Recent news of the UK striking a tariff-free trade deal with Australia as part of their post-Brexit plan has caused widespread concerns over what the implications are for UK animal welfare standards. In this article, Advocates for Animals’ social media officer, Hayley Lynes, will look at animal protection laws in Australia and how they differ from those in the UK.
Most animal welfare legislation in Australia lies at the state and territory level, with very little national policy relating to animal protection.
Currently, there is only the Australian Animal Welfare Standards for the Land Transport of Livestock, which provides regulations for those responsible for transporting farmed animals, and has been implemented in every state apart from Western Australia. These regulations require the provision of appropriate feed and water before and after transport, that all vehicles used for transport have airflow and appropriate flooring, and that all animals must be fit for the journey. In addition, a country-wide series of National Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Livestock offer guidance on the rearing, transport, and slaughter of farmed animals. These have been adopted by several states; however, they are not legally binding. Moreover, the codes are not rigorous; they allow for the legal use of sow stalls and farrowing crates for pigs, procedures such as tail-docking and nose-ringing in pigs with no anaesthetic, battery cages for laying hens, and no requirement of stunning prior to slaughter. These model codes are currently being worked on in collaboration with Animal Health Australia, but only a few have been updated within the last decade. The Advisory Committee that developed these model codes has since been disbanded, and national funding for animal welfare has been withdrawn by the federal government, implying that it is no longer a national priority.
There are also some legal protections afforded to animals on a state level. For example, within New South Wales, one of the main animal protection laws is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (POCTA). POCTA provides protection of any vertebrate species and aims to prevent cruelty, promote welfare, ensure a duty of care from owners, and promote the humane treatment of animals. Certain cruelty acts within this legislation, including the ‘over-use’ of an animal, are punishable by fines and imprisonment; for example, abandoning an animals can carry a penalty of a fine up to $5,500 and/or 6 months in prison. However, many animals are excluded from POCTA, including animals used for human consumption and those used in research. Most recently, in July 2020, New South Wales introduced a ban on testing cosmetics on animals, and new measures have been announced to introduce penalties for live exporters who breach animal welfare standards.
The only state legislation dealing with farmed animals specifically is the Northern Territory Livestock Act 2009, which aims to protect the welfare of farmed animals and establishes mandatory standards for managing and transporting them.
Other states, such as Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, have established mandatory farmed animal welfare standards mostly through codes of practice within their own broader animal welfare laws. However, these provide basic provisions only.
Some states are moving towards a commitment to better protection for farmed animals. In Tasmania, it is an offence to own an animal that is confined in a way that is inappropriate for its shelter and exercise requirements, and in the Australian Capital Territory, inappropriate accommodation for egg-laying hens is an offence, and the use of sow stalls has been banned.
Concerns for UK
With the new tariff-free trade deal and increased import quotas of animal products, there are concerns that the UK is undermining its own animal welfare standards by allowing the sale of products where the animal has been reared using practices which are banned in the UK, such as sow stalls, battery cages, high usage of hormones and antibiotics during rearing, and slaughter with no prior stunning. This may also have the effect of undercutting British farmers who try to promote animal welfare.
This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact firstname.lastname@example.org