Producers condemn evidence of welfare failures

AUSTRALIAN cattle industry representatives have condemned unnaceptable welfare practices which have emerged in footage released by Israeli animal activist organisation Sentinent.

Cattle Council of Australia president Tony Hegarty said all producers needed to be held accountable for the welfare of their cattle.

"The Australian beef industry is strongly committed to best practice animal welfare and wellbeing. Good animal welfare is a legal requirement and animal cruelty is a criminal offence," Mr Hegarty said.

"These legal standards are the minimum requirements that we seek to exceed and modern animal husbandry techniques, ensuring the health and safety of our employees and our livestock, are at the top of our industry’s strategic priority list.

"The overwhelming majority of my fellow producers who uphold best-practice husbandry standards would share my sense of distress and, frankly, the sense of betrayal arising from evidence of livestock abuse."

Mr Hegarty said he had conveyed that sentiment to the RSPCA this week in Canberra.

"We discussed this matter and confirmed we share their concerns," he said.

Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen's Association CEO Emma White said the industry needed to maintain animal welfare transparency.

"The footage of poor handling, dehorning without pain relief, shooting sick animals and the disposal of carcasses is distressing, regardless of whether they are a breach of welfare laws," Ms White said.

"And comments recorded of individuals working in the yards about euthanising cattle and the non-use of pain relief are also concerning, and don’t reflect the seriousness with which our industry considers animal welfare.

"Whenever poor handling amounts to a breach of legal requirements, the State regulator should investigate and, where appropriate, any guilty parties should be prosecuted."

Ms White confirmed the footage, sourced from the Kimberley region of in WA, is being investigated by the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and that KPCA is cooperating in any way it can.

"It is unclear exactly when the footage was recorded, although Sentient suggests its representatives spent time at five WA locations over a two-year period. As such, the footage could be up to two years old," Ms White said.

"Consumers and the community, both here and in our export markets, have ever-increasing expectations around animal welfare. I know the overwhelming majority of producers share those values and expectations."

In regions like WA’s north where there are still relatively significant numbers of horned cattle, Ms White said a clear majority of producers using pain relief products.

"Producers in our region are also investing in polled genetics to remove the need to dehorn over time because they know using pain relief and modern genetics is good for the cattle and good for safer animal handling."

Mr Hegarty said the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework’s 2019 Update shows poll gene prevalence continues to rise and currently 86pc Australia’s cattle herd are poll, which removes the need for producers to dehorn.

"According to the 2019 ABSF Update, the use of pain relief for aversive procedures like dehorning and castration has risen from 4pc to 15pc of producers. In a relatively short period of time, our industry has progressed and supported the approval of several commercial pain relief products," he said.

"Even though they have only been available to Australian producers relatively recently, we’re encouraged by the progress of uptake, albeit from a low base. As an industry, we’re aiming for a usage target of 100pc by 2025.

"There are more than 45,000 beef cattle businesses in Australia and instances where welfare failures are exposed hurt the reputation of all producers, and the red meat sector’s entire workforce of over 190,000 direct employees.

"Evidence of on-property welfare failures must galvanise our determination to push on with our ongoing research projects, including those to develop objective animal welfare measures and practical ways of measuring animal welfare on-farm and in real-time."

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