A simplistic view of animal welfare

A simplistic view of animal welfare

Opinion
RSPCA WA believes that legislation to ensure better welfare outcomes will create greater transparency for the livestock industry.

RSPCA WA believes that legislation to ensure better welfare outcomes will create greater transparency for the livestock industry.

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Comment by Lyn Bradshaw, RSPCA WA chairwoman

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IT would appear that WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington has exposed his own ignorance of the state of animal welfare in WA (The State government does not trust you, Farm Weekly, September 24, 2020).

Thinking that RSPCA WA would be better off focussing on funding shelters as a strategy to rehabilitate animals who have suffered from horrendous cruelty is as far away from contemporary science as thinking that mortality rates on live export ships are an accurate measure of animal welfare.

Mr Whittington's simplistic view of the value that RSPCA WA brings to the community is misinformed and short-sighted at best.

In addition to rehabilitating and rehoming the neediest of animals (with the help of hundreds of volunteer foster carers), RSPCA WA inspectors conducted more than 6800 investigations in response to reports of animal cruelty last financial year alone.

And yes, we are heavily reliant on generous donations and support from the community for the vast majority of what it costs to carry out our animal protection work.

It is clear that the State government is certainly getting value for money for the statutory work that we do with their limited support.

Just like every other modern industry, perhaps Mr Whittington should spend more time listening to the consumers of agriculture - the large majority of whom reside in cities and might not know as much about the way their food was produced as he would like.

Just as a consumer can trust that a restaurant is clean because health inspectors have the ability to inspect a premises unannounced, they should be able to trust that their food is produced under good animal welfare conditions because experienced, knowledgeable and professional animal welfare inspectors have been able to ensure minimum welfare standards are consistently being met.

RSPCA WA believes that legislation to ensure better welfare outcomes will create greater transparency, and therefore greater trust, in the production industry that Mr Whittington would prefer to shield behind closed doors.

Mr Whittington's "nothing to see here" mentality is a disservice to the industry he is employed to represent.

Don't get me wrong - RSPCA WA agrees with Mr Whittington that the Animal Welfare and Trespass Legislation Amendment Bill 2020, in its current form, is not good legislation.

For one thing, we don't believe that "designated general inspectors" should be restricted only to inspectors on DPIRD's payroll.

If RSPCA WA's own knowledgeable, experienced and professional animal welfare inspectors (who are also trained in biosecurity), are qualified to respond to cruelty reports on farms and other commercial premises, why are they not considered skilled enough to conduct routine welfare inspections on those same places?

Rather than spreading fear among his membership base about what the government wants to do, perhaps a more effective way to represent his members would be for Mr Whittington to share positive stories about the good welfare practices that are entrenched in their farms, and to help educate consumers in a more meaningful way about where their food comes from and how it is produced.

While I do not represent the production industry, I will be clear that RSPCA WA inspectors would far rather knock on farmers' doors to talk about welfare improvements over a cup of coffee, than to bang on that door because they can only have that discussion when a potentially criminal cruelty offence may be occurring.

Of course Mr Whittington would rather RSPCA WA was just looking after city folks' cats and dogs while the welfare savvy farmers he purportedly represents are busy dealing with trespassers, stock theft and worse.

No wonder farmers think they're getting a bad rap.

When the CEO of their own industry association holds such archaic and outdated views on animal welfare, what chance do they have of convincing their most influential critic, their customers, otherwise?

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