11 Aug Vegan Rising’s submission to: Inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism in Victoria
On May 1, 2019, a motion for an inquiry into the impact of animal rights activism passed the Victorian governments upper house. Introduced by Nationals MP Melina Bath, the inquiry seeks to introduce controversial ag-gag laws into the state of Victoria, effectively placing increased penalties on whistleblowers, rescuers, and activists who seek to expose and end the suffering endured in places of violence against animals, not commonly referred to as ‘farms’.
Submissions to the committee opened in late May. A decision from the inquiry is to be announced on November 28, 2019.
Below is our submission. Other submissions can be found here.
This submission is made on behalf of registered charity, not-for-profit animal liberation organisation Vegan Rising.
We respond to all considerations listed in the ‘terms of reference’.
a. The type and prevalence of unauthorised activity on Victorian farms and related industries, and the application of existing legislation.
The intent of whistleblowers entering operations where animals are being bred, reared and killed is to document and expose egregious animal abuse and suffering, most of which is systemic, standard, and legal practice and in the public interest as a right to know.
The type of unauthorised activity occurring is covered in section b.
The prevalence of such activity to our knowledge is not as often as is being suggested by politicians and the media.
Sufficient legislation already exists for trespass and it is up to the judiciary to decide how that is applied once the evidence and individual circumstances are considered.
Those raising and killing animals for profit are repeatedly exposed for causing extreme suffering to animals and to our knowledge receive no legal consequence. No one exposed in the film Dominion (see appendix 1) or any other recent egregious cruelty investigations to our knowledge has had any application of existing legislation. That is because there is barely any legislation to apply. Animals used in agriculture are not protected against cruelty by law. Attempts to further silence and punish whistleblowers for simply exposing the truth, whist continually allowing systemic and egregious animal abuse to occur blatantly exposes the little regard animals are afforded by the Victorian government, contrary to what they may claim, as is addressed in our closing statement.
b. The workplace health and safety and biosecurity risks, and potential impacts of animal activist activity on Victorian farms, to Victoria’s economy and international reputation.
Health and safety
According to 2015 figures from Safe Work Australia, 27% of the 195 workplace deaths in Australia occurred in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. There were also 3,410 serious injuries in the industry during that period, making farming one of the most dangerous industries in Australia. None of these figures have been in any way attributed to the actions of whistleblowers or rescuers.
In fact, there is no record in the decades of whistleblowers and rescuers entering Australian sheds, paddocks, and feedlots of them negatively impacting the health and safety of a worker.
To date, there has not been one recorded incident of violence perpetrated by a whistleblower or rescuer against a farmer that we are aware of.
To date, not one whistleblower or rescuer has approached the home of a family who may live on a property where animals are being bred and raised. Their homes are most often far away from where the animals are kept (if on the property at all) and are of no interest to the whistleblower or rescuer. The whistleblowers and rescuers are there for one reason only – the animals.
For those who live on the properties where animals are exploited and/or killed who do actually fear for their personal safety, those fears are based on nothing but media propAGanda and government-led hysteria.[i] Both who would like to see business as usual and fear animal liberation, not people’s personal safety.
The locations being exposed by whistleblowers and rescuers are by no means healthy places for any operator or employee. They are most often covered in animal faeces making breathing difficult as the high levels of ammonia burn the eyes and throat. There are always bodies (or body parts) of the dead and rotting or slowly dying animals laying throughout the sheds, paddocks, and feedlots. Some examples:
– the Australian chicken meat industry boasts a death before slaughter rate of 4%.[ii] In an industry that breeds approximately 650 million individuals each year, that equates to 26 million who will die, mostly slowly and painfully in the sheds.
– paddocks that look idyllic from a distance are more like graveyards on closer inspection, especially during winter when the majority of the 15 million new-born lambs who die each year from exposure and predation will perish.
– in sheds that confine pigs, it is commonplace to also find the dead bodies of piglets who were either unintentionally squashed by their mothers who were unable to move out of her babies way, or by having their heads smashed against the floor by workers who legally “cull” the sick this way. [iii]
These are not sanitary environments. They are filthy, full of dead, dying and suffering individuals.
