Life on the land in Australia



animals australia assoc reception desk image www.ozrural.com.au

PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: Farm lobby groups certainly think they had a big win recently when they pressured Coles and Animals Australia into dropping an in-store shopping bag promotion on animal welfare. But it might be a case of “Be careful what you wish for”, since Animals Australia have now promised to re-run their Make It Possible ads on national television. The spat over shopping bags put on show the deep anger many livestock producers feel at Animals Australia’s campaigns. So we decided to have a closer look at Animals Australia to find out a little more about the group. Here’s Chris Clark.

ANIMALS AUSTRALIA ADVERTISEMENT (female voiceover): When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you see? What if it was a cage? What if every morning it was a cage?


CHRIS CLARK, REPORTER: This is the face of Animals Australia most of us know.

ANIMALS AUSTRALIA ADVERTISEMENT (female voiceover): If you believe in a world without factory farming, then by spreading the word and making kind choices when you shop, you can free hens from factory farms.

CHRIS CLARK: It’s the organisation behind campaigns on everything from pork to cage eggs and live cattle exports. So who are Animals Australia and what do they want?

The organisation’s public face is their campaign director, Lyn White. From offices on the fringe of Melbourne’s CBD, they employ 22 full-time and part-time staff.

Animals Australia’s members include 40 other organisations. Some of them, like Animal Liberation, have a history of direct action, but they’re a diverse bunch from Lawyers for Animals to the Cat Protection Society.

Their campaigns rely on using some very graphic images often gathered in tricky legal territory, at least as far as laws on trespass go.

So would you break the law to reveal an instance of animal cruelty?


LYN WHITE, ANIMALS AUSTRALIA: Would I break the law or are you talking about Animals Australia’s policy?

CHRIS CLARK: Animals Australia as well – you as an individual, Animals Australia as an organisation.

LYN WHITE: Well Animals Australia’s constitution says that we will achieve reform through peaceful means and certainly we completely abide by that. We have at times have footage provided to us anonymously that is taken from intensive facilities. And I think the key issue here is that had there been any other way to gather that footage to be able expose what was happening, then I am sure that those people would not have had to put their own liberty at risk. The problem that we have is that there is complete lack of transparency from industries. You won’t see, prior to us exposing practices, photos of sales in stores or farrowing crates on APL’s websites.

CHRIS CLARK: Does Animals Australia pay people for information or evidence about animal cruelty?

LYN WHITE: No. There’s not a single instance that we have ever paid for information. What we’ve found, especially over the last few years, is that people are willingly bringing information to us, but we’ve never paid for any evidence or information.

CHRIS CLARK: And while their website’s full of tips on how to eat well without eating meat or other animal products, they clearly don’t want to be narrowly typecast.

Does Animals Australia have a policy of opposing the rearing of livestock for human consumption?

LYN WHITE: No, we certainly don’t. Look, our vision, our work is towards ensuring that all animals, that – especially in human care, have protection from cruel treatment and are treated with compassion and respect. That is what we work towards on a daily basis.

CHRIS CLARK: So the online focus isn’t a lecture about giving up meat, but rather a lesson in the evils of factory farming, a term that infuriates Animals Australia’s critics.


ANDREW SPENCER, AUSTRALIAN PORK LTD: They’re all about stopping things. They want to stop factory farming – whatever factory farming is – or they want to stop live exports. And in fact they’re not necessarily about: how do I improve the animal welfare in the pig industry? Or how do I improve animal welfare in the live export industry? Because ultimately they are about a meat-free future world and we’re about a meat producing industry, so there’s not a lot of overlap, really, between what we’re doing.

CHRIS CLARK: Is there any intensive rearing of livestock that you’d support?

LYN WHITE: Well I think the issue from a welfare perspective is the severe confinement of animals, it doesn’t provide them with exercise, it doesn’t provide them with quality of life, it doesn’t provide them with the ability to perform natural behaviours. All of those are basic animal welfare provisions that are recognised in what’s called the “Five Freedoms” internationally. If they aren’t present for animals, then we would say that that method of farming is unethical. The bottom line for us is that animals should have quality of life and protection from cruel treatment.

CHRIS CLARK: If you were to set what was an acceptable standard for the intensive rearing of livestock, what are some of the things that you would envisage that would be different? I mean, what would a piggery look like?

LYN WHITE: Well, for us, it’d be for the ability for that animal to be able to perform its natural behaviours. And anyone that works in a free-range pig situation would say the ability to snout around on the ground, to move around, to create a nest, to give birth to their young. So it’s basically about what are natural behaviours for those animals and the ability to perform them.


ANIMALS AUSTRALIA ADVERTISEMENT (female voiceover): Male chicks cannot produce eggs and do not grow fast or large enough to be raised for meat.

