Federal election 2016 – what’s in it for the animals?

In Australia, a federal election will be held on Saturday 2 July 2016. It will be a double dissolution election where all members of the 150-member lower house (House of Representatives) and the 76 members of the upper house (the Senate) will be elected.

Candidates, the media, various think tanks and other analysts devote much attention during the election campaign to how political parties’ and independent candidates’ policies will affect our hip pocket. “What’s in it for me?” has become the all important question. To be fair, not for everybody. While the ABC’s Vote Compass has identified the economy as the most important issue as rated by the more than 250,000 people who have so far contributed to the Vote Compass, the environment rates in the top three issues in four of the eight states and territories. In the ACT the environment is the number one issue with 16%.

How the proposed policies would affect Australia’s 24 million human animals will be analysed and debated at length during the next few weeks. But what about the non-human animals? How will the election affect them? We don’t know how many animals call Australia home, but they greatly outnumber us. For example, there are an estimated:

500 million (factory) farm animals

60 million kangaroos

more than 25 million pets (4.2 million dogs, 3.3 million cats, 10.7 million fish)

between 0.9 and 1.5 million horses

So what do the major political players have in mind for the animals?

The animal advocacy organisation Voiceless has asked politicians about their animal protection policies on three issues. This is what they found:

Source: Voiceless

Source: Voiceless

  1. The Australian Greens, and in particular, Senator Lee Rhiannon have raised concern with the commercial kangaroo industry, and in particular, the robustness of the science supporting the industry. Accordingly, they have called for a re-examination of the issue, without expressly committing to a complete ban.

Two further issues are particularly important to me: animal experimentation and raising animals for food. (The latter is not only an animal welfare or rights issue, but also a great public health concern.)

Let’s look at animal experimentation first.

Animal experimentation

The Animal Justice Party (AJP) has a comprehensive policy on animal experimentation. Overall, the AJP aims to

Put an end to the confinement, pain and distress inflicted on animals during scientific experimentation. The Animal Justice Party opposes the use of animals in experimentation unless it can be demonstrated that the experimentation will: (a) not harm the animal, (b) enable the animal to be returned to where it came from in a fit state, and (c) benefit both the individual animal involved and contribute to better outcomes for its species. Australian governments at all levels have a responsibility to prevent the suffering of animals of any species used in any type of research, whether it be for scientific, commercial or military purposes.

The AJP is critical of animal ethics committees in their role of perpetuating the status quo and inhibiting the development of more human-relevant methods:

The main function of ethics committees within every university and institution licensed to carry out animal-based research and testing is to protect the animals in its care.  Unfortunately, they actually operate to prevent any changes to the status quo.  All ethics committees have a voting majority of animal experimenters and their supporters (and usually an even greater majority if non-voting members are included), and there is only token representation by the animal rights/animal welfare movement.  Ethics committees represent a very real threat to the promotion of non-animal alternatives.

The Greens have a weaker policy on animal experimentation. They seek

An end to the production and testing of consumer items, including cosmetics and fur, that entail cruel or inhumane use of animals or that threaten species survival.

and

An end to the importation, sale or marketing of animal-tested cosmetics or cosmetic ingredients.

Similar to the Greens, under the heading “Acting on climate change, protecting the environment”, Labor’s policies include a (limited) “Animal Testing Ban”:

Labor will ban animal testing in Australia for cosmetic purposes and ban the sale in Australia of cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients that have been tested on animals. …

Our policy is about the phased in prevention of animal testing. Animal testing that has already occurred is not subject to the Bill, and cosmetics that are already available in Australia will continue to be available.

The registration process for new chemicals will be amended so that, in the case of a new cosmetic ingredient, the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) must be notified of a substance’s animal testing history during the application process. Under the proposed policy, if animal testing is found to have occurred it cannot be registered.

Our policy will be phased-in in over three years, allowing NICNAS time to develop alternative testing means and allow industry to change their current processes if required.

The Liberal Party does not have a policy on animal experimentation. Nor does the National Party, the Palmer United Party, the Nick Xenophon Team, Katter’s Australian Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Family First Party or the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party.

