WA agriculture groups question government's animal welfare approach

By Brooke Littlewood
Updated March 1 2022 - 12:53pm, first published December 24 2021 - 4:00am
Pastoralists and Graziers' Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook.

"YOU can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig".

That is how Pastoralists and Graziers' Association of WA (PGA) president Tony Seabrook described the State government's latest animal welfare approach, saying it was potentially costly to WA's livestock industry.

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A new animal welfare committee was announced last week to provide advice on welfare policy, legislation, regulations and standards, community education, training standards for animal welfare inspectors and research.

It comprises a chairperson and up to five members, who have been appointed for an initial two-year term, to provide independent, evidence-based advice to Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan on animal welfare matters.

Mr Seabrook questioned the appointment of the members, particularly as there was no livestock producer, transporter or exporter representation on the committee.

He said as a result it was ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of animal welfare issues in the WA livestock industry.

"Regulation is really critical and what I see is a glaring omission in the construction of this advisory group," Mr Seabrook said.

"This committee is constructed to give the minister the advice that she wants.

"It should have people that could put forward very good, useful, long-term, practical advice.

"With more than 13 million sheep and two million cattle under their daily control, WA farmers and pastoralists are the primary advocates for animal welfare in this State.

"There should be significant producers in beef, sheep, poultry and pork on the committee, as well as a representative from the lotfeeders and intensive production systems and, most importantly, the livestock transport industry - it is absolutely crucial."

Mr Seabrook said the transport industry was crucial in animal welfare, particularly in the period between animals leaving food and water and being either slaughtered or put back on food and water.

He said while he was not criticising those individuals on the committee, the appointment of representatives with affiliations to organisations such as Animals' Angels Australia was "absolutely inappropriate".

"The key outcome of this would be unrealistic and probably very expensive recommendations to the minister," Mr Seabrook said.

"We have issues in live export right now, which have seen the pendulum swing far, far too strongly against exporters and a balance needs to be restored.

"There's an old saying, 'you never have an inquiry or form a committee, unless you have a predetermined outcome'.

"In this particular minister's case, she would not put together a group of people, who would give her advice she didn't want to hear."

Expressions of interest for the advisory committee were opened in September and closed in October last year.

In a statement issued at the time the government said members were expected to have knowledge and expertise across a range of areas, including animal welfare science and research, veterinary medicine, policy and legislation, management of animals and community awareness education.

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WAFarmers president John Hassell said it was extremely important there was someone "who actually gets their boots dirty" on the committee.

Mr Hassell said while it was concerning there were no livestock producers on the committee, it was equally concerning some members were "absolutely committed animal activists".

He said without balance, there was worry.

"I know it is only an advisory committee, but people listen to advisory committees because they are so called expertise," Mr Hassell said.

"If you go back and read comments by the chair of Animals' Angels and you look at their website it is worrying and really disturbing some of the kind of language that comes out of that.

"That's in terms of the animal's ability to be able to express pain and that sort of thing, it is absolutely ridiculous and not of this world.

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"Commercial animal producers want nothing more than to keep their livestock in good nick."

Mr Hassell said consultation with representatives of industry was needed before decision making.

The committee will be made up of:

  • Dr Clive Phillips (chairman) who has extensive background in animal production and welfare research and improving the conditions of livestock animals and captive wildlife;
  • Dr Susan Glyde who has a background in teaching veterinary science and medicine;
  • Dawn Lowe has a background in animal welfare advocacy;

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  • Michael Sheehy has experience in extensive livestock production systems;
  • Dean Huxley has a background in native animal rehabilitation;
  • Joanna Williams has experience in the wholesale and retail meat industry.

"Animal welfare policy is complex and ever-changing, involving different tiers of government, the RSPCA and many and varied community and not-for-profit groups," said Ms MacTiernan.

"The Animal Welfare Advisory Committee will bring up-to-date scientific, industry and community perspectives to policy making in this space, helping us to ensure the standards we put in place meet modern expectations.

Livestock & Rural Transport Association of WA executive officer Jan Cooper said it hoped for balanced and well-rounded advice from the committee.

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"We would have preferred broader membership from the livestock industry, including from transporters but we'll have to wait and see how it operates in practice," Ms Cooper said.

"In the absence of that membership we would hope the committee takes advice from producers, transporters and exporters so the advice they are providing to the minister is balanced and well rounded and takes the experience of those working at the coal face into account."

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