Food animals: the legality of our own backyard

Food animals: the legality of our own backyard

04 March 2013 By Ruth Hatten, legal counsel, Voiceless

We know about the horror of live animal export, but would the public be as outraged if they knew animals were experiencing severe cruelty on our own shores, and that this cruelty is enshrined in our laws?

Last week I wrote about the banning of live export in light of footage shown on Four Corners.  The public response to the horrific images and the level of cruelty shown was unprecedented.  Would the public be similarly outraged if they knew animals were experiencing severe cruelty on our own shores and that this cruelty is enshrined in our laws?

In Australia, approximately half a billion animals are raised annually for food and food production.  The majority of these animals are intensively or factory farmed. They are considered commodities, their sentience ignored.


The life of a factory farmed animal is a grim one. If born into the system, their start to life will be a torturous one. A piglet will have his or her teeth clipped, his or her tail docked, and, if a boy, be castrated. A calf will be dehorned, branded or tagged. A chick will be debeaked or, if a boy, macerated. For the majority, there is no pain relief; our laws do not require it.

As they grow, the torture continues. They will be taken from their mothers shortly after birth.  They will be confined in a cage or an overcrowded barn, never seeing the light of day or feeling the earth beneath their feet. They will never be allowed to engage in their natural behaviours. The females will be artificially inseminated; the males masturbated in order to produce sperm. They will be fed an unnatural diet in aid of fattening. They will be prematurely slaughtered if considered surplus to needs. They will suffer from disease, broken limbs, frustration, boredom, bullying, fear, cannibalism, depression, pain and stress.


Soon the day will come when they are transported, usually long distances and in cramped vehicles, to a saleyard. They will continue to suffer at the saleyard, a holding place, purgatory, before they are taken to a slaughterhouse, exported overseas or taken to another ‘farm’.

Slaughterhouses are privately owned enterprises hidden from the public eye.  Behind the concrete walls, animals may be verbally and physically abused before their lives are taken.  Death is not always instant; it is not pain free. The animals know their fate.

Australian laws allow the cruelty that is inflicted on food animals every day. There are no Federal laws protecting food animals.  They are not protected by State based animal welfare laws. As ‘livestock’ or ‘farm animals’ they are exempted from these laws, their only protection being voluntary codes of practice or industry produced standards. These codes and standards are intended to guide farmers on acceptable practices, practices such as those described above.  

The codes, sometimes referred to as ‘codes of cruelty’, operate differently by jurisdiction.  In some jurisdictions, compliance with a code acts as a defence to a charge of animal cruelty; in others, compliance or non-compliance is admissible in evidence. Some States have legislatively adopted provisions from the codes. For example, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia have adopted the restriction on sow stalls to the first six weeks of pregnancy from the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Pigs. The majority, however, remain unenforceable.

Improvements are happening, slowly. Free range farming is increasing as public demand for it grows and just last week, the Western Australian Labor Government said, if elected, it would phase out intensive animal farming.  

We look on the atrocities in Indonesia with moral disgust. We forget, ignore or simply choose to remain ignorant of the fact that food animals in Australia experience pain and suffering from birth to death, a fate permitted by our laws. We have a long way to go before we can take the moral high ground. Australians need to look in their own backyard and see food production for what it really is. The picture is not a pretty one but we have the power to change it.

Food animals: the legality of our own backyard
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