Animal Welfare issues

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Animals in research​ ​

The Australian Government supports the adoption of high standards of animal welfare in Australia. The use of modern techniques can reduce the need for animal testing prior to human experimentation. However, it cannot completely replace the need in areas such as drug approval, the development of diagnostic tests and in basic studies to learn biological and scientific facts.

Techniques such as tissue culture are used to replace animals in many experiments. Newer methods of analysis of the effects of certain drugs minimise the numbers of animals needed to see whether the use of these compounds can improve results. New methods of pain relief and better surgical techniques (such as keyhole surgery) reduce the distress caused to the animals that do still need to be used for such purposes. Application of these techniques has greatly reduced the amount of suffering of animals used in research.

The core document that describes Australia's approach to these matters is the Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. The code of practice is developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. It is incorporated into all state and territory animal welfare or animal research legislation. While the definition of 'scientific purposes' in the code of practice includes product testing, specific requirements related to the use of animals in cosmetic testing are the responsibility of state and territory governments.

The code of practice does not specify where animals should be used in science. It specifies structures and processes so that any such work is subject to ethical review by an Animal Ethics Committee, whose membership includes a community representative. That committee must evaluate proposals to use animals for scientific purposes and be satisfied that the use is ethically justified before giving approval for the work to commence.

This code of practice is now in its 8th edition and it is available at National Health and Medical Research Council website.

Australian research has provided many treatments of importance for the human and animal world. Australian scientists developed vaccines now used around the planet to fight animal diseases, which had to be tested on animals for safety and unforeseen side effects before it was ethical to release them to the world. Our researchers have also produced crucial work involving animal use to develop vaccines for international use by humans, including the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine developed by Professor Ian Frazer, the 2006 Australian of the Year, which protects girls and women from often fatal, virally transferred cervical cancer.

The Australian Government agencies that administer legislation regulating cosmetics are the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). At this time there is no prohibition on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.

You can find information about the regulations for cosmetics and the use of animals for scientific purposes at the following websites:

In May 2004 the government amended the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 and the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 to ban the import and export of fur from domestic cat and dog species. The enforcement of restrictions on importation of these products falls within the responsibilities of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Australia is a member of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the OIE Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania. Through this Commission and through Australian agriculture counsellors in Asian countries, the Australian Government continues to raise awareness of animal welfare issues and provide information and technical cooperation to help improve animal health and welfare in the region.

Australian abattoirs

Australian abattoirs must comply with animal welfare legislation put in place by state and territory agencies.

The Australian standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption specifies how animals being used to prepare meat for human consumption must be slaughtered. Its requirements are mandatory under Australian, state and territory laws, covering all abattoirs in Australia. Whether meat is produced for export or for domestic consumption, the standard requires that animals are slaughtered in a way that prevents unnecessary injury, pain and suffering to them and causes them the least practicable disturbance.

Veterinarians employed by the Australian Department of Agriculture closely oversee slaughter practices in dedicated exporting abattoirs licensed under the Export Control Act 1982 to ensure that animal welfare is reliably achieved. Animal welfare in abattoirs licensed under state and territory laws is regulated through arrangements put in place by state and territory agencies. Where those abattoirs are approved to provide meat for limited export markets, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources requires verification that the animal welfare requirements of the standard are met.

Australia's live export industry

There are a number of government requirements in place that secure the health and welfare of Australian livestock for export.

More information about livestock trade can be found on the department's website.

Bobby calf welfare

Bobby Calves are protected under the 'Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines Land Transport of Livestock'.

The Land Transport Standards specifiy bobby calves:

between 5 and 30 days old travelling without mothers must:

  • be protected from cold and heat
  • be in good health, alert and able to rise from a lying position
  • have been adequately fed milk or milk replacer on the farm within 6 hours of transport
  • be prepared and transported to ensure delivery in less than 18 hours from last feed with no more than 12 hours spent on transports; and
  • have an auditable and accessible record system that identifies the calves were last fed within 6 hours of transport unless the journey is between rearing properties and is less than 6 hours' duration.

In addition, the dairy industry and its supply chain partners have agreed to an industry time-off-feed standard of 30 hours. Industry has also committed to tagging calves so that their movement along the supply chain can be tracked.

