• Mark questions the NSW government’s ludicrous Visit My Farm Initiative

    The NSW Department of Primary Industries, with the support of the Minister responsible for animal welfare, is trailing a new charade initiative called “Visit My Farm”.

    According to the Minister this new initiative is “helping to open farm gates all over the state as part of on a new initiative to bring urban and farming communities closer through the ‘Visit My Farm’ agri-exchange trial.”

    HOWEVER, while the Minister likes to speak glowingly about the department’s new industry backed charade, a quick visit to the website reveals not a single intensive farm in its list of farms to visit. Not a single observation of sows in farrowing crates and stalls, hens in battery cages, artificial insemination, routine mutilations without analgesia such as eyeteeth removal and tail docking of piglets, de-beaking of layer chicks, and sheds where 22,000 or more broiler chickens are packed in. How can such an initiative be accurately representative of the true reality of animal farming?

    Well we asked the question……..

     

  • Opinion: Who benefits from silencing animal activists?

    Recent media publications by The Land and The Guardian of meeting documents provides disturbing details of a forum held in August last year between agribusiness owners, NSW Farmers Federation, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair along with Police and the RSPCA. They reveal the extent to which industry and government are working together to silence activists seeking to expose animal cruelty in farming.

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    Federal agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce

    The documents obtained under freedom of information laws confirm what many activists have argued for a long time; the interconnected links between animal agriculture, government and sadly, the RSPCA. The forum participants committed to an action plan to harmonise state laws regarding the supposed threat of “farm trespass” by animal activists. The plan reflects the fears of an industry that understands the implications of its routine practices being exposed to the public. Transparency and truth are to be avoided at all costs. We also see Federal and State governments intent on ensuring cruel practices remain hidden from view. Rather than listening to community concerns and accepting that animal welfare standards need to be radically reformed, government is determined to keep animal welfare legislation in the 1970s.

    One of the more alarming revelations is the active participation of the RSPCA in such discussions. The RSPCA’s willingness to side with industry and government is an affront to their charter, and would no doubt come as a surprise their many supporters. The fact that the RSPCA participated in such discussions which made no mention of enforcement or prosecution of animal cruelty laws is concerning. One is entitled to ask, what is the role of the RSPCA in farm trespass policy discussions? Why are they not holding industry to account for their cruel practices? As has been said many times; if we kept a dog in the same conditions that industry keeps pigs in intensive farms, animal cruelty charges would be laid.

    The document identified that;

    38 piggeries in the Young area of NSW, along with poultry farms in other states, were known to have been “invaded for the purpose of installing unauthorised surveillance devices, ostensibly to ‘reveal’ animal husbandry practice believed to be poor”.

    Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, this statement reflects the absolute lack of concern for animal well-being. The treatment of these animals is appalling, not poor. Animal cruelty is standard industry practice, not an aberration. Activists seek to bring transparency and truth to the public arena, enabling consumers to make balanced decisions about their purchases and food choices.

    If industry is confident that their practices are acceptable then there should be no issue with footage showing industry practice. If the government is confident that their animal welfare laws are so robust, then let’s show those lawful practices to the public. Tail docking, castration, eye teeth clipping, debeaking, removal of skin (mulesing), battery cages, farrowing crates, faeces laden broiler sheds- let’s shine the camera light onto the everyday cruelties that these animals suffer.

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    NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Geoff McKechnie is documented as stating that;

    “These incursions fall into the ‘trespass with intent’ category, NSW Police have been investigating these incidents actively, but evidence gathering around such incidents presents significant challenges”.

    No comment on the crimes exposed by activists?

    Many may not be aware, but the NSW Police are also an enforcement agency under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. It is not just the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League that has powers to enforce and prosecute animal cruelty crimes, yet the attitude of government and the NSW Police is to leave enforcement to a poorly resourced charitable organisation that is almost completely unaccountable to government. Yet significant police resources are being used to investigate and pursue animal activists.

    Statistics show that cruelty committed against animals often leads to crimes committed against people, yet, as can be seen from this attitude of the NSW Police, significant police resources are being used to investigate and pursue animal activists filming intensive farms. This shows a narrow-minded approach to tackling crime and future protection of the community. Would the community, or indeed government be satisfied if a child services charity were tasked with the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against children? Would it be acceptable for the NSW Police to be actively pursuing whistle-blowers filming or recording child abuse despite the physical smacking of children being lawful?

    NSW Police also told the forum that;

    “the ideology of farm trespass by animal activists was “complex” and not based on improving animal welfare practices.”

    This is correct, it is not the job of animal activist to improve animal welfare. This is the job of every stakeholder that attended this forum and their decisions should be based on truth, transparency, and the wider public’s expectations of what is acceptable welfare practices. Indeed, the activists are doing the job that all these stakeholders are failing to do themselves, that is to publish the truth to the public and allowing the public to decide what they expect. Instead, animal welfare is seen as an unnecessary cost to already profitable business models that seek to sanitise and disconnect the public from what really goes on behind the factory farm shed door.

