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How are national animal welfare standards developed?
Animal welfare laws in Australia are governed at the state and territory level and every jurisdiction has its own animal welfare statute. Each statute adopts a set of industry-specific animal welfare standards (often referred to as Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals). In order to promote nationwide consistency, the development of these standards is coordinated at a national level with input from all states and territories. The Australian Government, in conjunction with the states and territories, recently began a process of converting the existing standards, which are mostly voluntary, to what are referred to as the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. Under this approach the Standards will constitute mandatory legal requirements while the Guidelines will simply be best practice voluntary recommendations.
The current process for developing Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines is long and convoluted. It involves the formation of a Writing Group, which is responsible for drafting the standards, and a Stakeholder Reference Group, which provides advice and feedback on the drafts. Membership of the groups is made up of various government, scientific, veterinary, livestock industry, and animal welfare representatives. When a draft of the standards is complete a regulatory impact statement (RIS) will be developed. The draft standards and the RIS are then published to the public for a period of community consultation. At the conclusion of the consultation process, the Writing and Standards Reference Groups will consider the public’s comments and produce a finalised draft. The finalised draft will then be submitted to a meeting of agriculture ministers for consideration, and finally, endorsement. (Further information about the standards development process can be obtained here: http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/ ).
The RSPCA is concerned that the current development process has resulted in the production of inadequate animal welfare standards that are not sufficiently supported by science. The Standards and Guidelines produced to-date fail to raise the bar on animal welfare standards and simply reflect current industry practice.
RSPCA Australia believes that improvements in the standard development process would lead to the production of stronger standards that would result in substantive improvements to animal welfare on the ground. The following principles are fundamental to ensuring a procedurally legitimate standard-setting framework:
· Independent and impartial governance;
· Fair and balanced representation and deliberations;
· Timely and accessible public consultation; and
· Transparent and accountable decision-making.
RSPCA Australia has developed a position paper on the development of animal welfare standards and guidelines (attached below), which sets out how these principles should be incorporated into the various stages of the standard setting framework for animal welfare.
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