 

Raising animals for food

The AJP’s “Human Diet and Animals” policy seeks better conditions for the millions of animals that are used to provide food and other products for humans:

Millions of chickens, pigs, sheep and cattle are housed and transported in unbelievably cruel conditions and then slaughtered every year in Australia for food and for by-products such as hides, milk and eggs. Legislation throughout all states and territories of Australia exempts this ‘class’ of animals from practices which would ordinarily be regarded as cruel if they were inflicted on other animal species, and particularly on companion animals.. The industrial scale and abhorrent nature of the production and killing processes currently employed is at a level well beyond the worst nightmare of many.

While it is a given that the demand from Australians for animal meat and by-products is highly entrenched and actively marketed and is unlikely to change significantly in the short to medium term, the Animal Justice Party believes the vast majority of Australians will not tolerate the unnecessary suffering of animals for food including through intensive ‘farming’, mutilation procedures without analgesia, and long-distance transport. Therefore, a major goal of the AJP is to bring awareness of these practices to the community, engaging them to exert consumer pressure and advocacy to expedite major improvements for ‘farmed’ animals. The AJP will seek to encourage action through the legislative and policy process to ameliorate any pain, distress or suffering to which animals used for food are routinely exposed.

In particular, the AJP endorses the five freedoms:

  1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.

The AJP acknowledges the evidence in regard to the health (or rather illness) consequences of a diet high in animal products and supports education about, and promotion of a plant-based diet. To my knowledge, it is the only party in Australia that explicitly promotes a plant-based diet.

The AJP’s policy on Farming opposes unnecessary mutilation of farm animals, such as tail docking, castration, branding, ear marking, teeth clipping, de-horning and mulesing, and unnecessary cruelty during transport. Most importantly, the AJP is against factory farming:

The AJP completely opposes the intensive (factory) housing of animals where many of their natural behavioural, social and grazing / feeding needs are severely compromised leading to very severe adverse impacts on their welfare and well being.

The Greens are not against raising animals for food, despite the well documented environmental damage and greenhouse gases from animal agriculture.

Their leader lives on a farm which is home to cows, chicken and pigs. The former vegetarian now makes salami from pigs he rears and kills on his farm. Doesn’t this speak for itself?

However, the Greens offer a broad statement in support of reasonable animal welfare standards:

The way we treat animals reflects how we treat ourselves and our society. The Greens will work towards ending unnecessary animal cruelty.

In regard to animals raised for food, the Greens support a

strong, uniform, properly enforced national legislative framework for the protection of the welfare of animals, which: a. makes any act of animal cruelty subject to criminal penalties; and b. regulates conditions for the captivity, transport and slaughter of animals.

They aim for an end to inhumane farming practices and accurate labelling of animal products.

In contrast, the National Party explicitly supports free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea, under which

Farmers will benefit with the complete removal of tariffs of key exports such as dairy, beef, lamb, wine, horticulture and seafood.

The Liberal Party has a a similar policy. It emphasises the benefits of export trade agreements for farmers and opportunities for businesses without consideration for the welfare of the animals that enable such trade and opportunities.

I found no policies that are protective of animals raised for food on the websites of the Labor Party, the Palmer United Party, the Nick Xenophon Team, Katter’s Australian Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Family First Party, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party.

Last year, the Family First Party introduced the Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015. Far from protecting animals, the bill was designed to protect the trading and commercial interests of animal industries; in effect an ag-gag law. Fortunately, the current status of this proposed bill is “Lapsed at dissolution”.

Here is the summary for policies on animal experimentation and protection for animals used for food:

policies table

So who ticks the most boxes? The Animal Justice Party – they tick ALL the boxes! -, followed by the Greens.

The policies of the AJP and the Greens are more detailed and comprehensive than described here, so please go to the websites of these parties to get the full picture.

If you feel strongly about a better world for the many non-human animals we share our wonderful country with, take action at the ballot box and vote for compassion.

 

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