    The documents go on to suggest;

    “Introduction of other measures to improve evidence collection, for example, security cameras may also be considered.”

    How can someone, on one hand, justify installing elaborate security recording networks to deter activists YET dismiss sensible reforms such as mandatory CCTV of inside the shed or inside the slaughterhouse? Does one not stop and think that maybe, if farmers installed cameras facing in the shed, on the animals, then there will be no need for cameras facing outside the shed to deter activists?

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    Indeed, for me it has become personal. Twelve months ago I attempted to visit Rivalea pig slaughterhouse to discuss the cruel method by which pigs are subjected to gassing prior to slaughter. I was refused entry at the front gate and never left public space and yet I am currently the subject of a police investigation as a result of that visit. Again, this is a sign of cover up and intimidation, rather than let an elected MP formally tour the facility and witness the slaughtering method, I was denied access. Rivalea engaged their industry heavyweight, Australian Pork Ltd, and now almost 12 months to the day I am contacted by the NSW Police and informed that I am under investigation. It is true that, due to all the industry efforts to hide and cover up standard practices that they are ironically so proud of, they have in fact made the public more suspicious.

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  • MEDIA RELEASE-Animal Justice Party MP questions Katrina Hodgkinson’s priorities concerning Blantyre Farm’s DA

    MEDIA RELEASE

    Mark Pearson, Animal Justice Party MP, has questioned why Member for Cootamundra, Katrina Hodgkinson, is advocating priority for the interests of intensive pig farmers Blantyre Farms, over the interests of her own electorate. Intensive pig farmers, Edwina & Michael Beveridge of Blantyre Farms lodged a development application in December 2015 to duplicate their Young shire, Golden Grove and Dead Horse Gully piggeries in the neighbouring Hilltops council region. Blantyre Farms have continued to attract wide spread criticism since the public exposure of their Young piggery practices and operations through the Aussiefarms campaign in 2013.

    The Blantyre Farms Development Application has generated significant community and public interest with thousands of objectors raising valid and legitimate concerns and issues, which have been echoed by council and state government agencies.”
    There is mandated planning process at both state government and local council level, and Ms Hodgkinson should just allow that process to take place in the interest of a thorough examination of the merits of the application.

    Mr Pearson confirmed issues raised by thousands of objectors includes the welfare of animals, the environment and a broad range of concerns about the impact on the community, immediate neighbours, workers and consumers, public health, biosecurity and biodiversity.

    From my understanding, it has not been a case where Hilltops council have ‘sat’ on this DA or that the ‘approval process had been lagging’, as has been suggested by Ms Hodgkinson.

    The assessment period has been exacerbated by information from Blantyre Farms themselves, which has repeatedly been found ‘wanting’ with questionable, missing, ambiguous, and non-evidenced information.

    Most recently Blantyre Farms have been required to revise information they have previously submitted to council. This includes pig mortality numbers now estimated to be approximately 8,600 per year. These are the piglets and pigs which die or are killed in the Blantyre Farms intensive sheds.

    A critical factor environmentally, is how the massive volume of Blantyre Farms generated waste would be managed. In their previous information, Blantyre Farms stated they would be able to disperse all the effluent and dead composted pigs on their property. Blantyre Farms have now stated they will still have an excess surplus of approximately two hundred & fifty tons of manure per year. This surplus waste will now need to be disposed of elsewhere. Mr Pearson is also concerned that Ms Hodgkinson does not appear to acknowledge the voice of the local community, her own electorate and the public and has not acknowledged the critical inclusion of submissions and council’s obligations to adhere to the planning process.

    Ms Hodgkinson was dumped by her own party from any ministerial responsibility. Her sole responsibility now is to represent all members of her own electorate in a fair, balanced and non-biased manner. Based on concerns I have had raised with my office, this does not appear to be happening.

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    Mr Pearson has continued to strongly oppose intensive piggeries and was one of the original activists involved with the exposure of a Parkville based piggery in which former prime minister, Paul Keating had a commercial interest.

  • When is a pig effluent spill on a public road acceptable?

    For all the government’s talk about biosecurity and environmental protections, it seems that the Minister overseeing such areas of compliance is not even aware of major breeches involving trucks overflowing with pig effluent being spilled on public roads. Not only is he not aware but also seems to think the issue has something to do with the roads Minister.

    Last year this same Minister rammed through attempted ag-gag legislation under the guise of biosecurity. Biosecurity is a serious issue, yet it seems piggery owners transporting pig waste from their intensive piggeries and then spilling effluent on public roads is acceptable, well acceptable enough for the Minister not to be aware of this ongoing issue. Watch my question to the Minister and his attempted answer, in which, not only does he not seek to investigate the incidents but seeks to give a pat on the back to the piggery owner in question.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON:  There have been a number of complaints to Hilltops Council from Harden residents concerning the frequent spilling of animal effluent on the public roads from Blantyre Farms piggery. Residents have had difficulty obtaining accurate information about these spills given that industry is only required to “self report” problems concerning the transport and disposal of animal waste off site.

