Animal Welfare Issues

The Australian Government receives correspondence about a wide range of animal welfare issues including:

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Animals in Research

The Australian Government supports the adoption of high standards of animal welfare in Australia. The use of modern techniques can reduce the need for animal testing prior to human experimentation.  However, it cannot completely replace the need in areas such as drug approval, the development of diagnostic tests and in basic studies to learn biological and scientific facts.

Techniques such as tissue culture are used to replace animals in many experiments. Newer methods of analysis of the effects of certain drugs minimise the numbers of animals needed to see whether the use of these compounds can improve results. New methods of pain relief and better surgical techniques (such as keyhole surgery) reduce the distress caused to the animals that do still need to be used for such purposes. Application of these techniques has greatly reduced the amount of suffering of animals used in research. 

The core document that describes Australia's approach to these matters is the Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (The code of practice). The code of practice is developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council in consultation with all relevant stakeholders. It is incorporated into all state and territory animal welfare or animal research legislation. While the definition of 'scientific purposes' in the code of practice includes product testing, specific requirements related to the use of animals in cosmetic testing are the responsibility of state and territory governments.

The code of practice does not specify where animals should be used in science. It specifies structures and processes so that any such work is subject to ethical review by an Animal Ethics Committee, whose membership includes a community representative. That committee must evaluate proposals to use animals for scientific purposes and be satisfied that the use is ethically justified before giving approval for the work to commence.

This code of practice is now in its 8th edition and it is available at National Health and Medical Research Council website

Australian research has provided many treatments of importance for the human and animal world. Australian scientists developed vaccines now used around the planet to fight animal diseases, which had to be tested on animals for safety and unforeseen side effects before it was ethical to release them to the world. Our researchers have also produced crucial work involving animal use to develop vaccines for international use by humans, including the vaccine developed by Professor Ian Frazer, the 2006 Australian of the Year, which protects girls and women from an often fatal, virally transferred cancer.

The Australian Government agencies that administer legislation regulating cosmetics are the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). At this time there is no prohibition on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals.

You can find information about the regulations for cosmetics and the use of animals for scientific purposes at the following websites:

  • NICNAS
  • TGA
  • ACCC
  • Department of Health
  • Animal research ethical issues
  • Animals skinned alive and fur trade

In May 2004 the government amended the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 and the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958 to ban the import and export of fur from domestic cat and dog species. The enforcement of restrictions on importation of these products falls within the responsibilities of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

Australia is a member of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the OIE Regional Commission for Asia, the Far East and Oceania. Through this Commission and through Australian agriculture counsellors in Asian countries, the Australian Government continues to raise awareness of animal welfare issues and provide information and technical cooperation to help improve animal health and welfare in the region.

Australian Abattoirs

Animal welfare in all Australian abattoirs must comply with  animal welfare legislation put in place by state and territory agencies. 

The Australian standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat and meat products for human consumption specifies how animals being used to prepare meat for human consumption must be slaughtered.  Its requirements are mandatory under Commonwealth, state and territory laws, covering all abattoirs in Australia.  Whether meat is produced for export or for domestic consumption, the standard requires that animals are slaughtered in a way that prevents unnecessary injury, pain and suffering to them and causes them the least practicable disturbance. 

Veterinarians employed by the Department of Agriculture closely oversee slaughter practices in dedicated exporting abattoirs licensed under the Commonwealth Export Control Act 1982  to ensure that animal welfare is reliably achieved.  Animal welfare in abattoirs licensed under state and territory laws is regulated through arrangements put in place by state and territory agencies.  Where those abattoirs are approved to provide meat for limited export markets, the Department of Agriculture requires verification that the animal welfare requirements of the standard were met.

Australia's live export industry

There are a number of government requirements in place that secure the health and welfare of Australian livestock for export.

More information about livestock trade can be found on the department's website.

Bobby calf welfare

Bobby Calves are protected under the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines Land Transport of Livestock (Land Transport Standards), which were endorsed by the former Primary Industries Ministerial Council, and are currently being implemented by all states and territories.