Camel culling

Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. The states and territories set and enforce animal welfare standards through their prevention of cruelty to animals acts or state animal welfare acts.
Further information is available from:

Circuses

State and territory governments are responsible for animal welfare laws and their enforcement. The states and territories set and enforce animal welfare standards through animal welfare or prevention of cruelty to animals’ legislation.

Greyhounds

Animal welfare is of great concern to the Australian community. This is a concern shared by the Australian Government, which is aware of the long-running campaigns by animal welfare groups calling for a ban on the export of Australian greyhounds to Macau.

The Australian Government's role is limited to issuing export permits for dogs under the Export Control Act 1982. These permits require an accredited veterinarian to provide a health certificate that certifies the dog is in good health and fit for travel. Once exported dogs reach their destination, they come under the jurisdiction of the importing country.
Greyhounds Australasia, the representative body for greyhound racing in Australia and New Zealand, has been working with importing countries on animal welfare matters.

Horse w​elfare

Animal welfare is of great concern to the Australian community and is a concern shared by the Australian Government. Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries (or equivalent authority).

Local councils also make and enforce local laws on animal management. Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

Aerial culling of horses

The states and territories are responsible for feral animal management and population control.

Feral horses cause considerable damage to the natural environment, particularly around water points during the frequent drought conditions experienced in Australia. The horses themselves often end up dying of thirst or starvation during prolonged dry conditions.

Australia’s wild horse populations are large and often occur in remote locations with difficult vehicle access. This reduces the feasibility of relocating the horses from a technical, economic and animal welfare point-of-view. Catching wild horses, holding them in yards and transporting them long distances poses significant animal welfare concerns in itself.

Aerial shooting is conducted by accredited government shooters, with the aim being a 100 per cent humane kill (helicopter shooting means that in the unlikely event of a first shot outside of the target range, a follow-up shot is possible to ensure minimal suffering).

Racing horse welfare

Thoroughbred horse racing is administered and controlled by the Australian racing industry under the Australian Rules of Racing. These rules are developed and administered through the Australian Racing Board Limited (ARBL), a not-for-profit company. The ARBL’s objectives are to develop, encourage and promote the sport of thoroughbred racing throughout Australia. Membership of the ARBL is comprised of the principal racing authorities that supervise and control thoroughbred racing in each state and territory.

Under its constitution the ARBL can make, change and administer the Australian Rules of Racing if it believes these changes are conducive to developing, encouraging, promoting or managing the Australian thoroughbred racing industry. In addition the ARBL has a responsibility to minimize the risk of injury to riders and horses, and protect the welfare of horses.

Humaneness of pest animal control methods

The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Vertebrate Pest Research Unit has developed a model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods.

Continue viewing this information on the department's website.

Hunting of feral pigs with dogs ('pig dogging')

State and territory governments are responsible for regulating feral pig control techniques, including the use of dogs in feral pig hunting and while there is no national code of practice covering the use of dogs in pig hunting, it is generally agreed that it is unacceptable to set dogs on to feral pigs with the intention of bringing them down, holding or attacking them.

The use of dogs in the control of feral pigs is a legal activity as long as it is carried out in line with the requirements under the relevant jurisdiction's protection of cruelty to animals legislation.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries' Vertebrate Pest Research Unit has developed a model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods, including feral pigs.

A copy of the report can be found online: A Model for Assessing the Relative Humaneness of Pest Animal Control Methods.

Kangaroo harvesting

Australia's state and territory governments have primary responsibility for managing kangaroo populations. Some jurisdictions have determined that kangaroos may be harvested under the principles of sustainable management.

The Australian Government is involved in the management of kangaroos when kangaroo products are exported overseas. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) requires the development of management plans prior to the commercial export of kangaroo products. Management plans outline how the state or territory government and the Australian Government will ensure that the harvest is undertaken in a sustainable and humane way. The commercial export of live kangaroos is prohibited under the EPBC Act. Live export is only allowed for specific non-commercial purposes, such as transfers between zoological institutions.

Commercial kangaroo shooters are licensed and must operate in accordance with the 'National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes' to ensure that animals are killed in a humane manner. This code was endorsed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on 7 November 2008 following a long process of consultation involving government, animal welfare groups, industry, the scientific community and the public. Compliance with the commercial code is required in management plans for the commercial use of kangaroos and the export of kangaroo products, approved under the EPBC Act.

