Independent Office of Animal Welfare

It’s time for an Australian independent office of animal welfare

This Federal Election year, it’s time for our political leaders to show leadership in the animal protection space and commit to introducing an Independent Office of Animal Welfare.

Our animal protection framework lacks leadership and legitimacy

Since 2013, there has been a distinct absence of Federal Government leadership in the animal protection space. The Abbott Government withdrew federal funding and responsibility for the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, disbanded the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy Advisory Committee, and dissolved the animal welfare subdivision within the Department of Agriculture. Furthermore, plans for an independent Inspector-General of Animal Welfare and Live Export were scrapped, followed by a decision to discontinue the Live Animal Exports – Improved Animal Welfare Program.

As a result, every federal animal protection initiative was terminated, along with the frameworks which enabled animal protection groups to engage with government and industry at a national level.

Instead of a nationally coordinated approach, animal protection standards are implemented in an inconsistent and uncoordinated fashion by state and territory departments of agriculture, or their equivalent. These departments possess an inherent conflict of interest, as they are responsible for promoting both the profitability of primary industries and the protection of animals.

Worse still, responsibility for the development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines has been left largely to state and territory departments of agriculture and animal use industries – both of which prioritise commercial profitability over animal protection. Standards are developed using industry commissioned science, with minimal consultation from animal protection groups.

Our animal protection laws are lagging behind other developed nations

Given the above, it is no wonder that Australia is falling behind our international counterparts when it comes to animal protection. Despite several international jurisdictions committing to ban the conventional battery cage for layer hens,1 sow stalls for pregnant pigs,2 and formally recognising the sentience of animals in legislation,3 Australia lags shamefully behind.

Our laws are also failing to keep up with community expectations. Increasing numbers of consumers, retailers and restauranteurs are opting for higher-welfare produce or going completely cruelty-free. Public involvement in the animal protection movement also continues to rise, all pointing to a shift in community sentiment that is not presently reflected in Australia’s animal protection framework.4

It’s time for an Australian Independent Office of Animal Welfare

The establishment of a federal Independent Office of Animal Welfare would resolve many of the problems outlined above.5 It would demonstrate genuine federal government leadership in animal protection, and give Australia a better chance of keeping up with international best practice and community expectations.

Critically, the Office would remedy the underlying conflicts and pro-industry biases inherent in the current framework. To maintain its independence, the Office must be a distinct statutory authority falling outside the Department of Agriculture.

Ideally, the Independent Office of Animal Welfare would be responsible for:

  • providing balanced advice to government on animal protection issues at a national level;
  • coordinating the development and implementation of animal protection standards, including the Australian Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines;
  • facilitating input from a balanced and diverse range of stakeholders in the standard-setting process, including from animal protection groups and independent animal welfare experts;
  • commissioning internationally recognised and impartial animal welfare science to inform the development of animal protection policies, laws and standards
  • harmonising the various state and territory animal protection frameworks;
  • monitoring and enforcing Commonwealth animal protection laws, including overseeing the live animal export regulatory regime; and
  • facilitating and coordinating the implementation of similar independent offices at the state and territory level.

The establishment of an independent body has already received support from the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens and the Animal Justice Party, although it is important to note that the parties differ on the power and responsibility of such a body.

Precedent also exists for the establishment of similar statutory bodies in other jurisdictions, with expert and independent animal welfare advisory bodies already operating at a national and supra-national level in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union.6

  • 1. Such as the European Union (notably Austria, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom), New Zealand and Switzerland. See Council Directive 1999/74/EC of 19 July 1999 on Laying Down Minimum Standards for the Protection of Laying Hens [1999] OJ L 203/53, art 5(2); Animal Welfare (Layer Hens) Code of Welfare 2012 (NZ), minimum standard no. 12; Egg Producers Federation of Australia, Conventional Cages (2013) < http://eggfarmers.org.nz/egg-farming-in-nz/farming-types/conventional-cages >; Bruce Wagman and Mathew Liebman, A Worldview of Animal Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2011), 69; Animal Protection Ordinance (TSchV) (Switzerland) 17 May 1981.
  • 2. Such as in New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom. See Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code of Welfare 2010 (NZ); Animal Welfare Ordinance 1988:539 (Sweden), 1 January 2009, s 14; The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, para 5(e), 6 and Sch 8 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007, para 5(e) and Sch 8, para 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010, para 6(e) and Sch 6, para 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, para 8 and Sch 6, para 6 and 7 (partial ban).
  • 3. Such as in Austria, France, Germany, New Zealand and Switzerland. See Nicolas Boring, ‘France: Animals Granted New Legal Status’ (25 April 2015) The Law Library of Congress < http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/france-animals-granted-new-l... >; Animal Welfare Amendment Bill 2013 (NZ) s3A; Bundesgesetzblatt (German Civil Code, 27 July 2011) ss 90a, 251 and 903; Allgemeines Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (Austrian Civil Code of 1911) ss 285a and 1332a; Zivilgesetzbuch (Swiss Civil Code of 10 December 1907) art 641a.
  • 4. See Dr Jennifer Ford, ‘Advance Australian animal welfare: The urgent need to re-establish national frameworks’ (World Animal Protection, 2016) < http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/sites/default/files/au_files/adv... >.
  • 5. For a full discussion on this, see Ford, J (2016) ‘Advance Australian animal welfare: The urgent need to re-establish national frameworks’, World Animal Protection < http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/sites/default/files/au_files/adv... >. Goodfellow, J (2015) ‘Animal Welfare Regulation in the Australian Agriculture Sector: A Legitimacy Maximising Analysis’. Unpublished Ph. D thesis (Macquarie University, Sydney).
  • 6. In the European Union, animal welfare is now the responsibility of the Directorate-General of Health and Consumers; New Zealand and India have statutory bodies to advise government – the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and the Animal Welfare Board, respectively. See Dr Jennifer Ford, ‘Advance Australian animal welfare: The urgent need to re-establish national frameworks’ (World Animal Protection, 2016) 6 < http://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/sites/default/files/au_files/adv... >.