CHRIS CLARK: Animals Australia has substantial resources and that’s allowed it to take its campaigns to mainstream audiences who might not be trawling the web. Commercial television air time to run ads costs money, even if some of the production costs are donated.

Which means raising money. The group’s audited accounts for the last full financial year show that Animals Australia had an income of just over $3 million. Now some of that came from memberships and individual fundraising events, but the bulk of it, nearly $2 million, came from individual donations.

One such donor is Alastair Lucas, investment banker, philanthropist and Member of the Order of Australia.

ALASTAIR LUCAS, ANIMALS AUSTRALIA DONOR: Well I’ve supported Animals Australia for some years now. I support them with a modest amount of donations. I support them because having looked into their work, I was impressed by their approach to animal welfare. I found them to be a good organisation and I’ve been happy to support them.

CHRIS CLARK: Alastair Lucas’s main philanthropic interest is medical research, where, yes, the work includes experiments using animals.


ALASTAIR LUCAS: I think exploitation of animals is part of the way of life of humans. I think the important issue is if that if we exploit animals, as we’re going to, for meat, for example, that it should be on a basis where the only amount of suffering that is permitted is zero and we should be heading towards a world of zero suffering for animals. I think Animals Australia are helping take us to that position.

CHRIS CLARK: If that’s true, is it changing our behaviour? Certainly the supermarkets want to know what Animals Australia are focusing on.

JACKIE HEALING, COLES: Should Animals Australia take a campaign on, they can be extremely impactful. I mean, the first thing we see is communication into the business. At store level, emails, letters within our organisation – we can have hundreds of those in 24 hours and we will respond to that. But because of our business value and business program and the way we’re approaching this anyway, they haven’t been running a campaign that we aren’t already addressing.

ANDREW SPENCER: Animals Australia are an organisation that target consumers to create outrage about practices on animal farms. So they conduct what we call retail animal welfare-type campaigns talking about the animal welfare that a consumer wants rather than the animal welfare that an animal wants.

CHRIS CLARK: Does that cause trouble for you?

ANDREW SPENCER: Well if you could imagine being a pig farmer and you’ve been up since the crack of dawn, out looking after your pigs, your livelihood depends on how well you can look after your pigs, you’ve worked hard, you’re exhausted, you come back home, you have some dinner, you sit in front of the television and a Make It Possible advertisement comes up on the television that basically accuses you of being cruel to your animals because of the industry that you’ve chosen to participate in, you can imagine the outrage of a pig producer when he sees that. He says, “What is going on here? This is crazy. This bears no resemblance to what I do on my farm.”


CHRIS CLARK: Producers commonly complain that you use specific examples of animal cruelty and then make a general complaint against the industry as a whole?

LYN WHITE: Well I don’t think the pork industry has ever said that our footage wasn’t representative that we’ve shown. And I think the important thing here to know is that we’ve sat around the table with producers and producer groups at reviews for the last 20 years without any movement being gained on animal welfare issues during those processes. It’s only since we’ve failed to actually gain some forward movement on issues such as sow stalls through that when there’s been international precedents that haven’t been acted on, that we’ve had to go to the public, because our key stakeholders – if you are eating pig products, you deserve to have a say in how they animals are being raised. And the only way the consumers know that is through Animals Australia’s campaigns.

CHRIS CLARK: One such campaign was the use of sow stalls, the metal crates used to confine sows during pregnancy. So Coles no longer sources Coles-brand fresh pork or ham and bacon from producers who use sow stalls.

JACKIE HEALING: We were looking at how we could improve the quality of pork and we knew that intensive farming was of concern to customers. There was an expose in Tasmania at around a similar time and we also knew what Animals Australia and RSPCA were very concerned about. So, because we wanted to make a step change in pork, we looked at the production system and it kind of all came together at around the same time.


CHRIS CLARK: If this is progress, then who can claim the credit depends on who you ask.

As far as Andrew Spencer from Australian Pork’s concerned, it isn’t Animals Australia.

ANDREW SPENCER: Well, they didn’t really have any influence. They had been campaigning for a long time about sow stalls, for years. We could see that sow stalls were something that consumers would not for the foreseeable future or for the longer term support. They would not put up with that. And we knew as an industry that ultimately we would have to find other ways. We spent millions of dollars worth of research and development money finding other ways to produce pigs without stalls and a couple of years ago we made the committment that we were going to phase them out as an industry on a voluntary basis.

CHRIS CLARK: Pork Australia says it was moving in that direction anyway.

