AN ESCALATING anti-pig farming campaign shows no signs of slowing, vindicating Australian Pork Limited's (APL) move to seek backing from the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund.
APL want to progress a legal test case to strengthen farmer protections against illegal trespass by activists, and chief executive Andrew Spencer said the generic application would look at a case “where we can really ask some major questions of the law”.
“We want laws changed or precedents set in the courts around more appropriate protection for farmers,” he said.
“There is a significant lack of protection for Australia’s farmers from activities like farm raids. Trespass does not cut it – it does not provide a deterrent."
Animal rights activist Chris Delforce has been a driving force behind ventilation of illegally obtained video footage and other images gathered by trespass underpinning that campaign via the Aussie Farms website. Mr Delforce has also used social media to demand that Blantyre Farms piggery near Young in south-east NSW be shut down.
Last year, Blantyre’s owners found hidden cameras linked to elaborate video equipment in the false ceiling of a furrowing house. They believed the surveillance gear was planted by animal rights activists who had trespassed repeatedly over several months to install the complex operation. The equipment’s detection sparked a late night altercation when activists returned to the property in May 2013.
That resulted in a late night pursuit by volunteer farmhands and extensive damage to a vehicle parked next to the farmhouse about 1 kilometre from the piggery sheds.
At the time, Animal Liberation ACT spokesperson Lynda Stoner confirmed two of the group's members were involved in an incident at Blantyre Farms. She said the two activists had been investigating the plight of pigs at the time but Animal Liberation wasn’t aware of any cameras being placed in the piggery.
A subsequent police investigation revealed there was a high level of suspicion around the trespassing incidents but insufficient evidence to sustain any charges in court.
Last month, Mr Delforce was involved in a fiery exchange with APL over the authenticity of video footage underpinning the latest of 18 piggeries “exposed” via his website - which is also subject to a police investigation.
The website also lists the names of different piggery directors and their contact details, including phone numbers, addresses and Google Maps locations.
APL has attempted to shut down the website and claims the video footage it displays of the latest Riverina piggery dates back to 2013, and was illegally obtained in a break-in that also threatened to undermine biosecurity measures.
The peak industry body also alleged the video footage was "staged", with dead piglets scattered across the property in an effort to “manufacture sensationalism”. Mr Delforce rejected those assertions.
He said consumers had “every right” to know how their food was produced - but APL says it’s not in farmers’ interests to mistreat their animals.
Mr Delforce has also used social media to drive crowd funding for similar projects, including a “documentary” on pig farming and a new venture called “The Aussie Farms Repository”. The Repository is being described as a public gallery or knowledge base for videos, photos, documents and campaign materials “and creative tools, relating to the animal rights movement in Australia”.
“We believe that between all of us, we have tonnes of visual evidence of animal cruelty and exploitation, a lot of which might just be gathering dust because it doesn't fit any particular campaigns, or otherwise isn't getting out there to the public who need to see it,” the website says.
The crowd funding campaign started early in June with a goal to raise $20,000 in three months - as of Thursday June 19, $1045 sat in the kitty.
The debate lifted another notch this week when Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce promised to “do everything in my power” to advance moves by State Agriculture Ministers to co-ordinate new laws strengthening farmers' privacy.
Mr Joyce said the animal activists were “basically invading peoples’ properties” to install cameras in piggeries and dairies and “stirring up the animals”.
He said the video footage was obtained via illegal trespass and then published on the Internet by “vigilantes”.
“If people believe a crime has been committed, then that is a role for the police not a role for vigilante groups,” he said.
In an interview on Canberra radio this week, Aussie Farms representative Jess Ferry said she was unsurprised by the Minister’s response as her group believed the potential introduction of the US-style “ag-gag” laws in Australia had been in train for some time.
In rejecting accusations the illegal farm trespass created biosecurity risks and caused animal welfare issues, Ms Ferry said the animal activists are “everyday citizens”.
“Why is this industry focusing on people who bring this information to the public rather than what this industry does to the animals?” she said.
“Because these industries are so hidden in shadows, people take it upon themselves to go and get this information and show the public, because the public deserves to see it.”
Asked if she’d ever been involved in any of the illegal activity, Ms Ferry said she was “part of organisations that take in the footage and then redistribute it, so we get it out there”.
She said most animals are kept in “horrible” and “disgusting” conditions, such as sows being “reimpregnated” to produce a litter of baby pigs to be raised for food.
Ms Ferry said the activists weren’t installing hidden video cameras in farmers’ private homes and the animals’ needs “outweigh the privacy of the sheds”.
“They’re not going into peoples’ bedrooms, they’re not trying to find out what the farmers are up to in their private houses.
"They’re showing the public - who have a right to know, if they’re going to consume animals - how these animals are raised,” she said.
“I genuinely think these industries should be showing the truth of what happens.”
Ms Ferry said her website had been involved in investigating 18 piggeries “so far”. She said the activists were volunteers, “hence why we have a charity status for most of our organisations, if we can get it”.
“We want what’s best for the animals, for the planet (and) for other humans,” she said.
NSW Nationals Senator Fiona Nash – who farms near Young where several piggeries have been targeted by activists – backed Mr Joyce’s moves to strengthen exisitng laws to better protect producers.
Senator Nash said she’d spoken to and visited several piggery owners, and believed they were doing a “terrific job” improving their animal welfare practices.
But she said it was “totally unacceptable and appalling that people think, for whatever reason, they have a right to trespass on somebody’s property and invade their privacy”.
“Industry recognises things can be done better and they’re working to do that,” she said.
“But this zealot type of approach from those people who disagree with it and operate by way of trespassing is completely unacceptable.
“We need to look and make sure we’ve got the appropriate laws that apply for when these people are behaving in that way.”
The Aussie Farms website also targets poultry farms, offers vegan tips and recipes and urges donations to fund “investigations”.
“Note that unless stated otherwise, all footage is provided to us anonymously,” it says.