In terms of mental and emotional health, the occupation of a farmer in animal agriculture requires one to disconnect from their natural tendencies of compassion and empathy in order to undertake the work required to breed, raise and kill individuals on a mass scale. Body mutilations, the taking of one’s ability to express their natural instincts, mother and child separation, forced confinement, forced ejaculation, restraining animals to perform invasive artificial insemination against their will, tossing live day-old male chicks into a macerator, clearing the bodies of individuals who died prematurely, and killing babies by blunt force trauma are just some of the regular, legal, day to day standard practices an individual worker in animal agriculture must engage in. Such tasks do not cultivate a healthy mind and spirit or a healthy society (see appendix 2)
It is in fact the whistleblowers intent to create a kinder world where no worker need engage in such atrocities that go against the goodwill of any human who is in a healthy state of mind. No one should ever be expected to work in an environment that requires them to suppress their natural inclination to want to prevent suffering and develop cognitive dissonance just to get through a days work.
Although this section is focused on the sector of animal agriculture where animals are being bred and reared, we cannot ignore the slaughterhouse in this discussion as it is an essential part of the animal agriculture model.
The career aspiration of few, slaughterhouse work is a demanding, dangerous occupation (the most dangerous according to American statistics) in which employees are subjected to an array of physical and psychological risks. In order to simply get through a shift, a slaughterhouse worker must suppress their empathy and natural tendency to refrain from killing and repeat the same action of killing or dismembering once-living beings over and over at high speed, to the point where numbers are meaningless.
The commodification of lives and the pervasive ethos of keeping the factory line moving regardless of circumstances results in the likelihood of not only physical injury but of becoming necessarily desensitised to suffering.
Slaughterhouse workers tend to be from a low socio-economic background, historically with less educational opportunity and are more likely to be members of less privileged groups who may lack the agency to stand up for their own rights (eg. immigrants, people of colour, indigenous peoples). [iv] Society expects the less advantaged to perform work that many have the luxury of turning down, whilst less advantaged workers can’t afford to allow themselves to feel their natural revulsion. It’s unconscionable that we force our most marginalised workers into occupations that are highly likely to cause physical injury or further trauma. There is no consideration of workers health and safety by exacerbating the suffering of those who are already in need of assistance.
Furthermore, there is evidence that employees who are necessarily desensitised to animal suffering in their workplace, have an increased likelihood of being, in turn, more violent towards humans [v].
Even our own Victorian Government website recognises this link: “Research has established a strong connection between abuse towards animals, and abuse towards people. When a person abuses an animal there is a risk that they may also be abusive towards other people in their lives” [vi]
In defining animal abuse, the Victorian government explicitly includes the animals we use for food and clothing who are bred and raised on Victorian farms and who meet their deaths on those farms or in slaughterhouses. “Animal abuse can take the form of physical violence, torment, neglect, or threats to safety – be it to household pets, wildlife, or farm animals”
Animal agriculture by its very nature requires animals to be exploited and killed. Even in the least harmful systems (that are extremely rare), the premise of animal agriculture is built on violence, as taking the life of someone who wants to live is a violent act, no matter how it is done. Countless hours of standard Australian slaughter practices can be viewed at appendix 3 which clearly demonstrates this.
We have no hope of striking at the root of violence in our society and creating healthy workplaces, a healthy and sustainable environment and communities that thrive, whilst continuing to demand our most vulnerable human and non-human animals remain pawns of this exploitative, unethical industry, that also props up large scale operators engaging in ecocide of magnificent proportions.
It is whistleblowers who allow the average consumer to grasp exactly what it is they are supporting and in turn create a society that can make informed decisions as to what is deemed acceptable. Denying individuals the right to knowledge is not in line with the values of a supposed ‘democratic’ society.
Further reading regarding associated trauma and PTSD in slaughterhouse workers at appendix 4 and 5.
There is no record of a whistleblower or rescuer creating a biosecurity event.
