An abattoir is a facility that slaughters animals to produce meat and meat products for human consumption. A poultry processor is a facility that slaughters specifically poultry to produce meat and meat products for human consumption.
State and territory governments regulate animal welfare in Australia. Animal welfare regulation at Australian abattoirs and poultry processors occurs through two main sets of legislation: food safety or meat production legislation and animal welfare legislation.
Food safety legislation
In Australia, abattoirs and poultry processors are required to be licensed by their state or territory regulatory authority. Licensing mainly concerns food safety and occurs under the state or territory Food Act and associated regulations.
Abattoirs must also comply with the Australian standard for the hygienic production and transport of meat and meat products for human consumption, while poultry processors must comply with the Australian standard for the construction of premises and hygienic production of poultry meat for human consumption. Although, the main objective of both these standards is to ensure food safety, it includes some animal welfare aspects such as requirements for humane handling, stunning and slaughter of animals.
Animal welfare legislation
In addition to food safety legislation, abattoirs comply with their state or territory animal welfare legislation. The relevant regulatory authorities administer and enforce this legislation at a state and territory level. The Australian Government (Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment) has no role in administering or enforcing state and territory animal welfare legislation and there is no equivalent legislation at the national level. To read more about Australian legislation governing animal welfare click here.
State and territory animal welfare legislation may refer to standards and guidelines or codes of practice, in particular, the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments. Whether the Model Code is compulsory, varies across jurisdictions: in SA it is a compulsory code; in Queensland it is voluntary; in WA it can be used as a defence against prosecution; and in NSW, NT, Victoria and Tasmania it is not referenced in animal welfare legislation at all.
Industry animal welfare standards for abattoirs
The Australian meat industry has developed its own Industry animal welfare standards for livestock processing establishments that covers regulatory requirements, customer requirements as well as better practice in terms of animal care and welfare. The standard includes animal welfare requirements from the time animals arrive at the abattoir to the point of slaughter.
Abattoirs meeting the standard may be eligible to be a part of the Australian livestock processing industry’s Australian Animal Welfare Certification System. This voluntary scheme, which is jointly owned by the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) and the Australian Meat Processor Corporation (AMPC), allows abattoirs to demonstrate compliance with the industry’s animal welfare standards through annual audits conducted by AUS-MEAT Limited.
Unlike abattoirs, poultry processors in Australia do not have an equivalent industry-based certification system such as the Australian Animal Welfare Certification System. This is mainly because poultry processors are usually part of a vertically integrated system, where the poultry company owns the entire process from breeding, hatching, growing, transport, to slaughter of birds.
The Australian Government regulates abattoirs exporting product overseas whereas state and territory governments regulate abattoirs supplying only the domestic market.
Export abattoirs are required to have an On-Plant Veterinarian (who is an employee of the Department) present during processing, meet standard operating procedures relevant to animal welfare, and have audits at least biannually. To find out more about export abattoirs regulation click here.
Export poultry processors are required to meet standard operating procedures relevant to animal welfare, however, are only required to have an On-Plant Veterinarian present where it is an importing country requirement and have audits at least quarterly or as agreed with the jurisdiction’s regulatory authority.
Domestic abattoirs and poultry processors have no requirement for an On-Plant Veterinarian, and animal welfare considerations and auditing frequency vary depending on the jurisdiction. This means animal welfare at domestic abattoirs and poultry processors may vary significantly compared with export abattoirs.
What is the RSPCA’s view on the regulation of animal welfare at abattoirs and poultry processors?
The RSPCA is concerned about the differences in the regulation of Australian abattoirs and poultry processors across jurisdictions and the current gaps in those regulatory systems. These inconsistencies and gaps must be addressed. Having a consistent regulatory framework to regulate and enforce animal welfare across Australia, will facilitate continual improvement of animal welfare practices at abattoirs and poultry processors.