Author Topic: Farms ignore animal rights at their peril  (Read 712 times)

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Farms ignore animal rights at their peril
« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2013, 07:50:25 PM »
IN his well-considered commentary (The Australian, June 18) Nick Cater asks why a farmer would willingly hurt a pig. It's a good question and the answer is that the forward thinking among them don't, at least not willingly.

  So why have we seen the relationship between the farming community and consumers at flashpoint over the Coles promotion with Animals Australia? In the 20-plus years I have been involved in animal welfare I have never seen the apparent divide between city and country so starkly portrayed.

It is easy to dismiss this debate as a symptom of a growing chasm between city dwellers and the farming community but it is more complex. Many consumers do live in an isolation bubble that shields them from the realities of where their food comes from but I don't think this translates into an anti-farmer feeling. On the contrary, the public wants to be fair, and the traditional Australian image of a country living off the sheep's back still strikes a chord with most of us.

The problem for the farming community lies in the failure by some to recognise that public sentiment has shifted dramatically across the past decade. There has been a growing interest in where our food comes from.

Consumers want to know that the animal has lived a good life and been allowed a quick, humane death.

There is a rapidly growing market for higher-welfare food. A recent RSPCA survey of shoppers found that consumers do buy higher-welfare chicken, eggs, turkey and pork, and 65 per cent said they prefer to buy welfare-improved chicken. This sentiment is backed up at the checkout too and is the driver for a huge increase in the number of chickens farmed within the RSPCA-approved farming scheme.

Forward-thinking farmers have grasped the implications of this changing consumer mood for their bottom line. RSPCA-approved pork, eggs, chicken and turkey are available in most major supermarkets.

But there are always black sheep and they end up being the subject of secretly obtained vision, involved in very public court cases, and tarnish the wider farming community.

Recently, in Western Australia, one of the state's largest pork producers was fined a record $225,000 plus $21,000 costs in Perth Magistrates Court for cruelty to 10 pigs. The pigs had been kept in conditions that caused them to develop painful ailments, which prevented them from standing normally. However, they were kept alive when euthanasia could have alleviated their suffering. The fine reflects the level of public concern.

In NSW, we recently saw Inghams, one of Australia's leading poultry producers, caught up in a scandal when some of its staff were caught on camera bashing turkeys in the company's slaughterhouse. This has led to a police investigation and a swift public reaction from Inghams.

"We want to reassure Australians that Inghams does not tolerate the mistreatment of our livestock," said company chief executive Kevin McBain.

"We have best-practice animal welfare programs and standards in place. We work with regulatory animal welfare specialists to ensure these programs are active and operating throughout all aspects of the company."

With public sentiment very much on the side of animal welfare, the farming community would do well to heed the Inghams example by speaking out promptly against any cases of cruelty. Failure to do so leaves the public worried and uncertain.

Unfortunately, we have also seen examples where some in the farming community fall silent or seem to defend or excuse cruel behaviour.

One of the most notable aspects of the unsuccessful Coles' Animals Australia promotion was the public comment made by National Farmers Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar, who said: "Farmers are today getting on with the job of continuously improving Australia's animal welfare, in conjunction with respected animal welfare groups."

This was one of the first times I could recall such a clear statement about animal welfare being made by the farming industry peak body. It is a good first step but, unless it is backed up by action, these are hollow words.

There are still some farmers who hide behind inadequate legislation. So, while they are legally compliant, their animals suffer. We need to see improvements to these minimum legislative requirements. And many farmers do care about animal welfare but don't understand what it is. That is where the RSPCA can help incorporate our research into best-practice animal welfare within the farming community. But there needs to be more positive action on the other side of the fence. Industry must address animal welfare instead of being forced to embrace it.

And the farming community should disown the black sheep who refuses to accept that the public does have an interest in how they treat their animals. Failure to acknowledge this will hurt the bottom line of producers and aggravate the farming community as a whole.

Lynne Bradshaw is the president of RSPCA Australia.