Whistleblowers have repeatedly shown that Australia’s animal breeding and rearing locations are by no means bio-secure environments, with not only large amounts of faeces and rotting dead animals as standard, but also a prevalence of insects, free-roaming cats, rodents and other animals.
Whistleblowers and rescuers are aware of biosecurity protocols and make all efforts to be bio-secure themselves through wearing fresh from the packet full-body biosecurity suits, hygiene gloves, surgical booties and on occasion even surgical masks (to help with their own breathing).
Vegan Rising have witnessed on many occasions both police and farm staff step inside areas that are supposed to be bio-secure in intensive farming practices without any biosecurity measures taken, directly in front of site managers who show no concern. Family dogs have also been witnessed entering broiler sheds.
Antibiotic use is rampant in animal agriculture to ward off disease, contributing to growing resistance in both humans and other animals. This is also a major concern that should be urgently addressed over spending time and resources trying to further criminalise those who seek to expose animal abuse.
Biosecurity is important, but it is abundantly clear it is being used as yet another excuse to try to hide the truth from consumers.
Potential impacts to Victoria’s economy and international reputation
If a concern for Victoria’s economy when it comes to locations where animals are being egregiously abused is being used as a reason to further punish whistleblowers ie. hide the truth from consumers, that in itself highlights the very heart of the issue. Is this consideration listed to imply that animal abuse is acceptable if it is good for the Victorian economy?
In any case, perhaps this is an opportunity to highlight how embracing food systems and new technologies that are ethical and more sustainable for humans, other animals and our shared environmental will be much more beneficial for national and state economies.
With the growing number of individuals embracing plant-based products, the plant-based food market is experiencing huge growth.[vii] This opens up an opportunity for Victoria to become a leader in this sector.
It appears that the financial burdens climate change, of which animal agriculture is the leading cause (see appendix 6 attached), is going to create are being completely ignored by federal and state governments. Our continuation of animal agriculture is going to cost a lot more than it makes, it more ways than one.
Additionally, the ongoing and ever-increasing financial pressures on our public health system, largely through our consumption of animal products could also be drastically reduced with a physically and mentally healthier society.
The health of Australians would improve dramatically if we ended our consumption of animal products. This, in turn, would relieve pressure on our public health system. The leading cause of death in Australia is heart disease, of which the consumption of meat is a major contributing factor. Other diseases and life-threatening illness such as stroke, various cancers including breast, bowel and prostate cancer, alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, kidney, liver and lung disease have all been proven to be caused or accelerated by the consumption of animal products.
The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer). This places them in the same category as asbestos and cigarette smoking. Red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means they probably cause cancer.
Articles and studies exposing the negative health implications of eating animals and their by-products are abundant and ever-growing. We have linked to just a few in appendix 7 (attached) along with many studies showing the health benefits of a vegan diet. We have also included some of the many research articles covering food poisoning prevalence from eating animals and the life-threatening growth of antibiotic resistance. The Good Food Institute recently commented that antibiotic resistance in humans caused by the use of antibiotics used in animals raised to be eaten was such a public health issue that it was of greater concern to them then the predicted catastrophic impacts of climate change.
Economic concerns could never and should never justify animal abuse, cruelty and suffering. Even so, it is clear the financial burdens of animal agriculture on society far outweigh any perceived future financial implications caused by whistleblowers. A burden they should not wear for simply exposing the truth.
Being short-sighted and refusing to embrace the benefits of what could come from transitioning out of animal agriculture, is irresponsible at best.
The main thing that comes to our mind when considering how our international reputation may be impacted by whistleblowers is that is certainly already has been. Whistleblowers have repeatedly exposed heinous, gut-wrenching cruelty in our standard legal animal farming practices and in our live export industry. What has negatively impacted our international reputation is that our governments continue to support such abuse rather than end it. This is a clear case of attempting to shoot the messenger. If Victoria or Australia looks bad internationally, that is because we are.
c. Animal activists’ compliance with the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994, Livestock Management Act 2010, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986;
To imply in any way that it is whistleblowers or rescuers who are causing any problem with so-called “livestock” management is extremely disingenuous.
