Animal welfare organizations have come together to issue a strong warning of Australia’s low animal welfare standards shortly before the UK approves a trade deal.
The RSPCA and its sister organization – RSPCA Australia – say UK consumers may purchase products with practices that are too cruel to be done here.
Australian charity executive director Richard Mussell said the standards there were “below those in the UK” and, at best, “basic”.
He said, “We still don’t have Australian laws banning the use of sow stalls in pig production, sterile battery cages in egg production, or pain relief for dehorning calves and mulesing lambs.
“Standards are seldom checked and, unless they are implemented in laws, which only a few are, are only voluntary.
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“The lack of national leadership in animal welfare in Australia must be addressed urgently if livestock lives are to be improved.”
Australian farming includes a number of practices that are banned in the UK.
This includes mulesing, which is the process of cutting off the skin around the lamb’s buttocks and tail base with no pain relief.
It is used to reduce flystrike in merino wool production.
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But lambs have large open wounds that can take weeks to heal.
Although banned in the UK in 2012, the use of sterile battery cages for laying hens is legal.
In Australian chickens, space is given an A4 sheet of paper per bird and 100,000 birds can be stacked in cages, the RSPCA says.
Experts explained how the lack of space causes stress, the inability to behave naturally and health problems.
Chlorinated chicken, which involves washing carcasses in chlorine to kill bacteria and disease, is banned in the UK.
Australia also allows cattle to be branded, a painful practice not seen in the UK; the use of hormones – in 40% of beef production; and also non-grazing feedlots, which restrict animals’ space and ability to express their natural behavior.
Sow stalls 2 m long and 60 cm wide – banned in the UK in 1999 – which severely restrict pigs’ freedom of movement so that they cannot even turn around, are also used.
There is also no mandatory CCTV surveillance in slaughterhouses, which is mandatory in England.
Beef City Feedlot in Purrawunda, Queensland, a vast, barren expanse of dust and mud, home to 26,500 cattle who rarely see a blade of grass, is one of the largest beef farms Down Under.
And if the UK government signs a trade deal with Australia, the meat from here could end up on our plates soon.
The 80 slaughterhouses approved for export to Australia were rated only two out of four for animal welfare by RSPCA Australia.
Chris Sherwood, CEO of RSPCA, said, “When many of us think of Australia, we imagine farmers raising animals in vast and idyllic landscapes, but the reality is very different.
“What we do when we sign a treaty with Australia will symbolize to the rest of the world how we want to be seen.
“We urge the government to uphold our reputation as the world leader in animal welfare and not subscribe to our high standards for a photo opportunity.”