Mulesing in Australia

Australia's sheep flock largely consists of merino sheep (80 per cent), with the remainder a mixture of crossbreds and other breeds. Due to their wrinkly skin, merino sheep are particularly susceptible to flystrike, a parasitic attack by the blowfly, Lucilia cuprina. Flystrike is often likely to be fatal if left untreated.

Mulesing was introduced to help manage flystrike. This practice involves the removal of some skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears to prevent wool growing. Mulesing is accepted under the laws of Australia's states and territories and remains the single most effective procedure for providing lifelong protection from breech flystrike.

The wool industry, through the industry services body Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), has undertaken significant research and development activities to help manage flystrike. This includes several alternatives to mulesing.
The Australian Government actively supports industry research and development into mulesing alternatives with more than $26 million in industry and government funds invested since 2005. Research and development has improved practices in areas including breeding and selection, the use of pain relief products and grower education in improving flystrike control. Activities have included:

  • investigating the inherited traits in sheep that reduce the risk of flystrike
  • genetic tests and reports that can be used by wool growers to select and breed sheep that are less susceptible to fly strike while retaining wool quality attributes
  • investigating the effectiveness of breech clips as an alternative to surgical mulesing
  • evaluation of pain relief injections to allow the animal welfare benefits of mulesing to control flystrike without the animal welfare concerns associated with the pain caused by mulesing, and
  • evaluation of long acting insecticide chemicals that prevent flystrike.

More recent initiatives have included:

  • the SkinTraction® intradermal which is a low stress procedure aimed at reducing wrinkles and increasing breech bare areas in sheep. It is currently awaiting registration with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
  • liquid nitrogen process which freezes the breech and tail skin wrinkles, with evidence of both wrinkle reduction and an increase in bare area in the breech and tail. This process is currently in the trial phase and is undergoing further investigation.
  • laser treatment which involves attempting to permanently remove wool from the breech and side of the tail. This could lead to a reduced risk of breech flystrike throughout the year and possibly delay resistance to important prevention chemicals. This process is currently in the early trial phase and undergoing further investigation.

Australian wool producers are increasingly adopting new practices as alternatives to mulesing. The National Wool Declaration (NWD), which is administered by the Australian Wool Exchange Limited (AWEX), allows buyers throughout the supply chain to have the information they need to purchase wool that meets their animal welfare requirements.

National frameworks for animal welfare

The government is committed to working with the Australian livestock industry to improve animal welfare. The government provides matched funding to industry Research and Development Corporations and to a range of Cooperative Research Centres. This collaborative approach to research, development and extension improves industry best practice through knowledge sharing, on-farm efficiencies and good animal husbandry.

The government continues to support the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and is involved in developing Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. These standards and guidelines are being developed under the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum, Agriculture Senior Officials Committee and its Animal Welfare Task Group.

The government does not support the establishment of a federal body to oversee the regulation and governance of animal welfare issues. The states and territories have responsibility for animal welfare in Australia, and along with industry, need to be the driving force on animal welfare standards and reforms. The government is confident that the animal welfare arrangements under state and territory government legislation will continue to achieve positive animal welfare outcomes.

The government is aware of community concerns regarding national frameworks for animal welfare. The Assistant Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Keith Pitt MP, recently wrote to World Animal Protection and the RSPCA Australia about these matters. The letters are provided below.

Letter to World Animal Protection PDF [599 KB, 2 pages]

Letter to the RSPCA PDF  [716 KB, 2 pages]

Pig welfare

Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries, or equivalent authority. Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

Pig welfare in state and territory legislation is guided by the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs 3rd Edition. The model code aims to ensure that farm animals are treated humanely and responsibly.

The model code covering pigs includes voluntary guidelines and enforceable, evidence-based standards aimed at improving the welfare of these animals in all jurisdictions. The current code does not prohibit the use of individual gestation stalls for confining pregnant sows, but restricts their use to a maximum of six weeks.

Sows are also usually confined in farrowing pens from a few days prior to giving birth. This is largely to reduce the high rates of piglet death when sows roll over and crush their piglets.  Farrowing pens allow the sow to stand up, lie down and stretch out, and have a section where only her piglets can retreat. The sows and piglets remain in the farrowing pen until the piglets are weaned. The recommended practice is that weaning occurs after the piglets are three weeks old.