The endorsed Land Transport Standards include a number of standards to protect bobby calves such as:

Bobby calves between 5 and 30 days old travelling without mothers must:

  1. be protected from cold and heat
  2. be in good health, alert and able to rise from a lying position
  3. have been adequately fed milk or milk replacer on the farm within 6 hours of transport
  4. be prepared and transported to ensure delivery in less than 18 hours from last feed with no more than 12 hours spent on transports; and
  5. have an auditable and accessible record system that identifies the calves were last fed within 6 hours of transport unless the journey is between rearing properties and is less than 6 hours' duration.

In addition, the dairy industry, and its supply chain partners, have agreed to an industry time-off-feed standard of 30 hours. Industry also committed to tagging calves so that their movement along the supply chain can be tracked.

Camel culling

Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. The states and territories set and enforce animal welfare standards through their jurisdiction's prevention of cruelty to animals act or state animal welfare act.

Further information is available from:

  • Australian Feral Camel Management Project website
  • Australian Government Department of Environment, - Feral animals in Australia

Circuses

State and territory governments are responsible for animal welfare laws and their enforcement. The states and territories set and enforce animal welfare standards through animal welfare or prevention of cruelty to animals’ legislation.

National guidelines for the welfare of animals in circuses were developed by the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare (NCCAW) which was disbanded in 2011. These national guidelines were considered by individual state and territory jurisdictions when developing regulations for circuses.

Greyhounds

Animal welfare is of great concern to the Australian community - a concern shared by the Australian Government. We are aware of the long-running campaigns by animal welfare groups calling for a ban on the export of Australian greyhounds to Macau.

The Australian Government's role is limited to issuing export permits for dogs under the Export Control Act 1982. These permits require an accredited veterinarian to provide a health certificate that certifies the dog is in good health and fit for travel. Once exported dogs reach their destination, they come under the jurisdiction of the importing country.

Greyhounds Australasia, the representative body for greyhound racing in Australia and New Zealand, has been working with importing countries on a range of issues, including animal welfare. For example, authorities in Macau intend to introduce animal welfare legislation and a re-homing program for retired racing greyhounds. The Australian Government supports the work of Greyhounds Australasia in Macau and looks forward to some of the initiatives coming into practice.

Horse Welfare

Animal welfare is of great concern to the Australian community — a concern shared by the Australian Government. Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries (or equivalent authority). Local councils also make and enforce local laws on animal management. Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

The conditions under which horses and related species are slaughtered at knackeries within Australia are not controlled under Commonwealth laws.  The welfare of such animals is protected under the animal welfare laws of the state or territory where the slaughter takes place.

Aerial culling of horses

The states and territories are also responsible for feral animal management and population control.

Feral horses cause considerable damage to the natural environment, particularly around water points during the frequent drought conditions we experience in Australia. The horses themselves often end up dying of thirst or starvation during prolonged dry conditions.

Australia’s wild horse populations are large and often occur in remote locations with difficult vehicle access. This reduces the feasibility of relocating the horses from a technical, economic and animal welfare point-of-view. Catching wild horses, holding them in yards and transporting them long distances poses significant animal welfare concerns in itself.

Aerial shooting is conducted by accredited government shooters, with the aim being a 100% humane kill (helicopter shooting means that in the unlikely event of a first shot outside of the target range, a follow-up shot is possible to ensure minimal suffering). 

Racing Horse Welfare

Thoroughbred horse racing is administered and controlled by the Australian racing industry under the 'Australian Rules of Racing'. These rules are developed and administered through the Australian Racing Board Limited (ARBL), a not-for-profit company. The ARBL’s objectives are to develop, encourage and promote the sport of thoroughbred racing throughout Australia. Membership of the ARBL is comprised of the principal racing authorities that supervise and control thoroughbred racing in each state and territory.

Under its constitution the ARBL can make, change and administer the Australian Rules of Racing if it believes these changes are conducive to developing, encouraging, promoting or managing the Australian thoroughbred racing industry. In addition the ARBL has a responsibility to minimize the risk of injury to riders and horses, and protect the welfare of horses.

Humaneness of Pest Animal Control Methods

The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Vertebrate Pest Research Unit, has developed a model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods.

Continue viewing this information on website.

