Issues Magazine

Editorial

By Sally Woollett

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

Animal abuse at abattoirs receiving livestock exported from Australia made news again in April following a report released by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Animal welfare groups including the RSPCA are questioning how auditing as part of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme (ESCAS) can approve a facility where such cruelty is happening.

Anastasia Smietanka, National Coordinator of the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel writes (p.4): “… we have ESCAS … Yet already there is evidence of breaches. … These are not detected by ESCAS auditors permitted under the ESCAS rules to be paid by the live exporters. It is animal societies like Animals Australia or journalists that expose breaches.”

The livestock export industry is a big earner for the Australian economy, says Alison Penfold of the Meat and Livestock Exporters’ Council (p.9). “Australia is the only nation to regulate international animal welfare standards from the paddock to the point of processing,” she says. Another consideration is that in some cases our exports are satisfying a market that might otherwise be filled “… by live animals from Sudan, Somalia and Iran, countries that do not share Australia’s commitment to animal welfare”.

Public outcry at live animal export has been strong in Australia, due largely to exposés by the ABC’s Four Corners program. This is not the case, says Ashleigh Haw of Animal Rights Advocates Inc. (p.12). When it comes to purchasing animal products for consumption, “most people prefer not to know where food comes from and how it is produced”. Although Haw includes some graphic examples of animal treatment for use as food, she says she prefers to encourage people to educate themselves on this issue and make an informed decision, as she did.

“Institutionalised animal abuse”, as Katherine Groff of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) describes the practice of vivisection (p.15), is surrounded by myths about necessity and effectiveness that serve to perpetuate it. Groff says that “… methodical analysis of biomedical literature shows that animals too often give us inadequate or erroneous information about human disease and toxicology, and that in many cases medical breakthroughs were delayed by dependence on animal models”. Alternatives to animal research, such as 3D stem cell culture, epidemiology and human autopsies, are beginning to be recognised, she says.

Work by the Medical Advances Without Animals Trust in Australia on alternatives to animal experimentation has similar objectives to that of NEAVS. The aim, says Executive Director Sharyn Watson (p.19), is to “advance medical science and improve human health and therapeutic interventions without using animals or animal products for medical research, working with the scientific research community to achieve this goal”.

Lynette Chave and Peter Johnson at the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Animal Welfare Unit explain the purpose of animal ethics committees in monitoring research involving animals, including in schools (p.21). In addition, these committees can provide guidance and support to researchers. All establishments conducting animal research must include or have access to such a committee, which decides whether or not proposed research complies with the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes.

The finding of Sonia Kleindorfer and Jeremy Robertson from Flinders University (p.24) – that offspring of superb fairy-wrens are abandoned if they don’t learn as embryos – is fascinating in its own right but it also raises questions about how we begin to view research about animals once we know much more about them. “Research into animal behaviour and animal welfare are complementary lines of inquiry”, they explain.

Spotted-tailed quolls and eastern barred bandicoots are among several species still common in Tasmania, and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment would like to keep it that way. This wildlife has common ground with foxes, explains Matthew Marrison of the Invasive Species Branch (p.27), and “many Australian wildlife conservation programs rely heavily on fox baiting using 1080 poison to ensure native wildlife are protected and can recover from the impacts of foxes”. Research, regulation and planning ensure that this approach, despite circulating misinformation, poses little threat to wildlife.

Many wildlife species in Africa, such as the elephant and rhinoceros, face a very real threat from poachers. Demand for tusks and horns creates a thriving black market. The Africam website was set up to connect people with the beauty and wildlife of the African bush, and it is helping to promote awareness through campaigns such as the World Wildlife Fund’s Kill the Trade campaign. “The liaison that Africam has created between society and African animals sparked the beginning of a worldwide movement that is bringing awareness to the illegal animal trade,” says Stephanie Henkel of Global Animal (p.31).

“Better these animals whose natural habitats we have so cataclysmally destroyed be permitted to die out than be artificially propagated and endure simply for human curiosity,” says Animal Liberation’s Lynda Stoner of animals that live in zoos (p.34). Since childhood she has harboured a “sense of bleakness” at their plight, and as an adult has witnessed or read many examples of the boredom, stress, fear and anger of animals in captivity.

Viewed by some as entertainment, jumps racing has been banned in all states except Victoria and South Australia. This is despite a 1991 Senate Select Committee into Animal Cruelty that, says Greens’ spokesperson for Animal Welfare in South Australia, Tammy Franks (p.37), found that “jumps racing fatalities and injury rates were unacceptably high” and likened it to “other barbaric sports including dog fighting, cock fighting, bear baiting and fox hunting”. Last year the South Australian Jockey Club questioned the sport’s economic viability in South Australia – a significant development according to Franks.

The human–animal bond is strong, particularly in young people who “are the key to promoting the new animal welfare agenda,” says Sally Meakin of RSPCA Victoria’s Education Department (p.40). The RSPCA believes that education is central to changing attitudes and behaviours, particularly “as shelters and rescue organisations continue to witness the tragedy of pet overpopulation and animal neglect and cruelty”.

Some pet owners could be killing their animals with kindness, or at least making them unwell, says veterinarian Anne-Katrin Oatley (p.43). Too much food and too little exercise lead to obese pets, and in turn to disease and expensive medical treatment. “Risk factors for the development of obesity in pets include breed …, lifestyle…, neutering and age,” says Oatley.

Improving the way children care for pets is the goal of the “Smiling Animals in the Dreamtime” project, which is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy. Teacher resource packs “are focused on engaging students in fun and interactive ways to improve understanding, empathy and treatment of commonly found animals in indigenous communities,” explains Ian Rodger of the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (p.47). Directions for future improvements in the welfare of animals are outlined in the Strategy, which aims to deliver sustainable improvements in the welfare of all animals.