Intensive farming methods involve removing animals from their natural environments and keeping them housed or confined for all, or a large part, of their lives. They are raised in large numbers under controlled conditions, commonly involving use of hormones, antibiotics and vaccines.
The RSPCA accepts that some animals need to be housed to protect them from the elements, from predators and from disease (such as parasites). However, for many animals, housing is not necessary for animal welfare reasons, but is used in order to increase productivity and/or reduce production costs. In such cases, intensive farming practices can adversely affect welfare by failing to provide animals with their basic needs, such as adequate space and the freedom to express essential natural behaviours. For example, intensively housed animals may not have enough room to move naturally; they may be unable to form their normal social groups; and they may have a barren environment that prevents them from displaying normal behaviours such as dust bathing (layer hens) or foraging and rooting (pigs). Intensive housing can also sometimes lead to increased disease problems and to inherent health conditions, such as those associated with selecting animals for fast growth or high milk yield.
The RSPCA opposes intensive farming practices that cause suffering or distress to animals, or that prevent the animal from moving freely and satisfying its behavioural, social or physiological needs. These practices include battery hen farming, the use of sow stalls in pig farming and individual penning of housed sheep.
However, the RSPCA inspectorate acts within the framework of animal welfare legislation set by the states and territories. Provided that producers are operating within these laws, the RSPCA cannot prosecute them for using intensive farming practices, even when these practices are opposed by the RSPCA because they are inhumane and cruel. Intensive systems will need to be made illegal before the RSPCA can prosecute. RSPCA inspectors regularly check intensive farming operations to ensure that legal requirements and those stated in the relevant Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals (https://www.publish.csiro.au/foodandagriculture/livestockcodes) or Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines (http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au) are met. They can prosecute on the basis of cruelty to individual animals in both intensive and extensive production systems if producers are breaking the law.
In the absence of better legal requirements, the RSPCA encourages Australians who eat meat, eggs or fish, or consume dairy products to look for independent animal welfare certification.
By choosing products farmed to higher welfare standards and supporting farming practices that prioritise animal welfare, we can make a positive difference to the way farm animals are treated.