Two RSPCA animal welfare experts have quit the organization to campaign for an independent national animal welfare commission, saying the current regulatory structure is “broken”.
Dr Bidda Jones stepped down as scientific director of RSPCA Australia at the end of 2021, after 25 years. Dr Jed Goodfellow resigned as senior policy officer in October.
On Tuesday, they launched the Australian Animal Alliance, co-founded with Dr Meg Good, an animal rights lawyer and senior program manager at Voiceless.
An independent commission could develop minimum standards without interference, similar to Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It would improve both the lives of farm animals in Australia and Australia’s position in the global animal welfare rankings, Jones said.
“What’s the minimum standard, that’s what most animals will be held to,” Jones said. “You will only get changes to affect the majority of animals if you ask for it.”
Jones said she and Goodfellow separately grew frustrated over the same hurdles over and over while campaigning for welfare reform while working at RSPCA Australia.
Some campaigns they worked on, like the push to ban battery eggs, have stalled for years after being harassed in byzantine bureaucratic processes.
“The frustrations over time just piled up,” Jones says. “While within the RSPCA or other groups that were just focused on trying to get change on specific issues, we weren’t able to dedicate time to addressing this fundamental issue of the framework system. So we got to the point where, separately, we both thought we needed to do something more about it.
Drafting of the new Australian animal welfare standards and guidelines for poultry began seven years ago. A draft was sent out for consultation last year. It is still not finalized and internal documents revealed that a state could go against the recommendation to phase out battery hens by 2036 under pressure from industrial groups.
“Seven years to come up with a document that basically says this is how poultry should be raised in Australia,” Jones said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous that it’s taking this long.”
This is not the only reform underway: draft guidelines and standards for slaughterhouses were produced 10 years ago and have not progressed, and minimum standards for the welfare of pigs not surpassed a literature review in 2018. A draft minimum welfare standard for horses was completed in 2009 and remains pending. Adoption of these standards was one of the key recommendations of a high profile report produced by the Thoroughbred industry late last year.
The slow pace of reform has left Australia out of step with contemporary countries when it comes to farm animal welfare.
Animal welfare and agriculture groups in the UK have urged their government not to sign a free trade deal with Australia because it would allow the import of animal products raised under farming practices. illegal in the UK. The UK banned the use of sow stalls in 1999, battery cages for chickens in 2012 and banned mulesing. Australia still allows the use of sow stalls, despite a voluntary industry push to phase them out, and although the sheep industry recommends the use of painkillers when mulesing, Victoria is the only state to legally require it.
“It’s very likely that the same terms will also be found in the European Union’s free trade agreement,” Jones said. “It is certainly in the interest of the industry here to be seen to be improving and to have a system that works to improve well-being at all levels.”
Goodfellow said laws and regulations in Australia have not kept pace with community expectations.
“The system used to create animal welfare policy in Australia is broken,” he said. “Millions of Australians care about animal welfare, but their views don’t reach our political leaders.”
Labor supported the formation of a independent animal welfare commission ahead of the 2019 election, and he is also backed by the Australian Greens.
Jones said the challenges of animal welfare reform in Australia were “bigger than any organisation” and that while organizations like the RSPCA were rightly focused on addressing pressing issues and on the care, protection and repatriation of animals, there were very few resources for structural reform.
“We felt we needed an organization that would be very, very focused on these structural issues and not get distracted, lose that focus and [get] dragged through the weeds,” she said.
The alliance will serve as a joint lobby group for Australian animal welfare organisations, with Animals Australia, Compassion in World Farming, FOUR PAWS Australia, Humane Society International Australia, World Animal Protection Australia and Voiceless as core members. It is funded by grants from these member organizations and philanthropic donations.
The RSPCA Australia is not a core member but can support campaigns that align with its existing priorities.