The Western Australian Government has threatened to pull out of a national process to write new legal standards on chicken welfare.
It has been angered by revelations on ABC’s 7.30 program that suggested the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries had been colluding with egg farmers to prevent battery cages for hens being outlawed under new proposed national standards.
It is the first time in 15 years the standards have been reviewed and animal welfare groups had hoped it was an opportunity for Australia to follow other developed countries and scrap the cages.
But documents shown on 7.30 suggested NSW bureaucrats secretly met with industry representatives to discuss how to manipulate the process to retain the use of battery cages — something the Government denies.
The NSW Government is leading the national review and the state is also home to the highest proportion of egg-laying chickens in the country.
Report ‘further deepened’ WA’s concerns
In a statement released today, Western Australian Minister for Agriculture Alannah MacTiernan said the ABC’s report had “further deepened” her state’s concerns about the process.
Ms MacTiernan said the proposed standards, which are now open for public comment, were not based on modern animal welfare science and “did little” to improve conditions for egg-laying chickens.
“Community standards on conditions for egg-laying chickens are changing and industry standards must change with this,” she said.
“While the WA Government’s strong preference would be to support national standards and guidelines, we will not adopt sub-par standards.”
The WA Government will in response now hold a roundtable with industry and animal welfare representatives in January to try to “chart a course forward”.
“If the Western Australian Government’s concerns are not adequately resolved following the national public consultation process, the state will not adopt the final standards and guidelines,” Ms MacTiernan said.
The WA Government said it supported the creation of an independent statutory body to oversee drafting and enforcement of animal welfare standards.
Such a body has previously been recommended by the Productivity Commission.
Victorian Government also has concerns
The Victorian Government also signalled its own concerns with the NSW-led review.
Earlier this year, it conducted its own study of the scientific literature into poultry welfare because it was not carried out during the national review.
NSW Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said he was “confident the correct process is being followed”.
He said he encouraged individuals and representative groups to make a submission on the chicken welfare standards while they were on public display.
“The NSW Government is committed to listening to all the views put forward,” he said.
“In 2016 Agriculture Victoria did put forward concerns on behalf of RSPCA Australia.
“These were escalated to the Animal Welfare Task Group — as is the agreed process.”
The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has denied the allegations of wrongdoing or collusion with industry.
In a statement, a spokesperson said “there is no way meetings were held to manipulate any process”.
The DPI said the draft standards were on public exhibition for 90 days.
‘This is collusion, not consulation’
The RSPCA said in a statement that the state government departments could no longer deny there was a problem with the standards writing process and they needed to act.
Senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said the community could not allow this kind of behaviour to go unchecked.
“It is an affront to the millions of Australians who care about the welfare of animals,” he said.
“This is collusion, not consultation.
“The only way for this process to salvage any shred of legitimacy will be for the standards to be amended to reflect what the community very clearly says they want through the public consultation.”