LYN WHITE: Well that certainly wasn’t the case during the Pig Code review which was between 2004 and 2007. Their position in that review was that they wanted to continue to use sow stalls for another 15 years for the full four-month pregnancy and even after that for another 10 weeks per pregnancy. They moved on this issue within weeks of us launching a national public awareness campaign. There was no forward movement on this issue apart from that slight limitation of use after 15 years that they put forward at that code review.


CHRIS CLARK: Just who influences who in this area where animal welfare advocacy meets cut-throat retailing is a moot question.

There’s now a symbiotic relationship between some animal welfare groups and the big retailers. RSPCA-branded chicken is there to reassure customers that rules have been followed. And groups like RSPCA and Animals Australia often get a seat at the table when industry rules are being considered.

Indeed, Animals Australia gets a government grant to help it make submissions to government. Last financial year that was worth a bit over $30,000. And the group is currently the animal advocacy representative on the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. That’s a committee which advises the Federal Agriculture Minister and his department on animal welfare issues.

But arguably the most influential voices are still from the production side. Andreas Dubs represents chicken meat processors and growers.

ANDREAS DUBS, AUST. CHICKEN MEAT FEDERATION: Well our involvement with Animals Australia has been through the process of a standard development and we have recently gone through the development of the Land Transport Standards. And so Animals Australia is one of the parties that participate in that development.

CHRIS CLARK: So when they show pictures of dead birds in sheds and raise other animal welfare issues, does that affect chicken meat sales or have any effect on the way your members react?

ANDREAS DUBS: I think the short answer is we can’t see much effect. I think that the truth is that most people still like to eat meat and they like to eat chicken. We don’t condone what sometimes is shown in those pictures. At the same time, you have to accept that growing animals of any kind, there will be some that die, and so if you go into a large shed with hundreds – 30,000 birds, then at the end of the day there is a good chance that one or two will not be in perfect health.


CHRIS CLARK: Who do you think Animals Australia really influences?

LYN WHITE: Well, if you look at our supporter base, we have a really diverse supporter base, and certainly I think we have obviously influenced change in industry. Certainly there’s no problems in getting meetings with politicians in regards to discussing issues of concern. So I think that we have the opportunity to broadly influence through our work.

CHRIS CLARK: That’s certainly Phil Westwood’s experience. Free range is probably one of the most used and abused food descriptions of our time. There’s no legal code defining it, but Phil Westwood’s chooks would come pretty close to most people’s notions of it.

PHIL WESTWOOD, FREERANGER EGGS: It’s about a 200-acre property. We run 1,200 chooks at any one time, so we’d have about 1,000 eggs a day to collect and pack. We do all our gradient packing on the farm and we sell our eggs at farmers markets and to shops and restaurants.

CHRIS CLARK: Recently, egg growers have been arguing about what can and can’t be called free range. Phil Westwood runs about 200 or 300 hens to the hectare. The main industry body proposed a free range stocking rate of 20,000 to the hectare. So, Phil Westwood went to Animals Australia for some help.

PHIL WESTWOOD: Well, we contacted them when we first heard about the Egg Corporation’s proposal for the 20,000 birds per hectare stocking density on free range. And they were helpful in alerting their members and others via their website and other social media outlets.


CHRIS CLARK: Phil Westwood’s part of a small free range egg and poultry producers group, but he knew that they didn’t have the clout to win the argument on their own, so he used Animals Australia’s network.

PHIL WESTWOOD: It meant that we actually could get the message out to a lot more people than we could of on our own because as a small group of free range farmers, no-one really would take much notice of us. So it was a numbers game, basically. I think we influenced a lot of people – general public. There were a lot of submissions made to the ACCC. And politicians obviously took notice because they could see the publicity that was generated as a result of it.

CHRIS CLARK: And although the argument’s not settled, round one’s gone to the small free rangers.

PHIL WESTWOOD: But the fact that the ACCC actually came up with a decision or an interim decision that disallowed the Australian Egg Corporation proposal I think demonstrates that the campaign was very successful. And, OK, Animals Australia wasn’t the main part of the campaign, but they were certainly a major influence on the outcome.

CHRIS CLARK: If there’s one area where Animals Australia’s influence seems beyond dispute, it’s in the life export trade. As drought, debt, a high dollar and a now much smaller trade to Indonesia bite, graziers met in Queensland last month for a crisis summit and Peter Lewis was there for Landline.

PETER LEWIS, REPORTER (Landline, May 12th, 2013): Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who made the snap decision to suspend the Indonesian trade on animal welfare grounds, was in Richmond as the latest controversy over ill-treatment of cattle by Egyptian meat workers was breaking.

JOE LUDWIG, FEDERAL AGRICULTURE MINISTER: There are many in the industry, many in the community who do not want to see the live animal export industry. They do not want this industry to continue. I’m not one of them.


