Animal Welfare - Farm Animals

Animal Welfare - Farm Animals

(Private Members Statement, 20 March 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My constituents want the law to protect farm animals from physical and psychological pain and suffering. Since the mid-twentieth century, factory farming has been the dominant method used to rear animals for meat, eggs and dairy products. Animals are kept in cramped conditions in cages or barns and are unable to act on their natural instincts by roosting, foraging for food, socialising or rearing their young, and they never go outside to breathe fresh air or see sunlight.

Voiceless estimates that 500 million animals a year are raised in those awful conditions. Pigs are said to have the intelligence of a three year old, yet they are subject to immense suffering. In Australia more than 95 per cent of pork products come from pigs farmed in intense factory farms. Pigs are kept confined in crowded conditions that cause stress, behavioural problems and aggression. Males have their teeth and tails cut and are castrated without pain relief. Pregnant sows are confined to sow stalls, which are metal cages that are only slightly bigger than their bodies and in which they can barely move, let alone turn around. They are moved to a farrowing crate to give birth on a concrete floor where they are unable to properly nurture their young. Currently there are no restrictions on the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates. While the pork industry has promised to phase out sow stalls from 2017, the law will allow their use for six weeks before birth and then six weeks in a farrowing crate after birth, twice a year. Eighty per cent of the eggs in Australia come from battery farms where hens are kept in cages that are so small they cannot stretch their wings or act on their natural instincts by scratching the ground, perching, dust bathing and nesting. Artificial light is used to increase egg production, which, together with the lack of exercise, causes brittle bones. In 2008 the previous Government increased the minimum cage size by an area the size of a beer coaster and forced factory farms to invest in new cages that are still cruel. The European Union banned battery hen farming in 2012 after a 13 year phase-out. It already had been banned in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Tens of thousands of broiler or meat chickens are crammed into windowless barns where selective breeding for quick growth causes bone deformities and dehydration or starvation because many of the chickens cannot support their weight to get to food and water sources. A recent Animal Liberation report exposed that ducks are subject to similarly horrid conditions, including being raised in crowded sheds, living on built-up faecal matter and being forced to breed for rapid growth leading to painful muscular-skeletal conditions. It is worse for ducks than for chickens because ducks are aquatic birds and are not provided with the surface water they need to clean themselves, to regulate their temperature and to take pressure off their naturally weak leg and thigh joints. Surface water deprivation leads to dislocated joints, broken bones, breast blisters, crusty eye and filth building up on feathers, among other serious problems. Due to minimal veterinary input, disease outbreaks can occur. There has been an incident of the painful anatipestifer disease. While the market for duck meat is growing in Australia, there are no specific codes for duck farming. Cruelty is determined by a model code of practice for land fowl that has a mere one-page appendix on ducks relating to stock densities, handling and beak trimming. I find it distressing that we subject live sentient beings to such extensive and intense misery in the name of profit.

The use of antibiotics to prevent the spread of infectious disease has been linked to the growing existence of antibiotic resistant superbugs. It does not have to be that way. Pigs and chickens can be raised on free-range farms where they can act out their natural instincts, breathe fresh air and have access to sunlight. This year the Australian Capital Territory introduced a ban on battery cages, sow stalls and de-beaking. We constantly hear that factory farming provides consumers with a cheap alternative, but most people would be appalled if they knew the truth.

Voiceless states that 83 per cent of Australians support laws to ensure food animals have access to the outdoors, companions, natural materials and enough space to carry out instinctive behaviours. But lax labelling laws permit deceptive claims to be made about how animals are reared, and there is no legislated definition for common terms such as "open range", "grown nature's way", "range eggs" and "free to roam". Even the term "free range" was pushed by the Australian Egg Corporation to include eggs produced by 20,000 birds a hectare and used by Coles at 10,000 birds a hectare. "Bred free range" is used to describe pork that has been taken from pigs that have been raised in factory farm conditions, though without the use of sow stalls. The result is consumer confusion and distrust. Factory farming is cruel and unnecessary. I call for laws to ban the practice and to support the humane methods of animal farming.

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