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How are national farm 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 Act. These animal welfare Acts may also call up or refer to industry-specific standards and guidelines or codes of practice, such as the Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals (MCOP).

There is no requirement for the MCOPs to be included in each state and territory animal welfare Act, meaning the requirements within them are mostly voluntary. In order to promote nationwide consistency, the Australian Government, in conjunction with the states and territories, has begun a process of converting the existing MCOPs into Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines. This process is jointly funded by state and federal governments and the relevant animal industry to which the particular Standards and Guidelines document relates. The standards are then meant to be implemented into all the state and territory animal welfare Acts, making the standards mandatory legal requirements while the guidelines are voluntary and provide recommendations for better practice.

The Standards and Guidelines that have been developed to date include cattle, sheep, land transport of livestock, and saleyards and depots. The extent to which these Standards are being implemented can be tracked here.

How are the Standards and Guidelines developed?

The current process for developing the Standards and Guidelines 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) is 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, both the Writing and Standards Reference Groups consider the public’s comments and produce a finalised draft. The finalised draft is then submitted to a meeting of agriculture ministers for consideration and endorsement, after which the Standards are intended to be implemented by each state and territory through their relevant regulations.

Standards and Guidelines currently in development

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry are under development and will replace the outdated Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Domestic Poultry 4th edition (2002). There have been several significant delays since the process commenced in 2013, mainly due to the controversy around battery cages and concerns regarding the lack of independence surrounding the process so far. To address some of these concerns, in 2019, the decision was made to establish an independent advisory panel to supervise the final steps of drafting the new Standards.

A draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Livestock at Processing Establishments has also been developed. Since its initial drafting in 2012, the process has undergone numerous delays, with the last activity recorded in 2017. In February 2020, recommencement of the development process was announced but there has been no significant progress made since then.

A scientific literature review was completed in 2017 to inform the development of the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Pigs. However, similarly to the other Standards and Guidelines development processes, there have been numerous delays and no significant progress to date.

What are the concerns associated with the current development process?

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. In addition to this, once endorsed by the state and territory agriculture ministers, the implementation of the standards has either not been forthcoming or considerably delayed. This has resulted in continued inconsistency in regulation as well as uncertainty for industry.

RSPCA Australia believes that improvements in the standards development process would lead to stronger standards that would result in substantive improvements to animal welfare. The following principles are fundamental to ensuring an effective 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.

In 2016, the Productivity Commission produced a report which recommends the establishment of an Australian Animal Welfare Commission to oversee and manage the standards development process. The RSPCA supports the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and developed a briefing paper on the report (attached below).

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Updated on February 6, 2023
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