Australian Pork Limited (APL), the industry's peak body, has declared that its members will voluntarily stop using individual sow gestation stalls by 2017 and is funding research into how this can be achieved without putting the welfare of pigs at risk. One of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre’s research programs, which is jointly funded by industry and government, is focusing on ways to manage sows and piglets without the need to confine them. Further information on the cooperative research centre and its programs is available on its website.

Poultry

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry (4th Edition) provides producers with a set of guidelines intended to assist them in understanding the standard of care required, and their obligations under state and territory laws.

The current model code of practice for the welfare of domestic poultry includes a definition for production systems involving cages, barns and free range systems. Under the code, chickens raised for egg production can be housed in cages, barns or free range systems, while chickens raised for meat can be housed in barns or free range systems only. Governments do not control the method farmers use to produce eggs or chicken meat, as long as they follow the code.

The model codes of practice are being progressively replaced by a new series of nationally agreed standards and guidelines and the standards will be legislated by the states and territories. Further information on the development of Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry.

Consumers may prefer to support one method of farming over another and can exercise that preference through their purchasing.

Egg labelling which describes production systems, for example free range, is a concern for some consumers and producers.

On 31 March 2016, Consumer Affairs Ministers agreed to the introduction of an information standard requiring eggs labelled as 'free range' to have been laid by hens with meaningful and regular access to the outdoors and with an outdoor stocking density of 10,000 hens per hectare or fewer.

The information standard will also require producers to prominently disclose the outdoor stocking density of hens laying free range eggs, allowing consumers to easily compare the practices of different egg producers.

Amendments to the Australian Consumer Law will also provide complying egg producers with a safe harbour from claims of misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to free range claims.

The Decision Regulation Impact Statement is available through the Office of Best Practice Regulation website.

All food sold in Australia, whether imported or produced domestically, must meet the safety and labelling requirements set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Food producers and retailers may voluntarily label foods with information on production methods. That information must be consistent with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The Act prohibits false or misleading representations in connection with the supply of goods and requires suppliers to be honest in their advertising and labelling.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is responsible for addressing concerns about the use of terms which may be misleading. The ACCC, individuals or companies can take legal action on alleged breaches of the Act. The ACCC can be contacted on 1300 302 502 or via their website.

Puppy farming

Australia's state and territory governments have primary responsibility for animal welfare and laws to prevent cruelty. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries, or equivalent authority. Local councils also make and enforce local laws on animal management. Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

Please contact your state or territory government to clarify the breeding laws that apply where you live.

Rabbit farming

Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries, or equivalent authority. Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

Australian animals are protected by model codes of practice which aim to ensure that farm animals are treated humanely and responsibly. Copies of the model codes, including the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Intensive Husbandry of Rabbits are available from the CSIRO website.

In Queensland, rabbits are a declared Class 2 pest animal under the Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002. It is an offence under the Act to introduce, feed, keep, supply or release Class 2 pest animals, without a permit.

Ritual slaughter

The Australian Government takes the welfare of all animals, including livestock very seriously and does not condone animal cruelty. However, legislative responsibility for animal welfare rests with the state and territory governments. Each state and territory government is responsible for implementing and enforcing domestic animal welfare legislation. These laws are enforced by the RSPCA or by state and territory government officers.

The government respects the religious needs of community sectors. Australia is a free, fair and diverse society. Religious freedom is a settled part of Australian tradition. We are free to choose our religion, and should be able to express and practice our religion, without intimidation or interference, as long as those practices are within the law.

All slaughter practices in Australia must abide by the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption (AS 4696:2007). The standard requires that animals are slaughtered in ways that prevent unnecessary injury, pain and suffering and cause the least practicable disturbance. The standard also requires that animals are stunned in a way that ensures that the animals are unconscious and insensible to pain before slaughter. More information about the standard can be found at: www.publish.csiro.au/Books/download.cfm?ID=5553.

The government supports the use of pre-slaughter stunning both domestically and internationally. In Australian abattoirs approved for ritual slaughter, such as halal, slaughter methods are also required to adhere to the standard and stunning animals is widely accepted and applied.

Australia’s position on slaughter is consistent with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) internationally accepted guidance on animal welfare.

In the limited circumstances where slaughter is allowed without prior stunning, the Australian Government and the states and territories apply specific regulatory controls to ensure the Standard's animal welfare requirements are met. Arrangements in place include that all cattle slaughtered without prior stunning are effectively stunned immediately after their throats are cut.


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