DESPITE mixed views from the legal community, farm groups have expressed strong support for Senator Chris Back’s proposed laws to curtail on-farm trespass by animal rights activists.
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) said it strongly supported the Bill’s intent to ensure animals are protected against further unnecessary cruelty caused by any delays in reporting evidence or recording of malicious cruelty to domestic animals.
But the NFF said it believed the best way to achieve improved animal welfare was to increase government resourcing of animal welfare enforcement agencies and measures that strengthen existing animal welfare legislation.
“The key to sustainability of livestock and other animal-use industries is building consumer confidence and gaining public trust through schemes which promote transparency of operations,” the NFF said.
“To this end, significantly greater resources should be made available to animal welfare regulators to permit more effective surveillance, as well as support for accredited quality assurance and independent auditing programs.
“These sorts of initiatives will help to ensure ongoing public confidence and support for animal use across all industry sectors.”
The Cattle Council of Australia said it supported “any effort towards preventing malicious damage, trespass and threats that are targeted at operators conducting legal and legitimate businesses involving animals”.
The Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) said the industry had invested more than $50 million into sheep welfare research and development programs over the past five years, “all of which lead to improvements in animal welfare”.
“SCA believes that the amendments to the Bill will complement the significant work already being undertaken by the sheep meat industry,” its submission said.
In the past 12 months the sheep industry has come under scrutiny through footage captured by PETA for unacceptable behaviour in shearing sheds.
The SCA said it does not condone this type of practice and, had the footage been brought to the attention of authorities earlier, the ability of industry to act would have been greater.
Wool Producers Australia (WPA) president Richard Halliday said his group supported the Bill’s stated intention of ensuring animals are protected against potential ongoing cruelty caused by delays in reporting evidence or recording of malicious cruelty to domestic animals.
“Ensuring that any evidence of animal cruelty is reported to relevant authorities in a timely fashion will only enhance the intended aim of the Bill - animal protection,” he said.
“WPA also views the second primary intent of the Bill regarding the prevention of illegal interference in the lawful operation of animal enterprises as being of equal importance.
“Illegal entry to farm enterprises not only cause disruption to routine operations of these businesses but also compromises existing on-farm welfare and biosecurity measures.
“Primary producers deserve protection from these types of threats, as would any other type of lawful business operating in this country.”
Altering of evidence should be banned: APL
Australian Pork Limited (APL) said they also supported the Bill’s objectives to improve animal welfare outcomes by minimising unnecessary delays in reporting malicious cruelty but made several suggestions for improvement.
APL said it considered the time frames for reporting animal cruelty and the provision of any record of this cruelty “appropriate”.
But the Bill could be strengthened by specifically stating that the removal of metadata or the manipulation of the electronic files – like the incorporation of “screams” from animals for “shock” purposes - could be prohibited.
“APL is concerned that the altering of evidence in any form will potentially render evidence of animal cruelty inadmissible in a court of law,” the submission form APL policy general manager Deb Kerr said.
“APL considers that the Bill could be strengthened by including breaches of farm biosecurity protocols as the result of unauthorised property incursions.
“On-farm disease incursions could have devastating effects on animal welfare, human wellbeing, farmer livelihoods or environmental impacts.
“Therefore APL considers that there is a need to ensure that farm biosecurity protocols are maintained through the prevention of unauthorised access.”
Ms Kerr said animal activist organisations had been targeting the Australian pork industry by illegally entering farms at night, using sophisticated technology to produce misrepresentative videos that are hosted on websites registered overseas.
She said activist organisations then use this video footage of “exposed” farms to seek donations to continue these activities.
“Despite dozens of pig farms having been raided and 'exposed' over the last couple of years, only one pig farmer has been charged with animal cruelty offences (but) these charges were ultimately dropped,” she said.
“This demonstrates that the objectives of these farm raids is purely publicity based, intended to harass pig producers and is unrelated to the welfare of the pigs.
“Forensic examination of early videos and photos hosted on these websites clearly shows that this material has been obtained from different farms on the same or consecutive nights.
“Biosecurity best practice dictates at least three days and showers between such visits is required to maintain robust biosecurity protocols.
“More recently, the activist organisations have removed all metadata preventing identification of farms where biosecurity protocols have been breached,” she said.
“The sole purpose of this unauthorised access to biosecure premises by activists is to target the purchasing behaviour of consumers by attempting to defame and publicly humiliate the industry and individual producers.
“To this end, some of the harassment of pork producers has been so vitriolic that site administrators have been forced to remove comments.”
Minimising delays: ALFA
The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA) said any delay in the reporting incidences of animal cruelty “can only prolong the suffering of the animals affected”.
“Consequently, ALFA is supportive of the Bill and its objectives to improve animal welfare outcomes by minimising unnecessary delays in reporting malicious cruelty,” its submission said.
AFLA also said unauthorised access to properties without any consideration of biosecurity had the potential to result in unmanaged disease incursions that could have devastating effects on animal welfare, human wellbeing, the environment and farmer livelihoods.
ABARES has estimated a foot and mouth disease incursion could result in losses to Australia of up to $52 billion.
“Accordingly, ALFA considers that there is a need to ensure that farm biosecurity protocols are maintained through the prevention of unauthorised access,” it said.
Bill will deflect attention: Sentient
But a submission by Sentient - the Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics - expressed “complete rejection” of the Bill, accusing it of being “regressive, misleading, and detrimental to animal welfare and the public interest”.
“This Bill will result in the prosecution of individuals or organisations who, in the public interest, obtain undercover footage of malicious cruelty to animals that would otherwise never be exposed,” the submission said.
“The Bill will not lead to greater efficiency in prosecuting the perpetrators of such cruelty, and is likely to hinder prosecutions by placing unrealistically short time frames on the mandatory submission of evidence.
“In effect, the prosecution of 'whistleblowers' themselves will deter the collection of further evidence, deflecting attention away from animal cruelty complaints whilst protecting the economic and other interests of the perpetrators.
“The bias against animal activists and investigative journalists who record evidence of animal cruelty is very clear.
“For this reason, many in the animal welfare and wider communities have judged this as a Bill that primarily aims to protect animal industries that harbour systemic animal abuse.”