Why Animal Activist 'Farm Invaders' Should Be Protected At All Costs
Last week, I exposed a slaughterhouse allegedly operating illegally in Victoria.
This came about after footage was supplied to me by Aussie Farms, makers of Dominion. The reasoning behind this was simple: activists have historically felt their complaints were not investigated by authorities, and perhaps if a member of parliament exposed cruelty, it would be taken more seriously.
The footage showed sheep being loaded in a cradle one-by-one, their throats slit without stunning, some even attempting to get up and escape with their heads half-decapitated. There were obvious problems of animal welfare, biosecurity and basic hygiene.
I’m certainly not the first to expose cruelty on this level, and I won’t be the last. Despite this, recent events on both a state and federal level surrounding so-called ‘farm invasions’ and undercover surveillance in the animal agriculture sector have posed some thorny questions. The answers to some may seem just as obvious, but when we drill down, broader threats to public interests and freedoms are revealed.
Governments and industry have a long history of trying to keep the public from knowing about aspects of their conduct, thereby controlling the narrative that surrounds their activities. It seems some politicians are doing all they can to make it harder to expose animal cruelty, rather than address the problem of that cruelty itself.
They can’t claim ignorance to the growing concern for animal welfare either. Just this year, the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources commissioned a report titled Australia’s Shifting Mindset on Animal Welfare, which found the majority of Australians care about animal welfare, with 95 percent of respondents viewing farm animal welfare with concern and 91 percent wanting reform to address it.
Three years ago, a Productivity Commission report suggested that the current process for setting standards for farm animal welfare does not adequately value the benefits of animal welfare to the community.
The government’s response to the overwhelming evidence for reform and transparency? Make it harder to expose the problem.
But it would be naive to think this is just about animal cruelty and those who care about government control should treat the current narrative on animal activism as a cautionary tale.
Industries often employ tactics to paint themselves in a warm glow of trustworthiness, giving consumers confidence in their product, even when the truth may be the opposite.
Animal agriculture is no different -- advertising itself as ethical and humane while being exempt from the laws that protect our cats and dogs. While the animal agriculture industry must adhere to laws pertaining to livestock management, biosecurity and meat handling, this framework creates a hypocrisy where it’s illegal to cut off an individual dog’s tail, but legal to cut off the tails of 100 pigs without pain relief and call it a ‘prescribed livestock management standard’.
This, coupled with the fact the industry also has voluntary (and therefore unenforceable) codes of practice is one of the many reasons why whistleblowers want to force the industry into transparency so consumers can make up their own minds.
Undercover footage and informants are tools that journalists have relied upon in order to break stories of cruelty and corruption since reporting began. If not for whistleblowers, we would not have had the recent Royal Commissions into banking, aged care, disability or institutional abuse of minors.
The recent moves by the Federal Government and some other state counterparts to introduce draconian laws against animal activists have many journalists nervous about where this ends. US style ‘ag-gag’ laws could see them criminalised for just reporting on cases of agricultural sector animal cruelty.
Victoria, thankfully, seems to be a bit smarter than the rest. Here, we are at least having an inquiry before we send out the villagers with torches and pitchforks. That inquiry will actually consider the root problem of all of this, with ‘the adequacy of Victoria’s animal welfare laws’ part of the terms of reference. This is what should have occurred everywhere, so all sides are heard.
For those wondering, the complaint I lodged last week was acted upon and the establishment is now under investigation. This would not be happening if not for a very important chain of information: the concerned member of the public, the brave whistleblower who risked personal safety to obtain the footage, Aussie Farms and myself acting as intermediaries, and the media and government agencies fulfilling their roles.
This example, as well as hundreds of others, are exactly the reason that undercover activists and journalists that break their stories must not be vilified and prosecuted.
The public’s right to know is far greater than any industry’s ability to hide cruel practices behind a steel curtain of legislation.