Hunting of feral pigs with dogs ('pig dogging')

State and territory governments are responsible for regulating feral pig control techniques, including the use of dogs in feral pig hunting and while there is no national code of practice covering the use of dogs in pig hunting, it is generally agreed that it is unacceptable to set dogs on to feral pigs with the intention of bringing them down, holding or attacking them.

The use of dogs in the control of feral pigs is a legal activity as long as it is carried out in line with the requirements under the relevant jurisdiction's protection of cruelty to animals legislation.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries' Vertebrate Pest Research Unit has developed a model for assessing the relative humaneness of pest animal control methods, including feral pigs. 

A copy of the report can be found online: A Model for Assessing the Relative Humaneness of Pest Animal Control Methods

Kangaroo harvesting

Australia's state and territory governments have primary responsibility for managing kangaroo populations. Some jurisdictions have determined that kangaroos may be harvested under the principles of sustainable management.

The Australian Government is involved in the management of kangaroos when kangaroo products are exported overseas. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) requires the development of management plans prior to the commercial export of kangaroo products. Management plans outline how the state or territory government and the Australian Government will ensure that the harvest is undertaken in a sustainable and humane way. The commercial export of live kangaroos is prohibited under the EPBC Act. Live export is only allowed for specific non-commercial purposes, such as transfers between zoological institutions.

Commercial kangaroo shooters are licensed and must operate in accordance with the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes to ensure that animals are killed in a humane manner. This code was endorsed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council on 7 November 2008 following a long process of consultation involving government, animal welfare groups, industry, the scientific community and the public. Compliance with the commercial code is required in management plans for the commercial use (and export) of kangaroos, approved under the EPBC Act.

Mulesing in Australia

Australia's sheep flock largely consists of merino sheep (80%), with the remainder a mixture of crossbreds and other breeds. Due to their wrinkly skin, merino sheep are particularly susceptible to flystrike, a parasitic attack by the blowfly, Lucilia cuprina. Flystrike is often likely to be fatal if left untreated.

Mulesing was introduced to help manage flystrike. This practice involves the removal of some skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears to prevent wool growing. Mulesing is accepted under the laws of Australia's states and territories and remains the single most effective procedure for providing lifelong protection from breech flystrike.

The wool industry, through the industry services body Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), has undertaken significant research and development activities to help manage flystrike. This includes several alternatives to mulesing.

The Australian Government actively supports industry research and development into mulesing alternatives with more than $26 million in industry and government funds invested since 2005. Research and development has improved practices in areas including breeding and selection, the use of pain relief products and grower education in improving flystrike control. Activities have included:

  • investigating the inherited traits in sheep that reduce the risk of flystrike
  • genetic tests and reports that can be used by wool growers to select and breed sheep that are less susceptible to fly strike while retaining wool quality attributes
  • investigating the effectiveness of breech clips as an alternative to surgical mulesing
  • evaluation of pain relief injections to allow the animal welfare benefits of mulesing to control flystrike without the animal welfare concerns associated with the pain caused by mulesing, and
  • evaluation of long acting insecticide chemicals that prevent flystrike.

More recent initiatives have included:

  • the SkinTraction® intradermal which is a low stress procedure aimed at reducing wrinkles and increasing breech bare areas in sheep. It is currently awaiting registration with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).
  • liquid nitrogen process which freezes the breech and tail skin wrinkles, with evidence of both wrinkle reduction and an increase in bare area in the breech and tail. This process is currently in the trial phase and is undergoing further investigation.
  • laser treatment which involves attempting to permanently remove wool from the breech and side of the tail. This could lead to a reduced risk of breech flystrike throughout the year and possibly delay resistance to important prevention chemicals. This process is currently in the early trial phase and undergoing further investigation.

Australian wool producers are increasingly adopting new practices as alternatives to mulesing. The National Wool Declaration (NWD), which is administered by the Australian Wool Exchange Limited (AWEX), allows buyers throughout the supply chain to have the information they need to purchase wool that meets their animal welfare requirements. In 2009−10 the Australian Government allocated $165 000 to AWEX to establish the on−farm integrity program for the NWD. The integrity program, which involves AWEX conducting random audits of woolgrowers that have made NWD declarations, provides greater assurance of the verified mulesed status of wool.

