The Andrews Labor Government last week revealed the new Animal Welfare Action Plan. While on face value this announcement in an election year may appeal to the emotions of some voters, we need to take a clear-eyed look at the real, practical implications that the plan will have.
Since the announcement, the VFF have fielded concerns from farmers and other industry members stating parts of the Action Plan will threaten their livelihoods.
Chief among the concerns is the inclusion of “sentience” in legislation. Sentience refers to animals’ experiences of feelings and emotions, such as comfort and pain. Animal welfare law is about addressing human behaviour not addressing animals, so can the government explain how this inclusion will alter human behaviour?
We want increased efficiencies in prosecutions against animal cruelty but these efficiencies can be achieved without recognition of sentience.The introduction of sentience into law will only provide a platform for the argument against the existence of farm animal production systems as has been exposed by extremists in Europe.
The government acknowledges that Victoria already has a reputation for strong animal welfare practices. This is not due solely to restrictive legislation – farmers have been proactively improving our practices already.
Current quality assurance programs adhered to by farmers provide a higher standard of welfare for farm animals, by laying out how humans treat them.
Farmers don’t operate at the base level of cruelty legislation. We are not sitting on our laurels, content with the status quo. We know how important animal welfare is.
We’re also conscious that we are working with animals for good reasons, producing food and fibre that society needs.
For this reason, we need separation of animal industries under legislation. Companion animals have far different needs to farm animals. The umbrella approach will not provide better welfare outcomes for farm animals.
Farmers care about the welfare of animals, but we are deeply concerned about the effects radical changes will have.
Introducing sentience into legislation opens a door to drastic changes, beyond what our system can handle. The government needs to rethink the approach of its welfare plan.