Announced earlier this year, the government’s Animal Welfare Action Plan commits to update animal welfare laws to acknowledge the sentience in animals – referring to animal’s feelings – which was first drafted in 2016 and released in January this year.
Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group president, Leonard Vallance, said there were ongoing discussions with the government about the proposed legislation changes.
He said the VFF did not support the use of the term “sentient animals” in the legislation.
He said the legislation should be about the treatment of animals and ensuring the interaction between humans and animals.
In England, the word sentient had been removed from legislation because activists were using it to take action through the courts – animal rights rather than animal welfare, he said.
Mr Vallance said the Minister had given the VFF an assurance that activists would not be able to use sentience here.
He said current bureaucratic processes in the legislation needed to be “cleaned up”, giving the department the ability to act in the animal’s interests as well as the human’s interests.
But ongoing challenges in prosecuting historic animal cruelty cases has spurred the development of the action plan, according to Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford, who said the plan aimed to protect Victoria’s reputation as a humane and responsible producer of food and fibre.
According to the government, the plan would promote actions to maintain market access and consumer confidence in livestock industries.
Ms Pulford said there was ongoing consultation with the VFF on animal welfare matters.
“The Action Plan is currently already being implemented and it is a long term plan,” she said.
The Action Plan was developed in consultation with the Victorian community and reflected extensive public and industry feedback including more than 600 submissions.
“Victorian agriculture has high animal welfare standards and the Action Plan will help them maintain this,” Ms Pulford said.
According to the department, between 2012 and 2017, it inquired into 4912 welfare complaints.
A department spokesperson said all complaints were taken seriously and investigated as appropriate in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 and departmental procedures.
Investigations include activities such as visiting properties, speaking to owners and witnesses and inspecting livestock. Over the last five and half years (2012-2018), the department prosecuted 71 cases.
The cases resulted in convictions or findings of guilt in respect of 557 charges. Species involved included mainly cattle and sheep but also poultry and horses.
These convictions resulted in $349,950 in fines and $28,250 in donations to rural organisations and sentences of 600 hours community service, two terms of imprisonment and 15 individuals were banned from owning or managing livestock for up to ten years.