In 2011−12, NWD declarations covered 44.3 per cent of the eligible wool offered for sale at auctions. Farms that had not mulesed, ceased mulesing or had used pain relief when mulesing accounted for 20.3 per cent of eligible bales or 17.4 per cent of the total bales.

Pig welfare

Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries (or equivalent authority). Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

Pig welfare in state and territory legislation is informed by the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs 3rd Edition. The model code aims to ensure that farm animals are treated humanely and responsibly. Copies of the model codes, including the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs 3rd Edition are available from the CSIRO website.

The model codes are being progressively replaced by a new series of nationally agreed standards and guidelines. The standards will be legislated by the states and territories. The first of these, the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines Land Transport of Livestock, is currently being implemented by all state and territory governments.

The model code covering pigs includes voluntary guidelines and enforceable, evidence-based standards aimed at improving the welfare of these animals in all jurisdictions. The current code does not prohibit the use of individual gestation stalls for confining pregnant sows, but restricts their use to a maximum of six weeks.

Sows are also usually confined in farrowing pens from a few days prior to giving birth. This is largely to reduce the high rates of piglet death when sows roll over and crush their piglets.  Farrowing pens allow the sow to stand up, lie down and stretch out, and have a section where only her piglets can retreat. The sows and piglets remain in the farrowing pen until the piglets are weaned. The recommended practice is that weaning occurs after the piglets are three weeks old.

Australian Pork Limited (APL), the industry's peak body, has declared that its members will voluntarily stop using individual sow gestation stalls by 2017 and is funding research into how this can be achieved without putting the welfare of pigs at risk. One of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre’s research programs, which is jointly funded by industry and government, is focusing on ways to manage sows and piglets without the need to confine them. Further information on the cooperative research centre and its programs is available on its website.

Poultry

The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry (4th Edition) provides producers with a set of guidelines intended to assist them in understanding the standard of care required, and their obligations under state and territory laws.

The current model code of practice for the welfare of domestic poultry includes a definition for production systems including for cages, barns and free range systems. Under the code, chickens raised for egg production can be housed in cages, barns or free range systems, while chickens raised for meat can be housed in barns or free range systems only. Governments do not control the method farmers use to produce eggs or chicken meat, as long as they follow the code.

A copy of the code can be found on the CSIRO's website.

The model codes of practice are being progressively replaced by a new series of nationally agreed standards and guidelines and the standards will be legislated by the states and territories. The Animal Welfare Committee has identified a review of the model code of practice for poultry as a priority.

Animal Welfare Committee, in consultation with industry and other stakeholders, is working to identify which issues will be included in the review of the poultry code, such as space allowance, the provision of food and water, husbandry practices, equipment and facilities, management practices, and welfare during slaughtering. The definition of free range production systems for eggs is a labelling issue and will not be dealt with in the poultry standards and guidelines.

Consumers may prefer to support one method of farming over another and can exercise that preference through their purchasing.

Egg labelling in regard to production systems, for example, free range, is a concern for some consumers and producers. In 2011, the Commonwealth, state and territory governments released their response to the report Labelling logic: a review of food labelling law and policy. The government response considered food labelling for consumer values, including animal welfare and methods of production, and urged the relevant livestock industries to pursue agreed voluntary standards for specific food production methods.

While all food sold in Australia, whether imported or produced domestically, must meet the safety and labelling requirements set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, food producers and retailers may voluntarily label foods with information on production methods. That information must be consistent with the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. The Act prohibits false or misleading representations in connection with the supply of goods and requires suppliers to be honest in their advertising and labelling.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is responsible for addressing concerns about the use of terms which may be misleading. The ACCC, individuals or companies can take legal action on alleged breaches of the Act.  The ACCC can be contacted on 1300 312 502 or via their website.

Puppy farming

Australia's state and territory governments have primary responsibility for animal welfare and laws to prevent cruelty. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries (or equivalent authority). Local councils also make and enforce local laws on animal management. Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

The states and territories have legislation in place to manage dog breeding operations. In August 2009 New South Wales introduced the Animal welfare code of practice: breeding dogs and cats, which contains legally binding standards that specifically cover puppy farms.

