IT’S NO LONGER the fluffy issue, animal law this week rode to the top of the legal agenda on the back of determined and powerful groups ready to fight its cause.
The Government’s Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) this week labelled animal law the next great social justice movement in Australia.
ALRC president David Weisbrot announced on Monday that the treatment of animals is increasingly becoming a social and legal issue, and listed it as a serious economic consideration. He targeted Australian labelling laws as failing consumer demands, and said food standards law has had no consideration of the treatment of animals in farming.
The peak body representing animal rights and animal laws, Voiceless, has applauded the ALRC’s call for change. Claiming that responsibility for this issue should fall on the ALRC, Voiceless said the Commission should identify the need for law reform and legal change.
“Currently animals have no rights in law. Their status is as mere property. For animals to receive more meaningful protections, they need to be recognised legally through a change in the current law. The seeds of change are being sown and cultivated by animal lawyers every day,” said director of Voiceless, Brian Sherman.
The ALRC is well aware of its responsibility to drive change, and pressed the need for it to become a federal issue. “Laws that address animal welfare and anti-cruelty are a matter for state and territory governments, which has led to inconsistent approaches to regulation, creating confusion for producers and animal welfare groups,” said Weisbrot.
The ALRC has gone into specifics on the issue, considering it in terms of its impact on the economy as well as the environment. Weisbrot went to the raw facts on the issue — that essentially animal products are a significant part of the local economy, and remain an important source of exports for Australia.
But the economy case actually boosts the one for animal rights, said Weisbrot. “The recent decision by Swedish-based international retailer H&M to ban Australian wool due to concerns over mulesing demonstrates that Australian practises face increasing scrutiny, with potential major consequences for exporters.”
On the topic of food labelling, Weisbrot said a visit to the supermarket indicates the problem. “The shelves are full of boxes of factory-produced eggs confusingly stamped with labels such as ‘farm fresh’, ‘all natural’ and ‘barn raised’. It is difficult to know how consumers can make sense of these labels when they want to make an informed choice to support the humane treatment of animals,” he said.
As animal law becomes a top issue for the Government, so too universities nationally are taking it on. Bond University has just announced it will establish an animal law course in May.
Weisbrot acknowledges that animal law courses in Australian universities have seen unprecedented growth. The growth “parallels a similar growth in environmental law courses a generation ago, and indicates that animal rights is now firmly on the agenda for serious consideration,” he said.
The ALRC president labelled the problem a complex one, but said social, economic and environmental interests needed to be balanced. While reinforcing that debates about possible changes to the law are at an early stage in Australia, Weisbrot said the ALRC aimed to “stimulate informed community debate about these issues”.