Author Topic: Farmers face changing world  (Read 823 times)

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Farmers face changing world
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2013, 05:57:28 PM »
FARMERS' lobby organisations patted themselves on the back last week after Coles decided to withdraw Animals Australia shopping bags from sale in its stores.

News of the plan to sell the bags was first published in the Fairfax media late last month and the bags went on sale in 500 Coles metropolitan stores last Monday.

But two days later, after a campaign from farmers and farmer organisations, Animals Australia helped Coles out of its predicament by saying it had asked Coles to withdraw the bags. ''It is a dark day for animal welfare in this country when a retailer's support for an animal welfare initiative is vehemently opposed by the farming lobby,'' Animals Australia campaign director Lyn White said.

National Farmers Federation chief Matt Linnegar responded that farmers had shown that they would not be bullied by an extremist animal activist group.

When news of the Coles Animals Australia bag sale broke, beef and lamb producers threatened to stop supplying Coles with products, while other farmers threatened to stop buying fertiliser and insurance from Coles' parent company, Wesfarmers. Farmers also mounted a social media campaign.

But their campaign was nothing compared with that from the other side. Coles got 10 calls in favour of its decision to sell the bags to every one call against.  About 5000 posts on Coles' Facebook page flooded in, while the company received 3500 emails and hundreds of calls.

Nevertheless, when Animals Australia made the offer to enable Coles to withdraw the bags from sale, the company happily agreed. There was nothing to be gained from maintaining the controversy.

The Animals Australia offer reflected the good working relationship between the two organisations. Coles, a major retailer of meat, does not see the animal welfare organisation as a body intent on stopping this trade and has made it clear that it does not support any vegan agenda.

Coles also knows that Animals Australia has assisted it in some sticky situations.  The retailer is keen to maintain its reputation as a supplier of animal products produced under the most humane conditions.  One false, or poorly researched, allegation can do immense damage. Animals Australia has helped in such situations by privately bringing allegations to Coles' attention, thus enabling the company to find out what, if any, involvement it might have.

Some farm organisations do not see anything positive about Animals Australia.  Western Australian Farmers Federation president Dale Park said it was mind-boggling Coles would support an organisation that promoted veganism and ultimately wanted to see all farming of animals for food phased out.

Animals Australia promotes itself as the peak body aiming to raise community awareness of animal suffering and prevent such suffering. It rejects the suggestion it wants to stop people eating meat. Nevertheless its covert activities, which have exposed cruelty in the live animal trade, have made it the bogyman for the livestock industries.

There was an unprecedented public backlash when an Animals Australia video, showing the appalling treatment of cattle in the live export trade, was broadcast in May 2011 on the ABC's Four Corners. As a result, the government temporarily suspended the trade.  But faced with a campaign from exporters, it  quickly backed down. When you consider the numbers, you have to ask: why?

In 2010-11 there were 192,600 people, or 1.7 per cent of the workforce, who described themselves as farmers in Australia. Another 128,300 people, or 1.1 per cent of the workforce, were employed in farming or farm-related activities. Only a tiny fraction of these would be involved in the live animal trade, or factory farming, and, of these, few would vote Labor.

The Australian population is generally well disposed to farmers, supporting, without question, all sorts of government assistance from drought and flood relief to subsidised services for communications. But a growing proportion is also concerned about animal welfare. Farmers who support inhumane practices risk damaging the market for the whole sector.

Coles' management will not have embarked on its policy of phasing out caged bird eggs and sow stall pork without market research showing that there is customer support for such action and a growing demand for alternative products.  Since announcing its decision to phase out caged bird eggs in 2010, its sales of free range eggs have risen 50 per cent.

Farmers, overall, are not the losers in such developments. Production simply shifts from those who factory farm to those who produce in a more humane way.

Coles has worked with farmers to develop these supply chains, and given the growth in demand, the farmers who have adopted these practices have done nicely.

Many consumers are disturbed when they see the state in which caged birds and sow-stall pigs are kept.  Animals Australia is intent on showing what is happening in these facilities.

While the major political parties struggle to attract young members, organisations such as Animals Australia and the World Society for the Protection of Animals draw them in their thousands.

They also attract money. Thanks to the fuss over the sale of the bags, funds have flooded into Animals Australia providing enough  to pay for Make it Possible advertisements in MasterChef broadcasts in Sydney and Melbourne on Monday night. Time is on the welfare organisation's side and farmers should take heed.

Paul Malone June 9 2013
« Last Edit: June 09, 2013, 09:37:36 PM by WA Export News »