Victoria also has a mandated code of practice covering the management requirements of puppy farms. Proprietors of dog and cat breeding establishments must operate in accordance with the Code of practice for the operation of breeding and rearing establishments. This code details the minimum standards of accommodation, management and care for the welfare's including the physical and behavioural needs of animals housed at these establishments.

In South Australia RSPCA inspectors are responsible for monitoring the welfare of dogs bred in specific breeding businesses. That state's Animal Welfare Act 1985 says that the owner of any animal must give it adequate and appropriate food, water, shelter, exercise and veterinary attention, provide a suitable living environment and take all reasonable steps to prevent it coming to harm. These obligations apply equally to the owners of puppy farms and the owners of pet dogs.

In Queensland, dog and cat breeding is subject to the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001. This Act places a duty of care on all people in charge of animals to properly look after them by providing appropriate food, water, accommodation and living conditions, allowing them to display normal patterns of behaviour, and treating disease and injury. This must be done in a way that is appropriate for the type, age and circumstances of the animal. The Act has significant penalties for breaching this duty of care, which can result in fines of up to $30,000 or one year imprisonment. A breach of the cruelty provisions can result in a fine of $100,000 or two years imprisonment.

In Western Australia, RSPCA inspectors are responsible for monitoring the welfare of dogs, including those in specific breeding businesses. Western Australia's Animal Welfare Act 2002 applies to all animals, including dogs, and requires that anyone in charge of any animal must provide it with proper and sufficient food and water, shelter, and protect it from any harm that could be alleviated by taking reasonable steps. Under the WA Dog Act 1976, kennels must be licensed and the owner of a dog that appears to be diseased must seek veterinary examination of the animal. These obligations apply to the owners of all pet dogs or puppy farms.

In the Australian Capital Territory the welfare of dogs is protected under the Animal Welfare Act 1992. Government officers will investigate any suggestion of breaches of the Animal Welfare Act 1992. Following a review of the ACT's Code of Practice for the Care and Management of Animals in Pet Shops (1993), the code is known as the Code of Practice for the Sale of Animals in the ACT (other than from saleyards).

In addition the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA) has developed a 'Dogs Lifetime Guarantee Policy on Traceability and Re-homing'. Under the policy, pet shop PIAA members can only sell dogs from accredited PIAA breeders. The aim of the initiative is to reduce the number of puppies sold from puppy farms.

Rabbit farming

Each state and territory government is responsible for its own animal welfare legislation. This legislation is enforced by the RSPCA inspectorate or by officers from the state or territory department of primary industries (or equivalent authority). Where offences are proven, penalties such as fines and jail terms apply.

Australian animals are protected by model codes of practice which aim to ensure that farm animals are treated humanely and responsibly. Copies of the model codes, including the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Intensive Husbandry of Rabbits available from the CSIRO website.

Ritual slaughter

The Australian Government supports the use of stunning both domestically and internationally. The government also respects the religious beliefs held by people domestically and internationally.
Australia, like many other countries including the US and most members of the European Union, allows people to practise their religious beliefs without interference. This is an obligation under the United Nations' International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Stunning prior to slaughter is widely accepted and applied in Australian abattoirs, including for many consumers who are practicing their religious beliefs. However, Australian Jewish and Islamic religious authorities do not all agree to slaughter with prior stunning as a universal requirement at this time as it would not be consistent with the beliefs of all their members.

The Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption allows for the slaughter of animals without prior stunning where the religious belief of consumers is involved. It does not however exempt the practice from meeting the animal welfare requirements it specifies. The requirement includes that animals are slaughtered in ways that prevent unnecessary injury, pain and suffering to them and cause them the least practicable disturbance.

The management and control of this practice in Australia is consistent with the World Organisation for Animal Health's (OIE's) animal welfare guidelines. In the limited circumstances where slaughter is allowed without prior stunning, the Commonwealth and the states and territories apply specific regulatory controls to ensure the Standard's animal welfare requirements are met. Arrangements in place include that all cattle slaughtered without prior stunning are effectively stunned immediately after their throats are cut.