    What steps has the Minister’s department taken to investigate whether Blantyre Farms has failed to discharge a biosecurity duty under section 23 of the Biosecurity Act 2015?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: I certainly draw no correlation between the question in relation to pig excrement and the last day of Parliament for the year. I will take the opportunity to welcome also the Hon. Rick Ball who has chaired one of our local land services [LLSs] here in New South Wales. Good to see him in the Chamber. I will take the question on notice because I know that there was an element of the question that directly related to my portfolio from a biosecurity point of view. But this issue also relates to local government, and the Hon. Duncan Gay’s portfolio in relation to road transport. Some of the things that I know the Hon. Duncan Gay has been working on with local government and the Department of Primary Industries are the issues of truck washes. It is certainly something that we are attuned to, it is something that is not isolated to one part of the State and it is something that we want to make sure is as practical as possible.

    We know that it is one thing to have fantastic producers, it is one thing to have fantastic growing conditions here in this State, but it is also vitally important to make sure we allow those producers to get their livestock transported easily throughout New South Wales. That is one of the reasons why the Hon Duncan Gay has put so much work into his pinch points and Bridges for the Bush program, to make sure we unlock some of those pinch points and not put extra costs or burdens on to our producers to be able to transport commodities like livestock, whether it is to saleyards, processing facilities or within different farms. To get a holistic answer, particularly in relation to biosecurity and my portfolio, I will take the question on notice and come back to the member.

  • 23/03/2016: Adjournment speech ‘See No Evil-Treatment of Animals’

    SEE NO EVIL-TREATMENT OF ANIMALS

    My adjournment speech is based on the writings of Dr Siobhan O’Sullivan in regards to the equitable treatment of animals in governance and policy. Since the time of the Industrial Revolution animals have been slowly excluded from the lives of most humans. Until relatively recently both rural and city dwellers had direct experience of the economic exploitation of animals, from horses used for transport and in agriculture, cattle and sheep driven to be slaughtered at open markets, to eggs collected from backyard chicken coops.

    Increased urbanisation and agricultural industrialisation ended the eye witness observation of the lives and deaths of animals used by humans. This dislocation has resulted in the invisibility of the lived experiences of farmed animals and those animals used in medical research. Slaughterhouses with all their blood, gore and stench have been exiled from our cities. Intensively farmed pigs and chickens spend their few miserable weeks of life contained in massive, windowless sheds far from the casual observation of passers-by. While farmed animals may live their lives almost entirely unseen that does not mean that they are not subject to the law.

    We have animal welfare legislation such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and a multitude of codes of practice, standards and guidelines which detail the ways in which animals may be lawfully treated by industry. A thin veneer of animal welfare sits alongside a prohibition upon unnecessary suffering. However, if the average citizen could see the suffering caused by lawful practices such as mulesing, castration, de-horning, tail-docking and eye teeth removal—all without pain relief in the main—I am sure that they would demand higher levels of standards of care. Our citizens rely upon their members of Parliament and regulatory bodies to safeguard that what happens in these hidden places meets community standards concerning animal wellbeing. Time and again it has been shown that the public’s expectations are not being met.

    Exposes by animal rights and welfare groups have shown cruel treatment of pigs, ducks, turkeys and chickens, to name a few instances where animal activists have recorded images that horrify the nation. Community outrage occurs each and every time these images of suffering are broadcast and it clearly shows that the public does care about the lives of animals. It is disturbing, however, that the Government and industry response is not to improve animal wellbeing standards and better resource enforcement agencies, but rather in the main to attack and criminalise the messenger.

    This lack of transparency disenfranchises citizens and helps generate inconsistencies in animal welfare laws. It undermines the role of citizens as policy participants and forces animal activists to engage in illegal behaviour in an attempt to put animal welfare on the political agenda. The introduction of ag-gag laws via the Biosecurity Act and the Inclosed Lands Amendment (Interference) Bill increase penalties for animal activists who in the public interest capture footage of animal suffering on private lands. Ministers talk of activists as vigilantes and terrorists but our regulatory system makes independent oversight of intensive farming facilities virtually impossible.

    Dr O’Sullivan stated:
    The only people who see agricultural animals are those who financially benefit from bringing them into the world, and then killing them. Such people are not reliable witnesses. They cannot be trusted as the only source, or even the primary source, of information about whether an animal’s life is good or not.
    How can we ensure that the laws regulating the lives of animals reflect community values, when the community has little to no capacity to see or engage with animals? How can the community inform animal welfare laws, when we know very few animals? If the community is unable to drawn its own conclusions about the suitability of animal protection laws made in its name, what type of challenge does this pose to liberal democratic values?

    Watch the video of the speech below.

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