Warning on animal welfare

Countryman Newspaper - page 3, 29 July 2004

FARMERS need to keep up to speed with changing social and legal attitudes to animal welfare or risk losing public support and copping fines, a senior veterinary officer has warned.

Dr Michael Paton, of the Agri­ culture Department, told delegates at the Sheep Updates in Perth this week that there had been considerable change in the approach to animal welfare in recent years. The Department's role had changed, there was new legislation, public awareness was growing and responsibilities had shifted.

"WA had some of the strictest animal welfare laws in Australia," he said. "WA farmers need to be aware of standards in Codes of Practice for the benefit of themselves and industry.

"We need to start discussing animal welfare like we do animal health."

Dr Paton said in the past 50 years there had been a huge change in the global society's concern about animal welfare, most notably in Northern Europe.

He said this affected Australia because it exported about 10 per cent of its lamb to the EU; but it was even more crucial to WA which exported about a third of its lamb to the EU.

Dr Paton also said the animal welfare focus in Europe had led to like-minded people expressing the same concerns here.

He asked industry not to view animal rights groups as adversaries.

"I would challenge you to not see these groups as the enemy," he said. "Treat these people as early adopters of public attitudes they are indicators of issues we need to consider."

The most important animal welfare issues facing WA's livestock industry were live export, tooth grinding, mulesing, drought strategies and fitness for transport.

"These issues are important in WA, but can also impact on how wool and meat products are perceived by welfare sensitive markets overseas," he said.

Dr Michael Paton image
Dr Michael Paton.

Dr Paton said one of the most difficult areas to address was management and transport of drought affected stock. Fitness for transport was the subject of a lot of complaints at saleyards and the Code of Practice for transport of sheep was now being reviewed.

The Department planned to launch a small guide on the fitness of animals for transport on trucks and utes at Dowerin in August.

Dr Paton said the leaflet would provide a simple guide on the types of animals that should not be transported.

Another big issue in need of attention was mulesing. He said little research had been done on the cost of not mulesing. And this, he said, allowed some people to view mulesing as a management convenience tool.

"Some will argue that it's just a way to make it easier on the farmer rather than for the benefit of the sheep."

US based group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has demanded the Australian Government ban both live sheep exports and mulesing by October this year.

Dr Paton said, as a minimum, a set of mulesing standards was needed.

Another issue that had not yet received the attention that mulesing had, was tooth grind ing.

Some producers believed it helped sheep, particularly full mouthed and broken mouthed sheep. But Dr Paton said six studies, most of them from Australia, had shown there was no production benefit from tooth grinding, and he agreed.



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