A full list of the horrifying Australian standard legal industry practices is beyond the scope of this submission but it is important that at least some are highlighted:
– piglets can and are legally killed by smashing their heads against concrete floors and walls[viii]
– 15 million lambs freeze to death (most common) or die from predation every year within the first 48 hours of life across Australia’s paddocks[ix]
– male chicks born into the egg industry are legally gassed to death or thrown into a macerater [x]
– cows and does are artificially inseminated in the dairy industry only to have their babies stolen from them resulting in substantial grief and trauma
– males and females throughout animal agriculture have their reproductive systems repeatedly hijacked: bulls, boars[xi], rams and bucks are forcibly ejaculated by humans who steal their sperm, cows, sows, ewes and does are forcibly impregnated by artificial insemination
– most male calves and kids born into the dairy industry are killed within a few days of birth by blunt force trauma on-site or by having their throats slit at the slaughterhouse[xii] [xiii]
– approximately 26 million chickens bred for the meat industry will die, often slowly and painfully, in the sheds they are reared before they even reach the slaughterhouse (4% of those bred)[xiv]
– pigs are mostly killed in gas chambers where they burn from the inside out from carbon dioxide poisoning before being rendered unconscious. Whistleblower footage has exposed those not rendered unconscious by CO2 going into the scalding tanks alive and aware. [xv]
– sows are mostly kept in tiny stalls or so-called ‘group housing’ where they can barely move, commonly suffering pressure sores, prolapse, untreated infections, and insanity from deprivation of any mental stimulation as their babies repeatedly taken from them.[xvi]
In reference to Section 9 of POCTAA, the reality is, if the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 were actually applied to farmed animals, almost all animal agriculture facilities and farms and every single slaughterhouse would be shut down tomorrow.
It is rescuers who are saving animals from what POCTAA should be protecting them from but does not.
d. The civil and criminal liability of individuals and organisations who promote or organise participation in unauthorised animal activism activities
Each individual has their own choice as to what actions they take to expose animal abuse and suffering that is rampant and inherent to Australia’s animal agriculture industry. No one at any time forces anyone to engage in any kind of unlawful activity. It is our right as citizens to speak out against cruelty and suffering being inflicted on anyone. Isn’t that what being a good person is about? Wanting to prevent the suffering of others and wanting others to do the same? Wanting to help someone when they are in pain, fear or distress?
Silencing those who expose oppressive regimes is inhibiting freedom of speech, freedom of press/communication and is an expression of totalitarianism against the people who have a right to know how businesses operate, particularly when the lives of sentient beings are being used as the “product”.
If the victims were dogs, perhaps the whistleblower or rescuer promoting a rescue or action to draw the worlds’ attention to what was happening would receive accolades. We would certainly not be holding an inquiry with the intent to further punish these individuals for attempting to expose or stop the violent injustice that the vulnerable victims face.
e. Analyse the incidences and responses of other jurisdictions in Australia and internationally
From experience and observation, on the rare occasions that individuals have entered animal breeding and rearing locations together to draw attention to shocking animal cruelty taking place as a group, both across Australia and the globe, they have left the facilities once asked by police. They have remained peaceful and respectful to other humans and the animals in the process.
Ag-gag laws, which are the intended objective for this inquiry to lead to, have been put in place in the US to hide the truth about intensive practices from consumers. Iowa’s ag-gag laws were recently struck down by a federal judge for being unconstitutional. [xvii]
f. Provide recommendations on how the Victorian government and industry could improve protections for farmers privacy, business and the integrity of our biosecurity systems and animal welfare outcomes, whether through law reform or other measures.
Farmers already have general privacy. Their business addresses are listed like all others. A google search will show them. There is no reason why any business should not be listed, especially if the intent is to hide their practices from the public.
Biosecurity would be improved if animals were not forced to live in unnatural, dirty and intensive environments where disease is so easily spread.
If animal cruelty did not exist on Victorian farms, there would be nothing for whistleblowers to expose.
