An early and ongoing goal of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy was to develop nationally consistent legal arrangements, including standards for regulation, which would be a part of future animal welfare legislation across all States and Territories. Consistency of legislation across jurisdictions has strong support from the Primary Industries Ministerial Council, as well as primary industry bodies.
A cornerstone of the effort to improve consistency of animal welfare outcomes and arrangements was to revise model codes of practice and convert them into national animal welfare standards and guidelines. The intention was then to regulate the nationally endorsed standards in a consistent way in each State and Territory.
Land transport standards and guidelines now apply to the major Australian commercial livestock industries: cattle, sheep, goats, horses, pigs, alpacas, poultry, emus, ostrich, buffalo, deer and camels.
Given the international and domestic interest in the welfare of livestock during long-distant transport, it was important that this process resulted in the consistent and timely development of enforceable animal welfare standards that were clear, robust and science or evidence-based.
The Department of Agriculture engaged the retired Chief Veterinary Officer of South Australia, Dr Robin Vandegraaff, to review the way in which these nationally agreed livestock welfare requirements were implemented and enforced. His advice addressed differences in operational arrangements and regulatory approaches among jurisdictions that led to inconsistent operational requirements and welfare outcomes.
Regulators and industry representatives agreed on 23 ‘key elements’ needed to achieve consistency and developed a series of detailed action plans for including those key elements in their arrangements. Every jurisdiction developed an action plan that meets this standard, and all the action plans were endorsed by regulators and industry bodies. If all of these were implemented, the requirements made of industry members would be significantly more consistent, leading to improved national livestock welfare outcomes.
The Council of Australian Governments’ Primary Industries Standing Committee has considered advice on these matters, including the role the action plans would play in each jurisdiction.
While the AAWS has no direct regulatory impact, it has helped to build a framework within which government, welfare groups and industry can work cooperatively to harmonise animal welfare arrangements for all animal management sectors in Australia.
New code balances welfare and production
Australian producers have improved the welfare of farmed pigs following changes to the industry’s code of practice, which include increases to pen size and limits to sow stall use.
Victorian producer Aeger Kingma said the revised code of practice would ensure producers meet high standards, whether they use the outdoor system or the intensive, deep litter systems.
Mr Kingma said it was critical that the changes balance community expectations of pig welfare with effective production.
‘I am very proud of the way the industry has tackled the welfare issue and believe the consultation model engaged producers in an excellent way and allowed us to work with regulators,’ Mr Kingma said.
‘I believe we have struck a very fair balance because it allows us to compete on the world market but also takes into account community expectations.
‘Otherwise, all that will happen is that the problem of animal welfare for pigs on a worldwide basis is transferred to those countries that do not have stringent regulations and rules—and that is not the answer.’
The review of the code identified areas for improvement and set timeframes, such as three years for skills training initiatives, five years for increases in pen size allowance and 10 years to introduce a six-week limit for use of sow stalls. Improvements set out in the code are:
•regular inspections of pigs in hot conditions
•an increase in farrowing crate area in all new installations
•stalls or crates appropriate to the animals’ size that allow them to stand and lie down without obstruction or injury
•examination, and treatment, by a qualified person of animals displaying serious behavioural problems due to individual confinement in stalls
•new recommendations for confinement of free-range pigs, including shelter accommodation
•a recommendation that pig farmers join industry quality assurance management programs to improve welfare, lift skill levels and increase market opportunities.
Mr Kingma runs ‘Gunpork’, a 1200-sow herd farrow-to-finish operation in northern Victoria, with his wife Cheryl, son Tim and two silent partners.
Like many other growers, he has used the new limitations to sow stall use as an opportunity to expand the business and build new, larger pens to accommodate his herd outside the gestation period.
A pig farmer of 20 years, Mr Kingma said the revised code is reshaping the industry to be world-class in animal welfare and highly efficient in production.
TruckCare - transport code of practice
Professional stock carriers and animal welfare scientists have developed a new accreditation system for the safe and humane transport and delivery of livestock.
Robert Cavanagh, president of the Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA), said more than 100 professional stock carriers are now TruckCare-accredited and account for an estimated 30 per cent of Australia’s commercial livestock movements.
He said TruckCare reassures the wider Australian community that the industry is serious about animal welfare, and that our professional stock carriers are working hard to translate that into practical outcomes.
‘The professional Australian livestock transport industry saw a need for audited quality assurance to build faith with the community and consumers so it sat down with governments and the welfare community and developed just that,’ Mr Cavanagh said.
Independently audited, TruckCare has been developed with the assistance of animal welfare scientists from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and CSIRO.
It has also received support from animal welfare groups, such as the RSPCA, which worked with the industry for two years to develop the standards. And it is a key part of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy.
‘TruckCare carriers are audited to determine whether they have documented procedures in place for managing on-road contingencies, and whether those procedures are part of staff induction training in the company,’ Mr Cavanagh said.
‘There has been good take-up by our industry, and support has come from the meat processing sector too, which is now asking carriers for TruckCare accreditation.
‘The key to TruckCare’s success is independent auditing against industry standards that reflect codes of practice that have been agreed to by governments, the welfare community and industry.’
TruckCare standards cover issues such as the condition of the transport equipment, how much space each class and species of animal requires once they are loaded, and training in the latest stock-handling and loading practices.
They also require carriers to follow laws that specify how long each class and species of livestock can be transported before a water break is required.
ALTA has also produced guidelines for producers to help ensure their stock are fit to transport.