Inspections benefit producers as well as animals
One of the topics that has been debated around the review of the Animal Welfare Act 2002 concerns entry to properties by animal welfare inspectors. There is a misunderstanding among some industry groups and individual farmers about what this might mean for them.
The issue of animal welfare inspectors conducting inspections of premises where animals are kept came into focus in WA late last year after footage of horses being abused at an abattoir in Queensland was shown on national television. We can’t recall a single animal welfare incident that generated so much public outrage and concern.
West Australians contacted RSPCA WA wanting to know if horses slaughtered here could also be abused and mistreated. The fact is that we are unable to reassure the public that it isn’t happening here because we just don’t know. Inspectors cannot simply turn up to conduct an inspection of slaughter facilities or any other place where animals are kept for commercial purposes. Instead they rely on whistle blowers, mostly employees or visitors to the facility or property to report cruelty. This is because, under the current Animal Welfare Act, in order to gain entry, an inspector must obtain consent, provide notice or have a reasonable suspicion with respect to an animal welfare offence.
RSPCA WA believes that improving powers of entry for animal welfare inspectors will benefit both those in charge of the animals and animal welfare. This applies not only to slaughter facilities but also to other properties where animals are kept for commercial purposes. Having such powers in place and promoting that to the general community would establish greater public confidence that animals are being treated humanely where they are farmed, transported, held for sale or slaughtered.
If inspectors are able to conduct routine inspections, they will be able to work with people in charge of animals prior to the situation reaching the stage where cruelty has occurred and a prosecution is warranted.
Some misconceptions that have come to light in discussions with producers include the belief that inspections by animal welfare inspectors are not necessary because the condition of animals, practices and facilities on farm are consistent with standards and guidelines for animal welfare. But, without inspections, it is not possible to know that care and management are in line with welfare standards.
Another misplaced concern that has been put forward is that animal welfare inspectors are “bureaucrats” who know nothing about animals and will disrupt farm biosecurity. That too is not true. Animal welfare inspectors whether employed by RSPCA WA or DPIRD’s Livestock Compliance Unit undergo extensive training including about biosecurity. Indeed, biosecurity is not only an issue for farms but also for veterinary clinics and at the RSPCA WA’s own animal shelter and vet clinic at Malaga.
Routine inspections of properties where animals are kept for commercial purposes will identify those who need to do more to meet the minimum standards as well as those who are blatantly breaching the Act and need to be found out. This latter group places the reputation of the whole industry at risk.
These inspections will help to build public trust in the enterprises and industries which use animals and these businesses should welcome inspections. However, we acknowledge it will be imperative to have appropriately trained and skilled inspectors undertaking this role and that continuing professional development for designated inspectors will be important.