We do not for a moment pretend to support the commodification of animals for any purpose. For all the reasons stated above, we strive for a planet where animals are viewed as individuals in their own right, protected from human inflicted exploitation, harm, and suffering. However, we understand the Victorian government is not going to take such a position at this time. In consideration of that, the actions we recommend should be taken are as follows:
1) a review of all standard legal industry practices in animal agriculture;
2) a ban on all standard legal industry practices that cause pain, fear, and suffering;
3) the establishment of an Independent Animal Welfare Body to help the Victorian government ensure all practices that cause pain, fear, and suffering that become outlawed are enforced and that anyone who continues to engage in such practices is charged sufficiently and banned from having any animals in their care.
4) look to the New Zealand government who just recently advocated for transitions to plant-based diets to support human health and environmental sustainability and reduce the suffering of animals.[xviii]
5) place health warnings on products that contain animal parts or by-products
6) introduce animal advocacy and plant-based eating programs into schools and educate children on the importance of showing consistent compassion to all beings
7) introduce 100% plant-based menus into all public services including hospitals and schools
The 2019 commissioned report by the federal department of Agriculture and Water Resources, ‘Australia’s Shifting Mindset on Animal Welfare’ found that 95% of respondents viewed farmed animal welfare with particular concern and 91% wanted reform to address it.
Similarly, the Victorian Governments Animal Welfare Plan 2017 revealed that 98% of Victorians think that animal welfare is important and 75% believe that animals deserve better protection.
This beggars the question – why has there been such growth in concern among the public regarding the wellbeing of animals? Or, has this concern always existed, we’ve just managed to conveniently push the suffering of animals to the back of our minds, pretending it doesn’t exist, allowing for continued growth in animal product consumption, more intensive rearing practices, and faster slaughter lines.
We suspect it is a combination of the two. Governments and society at large have had a free pass to ignore the issue, until now. Now, there is a shift. Images of animals suffering extreme pain, anguish and abuse from what are all standard, legal industry practices are making their way across peoples social media platforms and occasionally their televisions and mainstream media articles, pushing their way through the lies and rhetoric that animals are loved and treated well in this country before they are taken almost willingly (they would have you believe) to have their throats slit.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the reality of what it takes to breed, raise and kill billions of sentient water and land individuals every year (in this country alone) when the raw footage is handed to you so easily by an unknown source free of charge. This is the work of whistleblowers, working in or illegally documenting vision from the animal agriculture industry and providing the truth. The truth that has been increasingly hidden from the public.
Places of animal exploitation began to move away from public view centuries ago, not only to increase hygiene and control the spread of disease but since the mid-1600’s the creation of private stockyards and meatworks was to move the sight, smell and sound of animal suffering and murder away from the largely repulsed public eye. [xix]
A healthy-minded human has a natural aversion to seeing an animal suffer or be killed. Whistleblowers taking and sharing footage from farms and slaughterhouses bring what humans have tried to deny since the subjugation and commercialisation of animals began, back to our conscience.
Therefore, what we find ourselves in as a society is a ‘fundamental debacle’. With our ever-increasing awareness of animal agriculture, largely in thanks to whistleblowers, the consumer is being forced to confront the reality of their apparent ‘choices’, (indoctrination being the more accurate term). This growth in awareness accompanied by our own evolution as a species does not support business as usual when it comes to oppressive and unnecessary regimes like animal agriculture. Like the slaughterhouse worker, one is required to remove themselves from their natural instincts of compassion and empathy[xx], and adopt cognitive dissonance in order to simply continue with their regular habits. Being confronted with the implications of those habits risks someone making change and choosing to no longer support such atrocities This is what is feared by the animal farmer. They fear transparency, not the whistleblowers or rescuers themselves.
The only lives currently being terrorised on farms are the animals themselves.
That is what is criminal, perhaps not by law, but by any decent moral code. Documenting and sharing it so that the public are informed is not.
“True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to
the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its
fundamental test (which is deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude
towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has
suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Psychological harm in slaughterhouse workers
[xix] Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson