Animal law in the spotlight: ACT factory farming ban

 

 

By Emmanuel Giuffre (Voiceless Legal Counsel) and Reeve Koelmeyer (Legal Intern)

Today, the Animal Welfare (Factory Farming) Amendment Bill was debated in parliament and passed into law, making the ACT the first jurisdiction in Australia to legislate against factory farming.

Introduced by Shane Rattenbury MLA, Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, the Act is the successful product of seven factory farming bills and six attempts by the ACT Greens to ban battery cages. In total, the Act prohibits the use of cages for commercial egg production, the debeaking of chickens and the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates for pigs in the ACT.

Battery Cages

The new laws effectively ban the use of ‘battery cages’ and ‘enriched cages’, by omitting them from the definition of what constitutes ‘appropriate accommodation’. The ACT Government made some progress in banning the use of cage egg farming in 2012 when they entered into an agreement with Pace Farm, formally the territory’s only battery cage operator. Pace agreed to convert its egg facility into a cage-free system by 15 May 2016. The new Act takes into account this agreement by introducing a transitional provision to allow this arrangement to take place.

Debeaking

The Act also bans the debeaking of hens, a process whereby a hen’s beak is removed with a hot blade or laser. Debeaking is common practice in intensive farming systems where hens often become frustrated and aggressive as a consequence of their inability to exhibit natural behaviours. Debeaking was introduced to prevent the hen-pecking, bullying and cannibalism exhibited by factory farmed hens. While this practice is known to cause both acute and chronic pain, it is generally performed without the use of pain relief. With the passing of this legislation, the ACT becomes the first Australian state to expressly prohibit this cruel practice.

Sow Stalls

The Act makes it illegal for sows to be kept in sow stalls or farrowing crates. In Australia,  thousands of sows are kept in  sow stalls and farrowing crates which are so small they prevent mother pigs from being able to take a step forward or backwards, turn around, or comfortably stand from a seated position (and vice-versa). While there are no sow stalls currently in use in the ACT, the passing of this Act will prevent their introduction and hopefully set a precedent for other states to introduce similar reforms.

Penalties

The Act also introduces a maximum penalty for a prosecution for cage egg farming, debeaking of a hen and keeping a pig in less than appropriate accommodation of 50 penalty units (currently $7,000 for an individual or $35,000 for a corporation).

The passing of this Act is a significant step forward for the animal protection movement. It recognises that the quality of the lives of the animals we use for food matters. That they are not machines, but sentient creatures who experience extreme pain and stress when raised in intensive conditions and that the law should protect them from suffering. In the words of Shane Rattenbury “[t]his bill will send a strong message to the rest of the nation that the intensive confinement of pigs and layer hens is no longer considered acceptable”.