videos in no way represent what is normal on a pig farm,” he said.
“By its very definition, those animal rights groups do not want to represent what’s normal on a pig farm.
“They want to find the very worst bits and pieces that are going to look bad from a community point of view and just put that up there.
“This idea that these farm raid videos improve transparency is just craziness for us and I think farmers need much better protection that what they have at the moment.”
Primary Producers SA told the inquiry animal welfare had become a “fertile ground for political activists”.
“Intensive animal producers should not have to live in fear of activists raiding them and creating bio-security issues,” the coalition of peak bodies representing primary producers in South Australia submitted.
The Commission report was instigated by Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce and Treasurer Scott Morrison, through the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper.
Mr Joyce has previously described animal rights activists as “vigilantes”, for repeatedly trespassing on farms to gather video footage to use in anti-livestock farming campaigns.
The Nationals leader has said he is not against genuine whistleblowers but supports tougher laws to manage biosecurity risks caused by illegal on-farm surveillance and trespass.
“The fact that you would break into someone’s shed or break into their farm or put a drone over their farm or basically break into someone’s house without the proper authority of a court, just take it upon yourself - there’s a word for that, it’s called vigilantes,” he said in 2014.
WA Liberal Senator Chris Back has also proposed federal laws to prevent delays in withholding video footage of animal cruelty allegations, from proper authorities, that has been opposed by animal rights groups.
The Commission’s report also sets up a legislative show-down between farm groups and animal rights outfits like Animals Australia that have backed an Independent Office of Animal Welfare, which was also an ALP election policy pledge.
Cattle Council of Australia President Howard Smith his group did not support the Commission’s draft recommendation to establish an independent body to develop national farm animal welfare standards and guidelines.
Mr Smith said animal health and welfare was of the utmost importance to cattle producers but the proposed independent body would simply be a duplication of efforts, as the cattle industry already had its own rigorous systems in place.
He said the industry spent five years developing the Cattle Standards and Guidelines which had now been accepted by the state governments and was expected to be embedded into state legislation over the next few years.
Mr Smith said Cattle Council did support the report’s recommendation to recognise industry quality assurance schemes as a means of achieving compliance with farm animal welfare standards.
He said the option to build a compulsory animal welfare module into the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) scheme had been agreed.
“The recognition of LPA as a compliance mechanism would not only ensure compliance with animal welfare standards but reduce red tape for producers and help them get on with putting food on our tables,” he said.
World Animal Protection backed the recommendation for a national independent animal welfare body, with the organisation’s Nicola Beynon saying the current system “is not good enough”.
She said Australian animals, community expectations and industry needs all suffer under the current frameworks.
“An independent body for animal welfare would redress a lack of national leadership and coordination, facilitate collaboration and ensure community expectations for animal welfare are met,” she said.
“World Animal Protection also recommends that the body for animal welfare regulation could also provide independent oversight, monitoring and assessment of the live export regulatory system.”