Barnaby Joyce says he is working with his state counterparts to crack down on animal activists using illegally obtained footage. Photo: Getty Images
Activists who break in to farms to secretly film suspected animal cruelty are being targeted by tough new biosecurity measures, triggering fears that severe abuse will remain hidden.
It follows a series of incidents in which animal welfare advocates trespassed on to piggeries and abattoirs to obtain undercover footage – in some cases recording horrific treatment that led to operations being closed down.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce told the NSW Nationals annual conference in Queanbeyan at the weekend that state and federal governments were acting jointly to protect farmers from camera-wielding “vigilantes”.
It comes after calls by farmers and the Australian pork industry for harsher penalties for activists who illegally enter farms.
Mr Joyce is working with his state counterparts to crack down on “people putting cameras in piggeries, in dairies, coming in at night, stirring up the animals … using illegally obtained footage then putting it on the internet”.
He will help states co-ordinate a response to farm trespassing and review the charity status of animal activist organisations.
“Not only are they associated with a crime, they also have the hide to [say] ‘donate here and its tax deductible’,” Mr Joyce said.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson instigated the joint crackdown. She cited concern over incidents at piggeries near Young, which she described as “agri-terrorism”.
The NSW government last month released a proposed new legal biosecurity framework, which is open for public comment until June 27.
Ms Hodgkinson said it involved “much heavier penalties when it comes to trespass”.
“Intensive farming is not only a legal activity it is also a necessary activity,” she said.
“If you’ve got people coming on to your farm, you don’t know where their shoes have been. A virus could infect poultry and pigs - that could have a really big implication.”
Suspected cases of animal cruelty should be reported to the police or RSPCA, she said.
Last year, a worker at the Blantyre Farms piggery, near Young, found video equipment hidden in the ceiling vents of a shed. Owner Edwina Beveridge reportedly said her family’s privacy and business had been violated, and the invasion caused pigs to trample their young.
Activist groups rely heavily on secretly obtained footage to detect and publicise cases of animal abuse, arguing that regulation is not doing enough to protect animals.
Wally’s Piggery, near Yass, was forced to close after footage obtained by Animal Liberation NSW in 2012 caused a public outcry. It appeared to show pigs being bludgeoned and kept in filthy, cramped conditions. The owners have pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty and other charges.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said NSW was moving towards so-called “ag-gag laws” in the United States, where it is illegal in some states to photograph or film factory farms and abattoirs, even from public property.