CHRIS CLARK: Among the graziers Peter spoke to was Robert Williamson, who’d driven across the continent from Western Australia. Animals Australia’s campaign against the live trade speaks not just of a rural-city divide but a chasm.

ROBERT WILLIAMSON, GRAZIER, CARANARVON, WA (Landline, May 12th, 2013): And I guess it was a feel-good exercise to – very well-orchestrated by the people that really haven’t – they’ve made an extra million dollars out of this – the last year’s balance sheet, if you look at Animals Australia’s balance sheet. I couldn’t see in the balance sheet where too much has been spent on the welfare of animals. It’s just media promotion. And unfortunately the ABC were used in it as well.

CHRIS CLARK: Are you angry about this?

ROBERT WILLIAMSON: Certainly. Why should good Australians, I mean, all these good people in here, end up being crucified for a feel-good exercise? We can’t tell the rest of the world what to do.

CHRIS CLARK: For Animals Australia donor Alastair Lucas, the live trade campaign is not a feel-good exercise.

ALASTAIR LUCAS: These issues I think are issues that the Australian public has to decide as to whether that level of suffering is appropriate for an industry in which there are economic benefits for Australians as well.

CHRIS CLARK: And what’s your view?

ALASTAIR LUCAS: My view is that the amount of suffering isn’t appropriate. We’ve seen the footage, most recently from Egypt, we’ve seen the footage from Indonesia. I’ve seen enough of the footage not to have trust that international abattoirs provide a method of slaughter which doesn’t involve suffering.


CHRIS CLARK: The live trade continues and Animals Australia’s goal is to end it. How?

Lyn White, will the campaign against live exports continue until either producers go broke or a government ends it?

LYN WHITE: Well it’s not about sending producers broke. I think this is a trade that doesn’t provide surety for animals or for producers. If you look in the last 12 months, we’ve had the rejection of a shipment in Bahrain and the loss of a major importing destination and then the terrible disaster in Pakistan. So, it’s not a trade that we believe is a positive one into the future for producers or for animals.

CHRIS CLARK: Alison Penfold speaks for the Live Exporters Council.

ALISON PENFOLD, AUST, LIVESTOCK EXPORTERS COUNCIL: I think they like to see a world where everybody goes to farmers markets and takes their wicker baskets and shops in that form. That isn’t going to feed nations. But the concern for industry is that the approach taken by Animals Australia is one about confrontation and effectively destroying an industry rather than working with the industry on a collaborative basis. We think that there is a great deal of opportunity and indeed we think the Australian public would much prefer to see industry and groups that support animal welfare work together to get better outcomes rather than this approach that sensationalises issues, that’s leading to huge crises across many of the production sectors, livestock production sectors across this country.


CHRIS CLARK: In a practical political sense, how would you transition the industry away from the live trade?

LYN WHITE: Well I think the legislation that we have been supporting has been phaseouts over a period of years to allow cattle producers to transition. But if you look at the Indonesian situation, it’s the Indonesian Government that said that they we’re going to become self-sufficient. They reduced the weight for cattle and these have had far greater impacts on producers. Any time that a market is beyond producers’ control, it doesn’t provide surety. So, producers were already going to have to look at alternate markets.

ALISON PENFOLD: Well, look, the approach they’re taking is hurting the live stock trade. There is a better way. There is a different pathway. I want to propose an option. Clearly Animals Australia have done very well in raising significant amounts of funding for their campaigns. But I want to propose a different option. What if that donate button that people in Australia have been so keen to push actually went to putting funds into animal welfare projects on the ground in the markets that we operate, in adding more value to the work that we’re doing on the ground. That will make the real and significant and lasting difference and that could be the avenue for collaboration that I know that people are crying out for, because this confrontational approach that Animals Australia is taking is destructive.

CHRIS CLARK: Animals Australia claims a membership of more than 20,000, but its real strength lies in the presence it’s created online. Look there and you’ll find some who say Animals Australia isn’t radical enough, that focusing on animal welfare undermines the goal of a vegan world.

Egg producer Phil Westwood was happy to use Animals Australia in his free range fight and he offers this observation about the group:

PHIL WESTWOOD: I think their objectives are pretty clear. They are looking at best practice in terms of animal welfare with all kinds of animals, whether they’re domestic pets or whether they’re actually farm animals being produced for food. And I can understand that and I can relate it to it and I think the public in general is relating to it and farmers have to be aware of those sorts of issues.


November 5th, 2013
Topic: Alpaca, ANIMALS & STOCK, Bats, Birds, Cattle, Crocodiles, Dogs, Domestic animals, Fish, Goats, Horses, Kangaroos, Milking cows, Pigs, Platypus, Poultry, Rodents, Sheep, Turtles, Wild animals Tags: , , , , ,

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