Nationals Senator Sam McMahon savaged lawyers from the Animal Defenders Office in Canberra on Monday, telling them that while they claimed to oppose animal cruelty their activists were responsible for baby pigs drowning in effluent ponds.
Animal activists were causing "morbidity, mortality, criminal damage, biosecurity breaches", Senator McMahon told volunteer lawyer Mike Rosalky at a Senate inquiry into the government's planned "farm invasion" laws.
"These are the things that your activists that you're supporting are causing - extreme violence and cruelty. How do you feel about that?"
Mr Rosalky said the idea of baby pigs drowning in effluent was disgusting and his office was opposed to animal cruelty in any form.
"You may be perfectly happy to eat tofu and lentils but do you accept that the vast majority of Australians support humane farming and use of animals?" Senator McMahon said.
Mr Rosalky said animal activists had obtained footage showing horrific mistreatment of animals and if people knew how animals were treated they would be disgusted.
Mr Rosalky also came in for some aggressive questioning from Labor Senator Kim Carr, who told Mr Rosalky he was basically saying animal production should be shut down.
Mr Rosalky denied the suggestion, saying he wanted transparency in agriculture.
"You do actually support the slaughter of animals for food?" Senator Carr asked.
Mr Rosalky said he made "no contention about that claim but we do say that the current laws that facilitate animal use in this country allow horrific treatment of animals and consumers are unaware of this".
Senator Carr said, "I just want to be clear about this ... You do support the use of abattoirs in Australia?"
Mr Rosalky questioned the relevance of the question, but Senator Carr persisted: "Is it your organisation's contention that the production of animals for food is improper or should cease?"
Mr Rosalky responded: "In its current state, absolutely."
The Animal Defenders Office wanted high-definition cameras in all animal processing facilities and available to the public, he said.
The federal government has introduced laws that would make it illegal, punishable by a year in jail, to "incite" trespass on farms using the internet or another carriage service. It is aimed at Aussie Farms, which publishes an online map of farms.
Senator McMahon also tackled Chris Delforce, who runs the Aussie Farms website.
"I like kale and mung beans as much as the next person, but do you accept that you are the minority not the majority?" she said, insisting there was nothing inhumane about death.
But Mr Delforce said he had been traumatised and his soul destroyed by seeing animals being slaughtered, including pigs being killed in gas chambers. The slaughter of an animal which did not want to die and which experienced pain and suffering could never be described as humane, he said.
To Senator McMahon's questions about farmers being intimidated and endangered by activists trespassing on their farms, Mr Delforce said he knew of protesters who had had legs broken and been choked, run over and shot at by farmers, but he knew of no cases where activists had targeted farmers.
Farm industry leaders detailed cases of protesters entering farms which they said traumatised farmers and endangered animals.
Craig Hough, from Australian Dairy Farmers, said the Lemontree feedlot in Queensland had stopped producing milk after more than 100 protesters entered the property this year.
Activists wanted the industry shut down, and aimed to "brainwash the public and make them adopt plant-based diets", he said.
Pig producer Ean Pollard from Young said after his farm had been raided and video posted on Youtube, his daughter had questioned whether she wanted to work on the farm.
Deb Kerr, from Australian Pork, detailed a protest when 90 people had staged a sit-in at a farrowing shed of a piggery and said after the producer had spoken to the media he had been targeted repeatedly.
Sows were woken and distressed when activists entered, causing stillbirths and abortions, she said. One sow had to be put down after its leg was broken during a raid, piglets at a Victorian piggery had got into an effluent pond and drowned when activists invaded a farrowing shed, and fences had been cut letting pigs on to major highways.
Forty-one per cent of the pig industry (by sow numbers) had been raided, she said.
Dr Melanie Latter, from the Australian Veterinary Association, said the risk of disease spread to or from animals through farm trespass was a serious concern. But she urged the government to deal with the underlying problem, which she said was activists taking matters into their own hands because the community had lost confidence in the willingness of state governments to protect animal welfare.
Bidda Jones from the RSPCA said surveys showed 95 per cent of Australians were concerned about the welfare of farm animals and 91 per cent wanted reform, with no difference between people in cities and the country.
If they government wanted to protect the future of the livestock industry it should improve standards," she said.
"Without this, activists will fill the void. They will tell the story of Australian agriculture and it won't be pretty."
Senator Carr said the legislation could stop activists uncovering other activities, including the discovery in Victoria that abattoirs were being used for meat substitution and drug smuggling in the bodies of animals.