Here's the fundamental question: if farmers are so proud of what they do, why do they want to do it in utter secrecy?
As New South Wales and Queensland prepare to introduce heightened penalties for activists who trespass onto farming properties to expose animal suffering, Victoria works its way through a similar government inquiry, and the federal government tries its best to push through its own contribution, that's what consumers are asking themselves.
These efforts are aimed at concealing farmed animals' misery rather than offering farmers protection.
Extensive legislation and significant penalties that deal with such criminal activity are already available to the courts. Laws already exist to address acts of trespassing, property damage, and theft. Creating additional protections for a select group of businesses is discriminatory and disproportionate.
The goal of activists who enter agricultural properties is to expose the experiences of animals living and dying there, including chickens crammed into cages so small they can barely move, cows mired in their own waste, and pigs who will never see grass or the light of day. These activists have no interest whatsoever in approaching farmers' residences - and farmers operating intensive facilities on hundreds or thousands of acres don't have their broiler sheds outside the kitchen window or their sow stalls set up next to the swing set.
Of course, farmers have a basic right to safety, but they have no right to hide behind the mythology of the "violent" animal rights activist to justify concealing animal suffering. Not once in the history of animal rights activism worldwide has there been a single incident in which activists physically harmed anyone.
Proponents of these laws are either anticipating an onslaught of nefarious activity with scant precedent or believe in campfire bogeyman tales. Cries of "they're coming for your children in their beds!" are nothing but destructive fearmongering for which the government bears responsibility, not the activists who have sought to expose suffering.
Those feigning concern about biosecurity must not pretend that Australian animal factories are pristine, delicately balanced sterile structures. Over half the antibiotics imported here are administered to farmed animals in order to stave off the disease that, absent the drugs, would thrive in their crowded, filthy living conditions. In any case, activists who enter such places routinely wear sterile booties, hair coverings, or even full biohazard suits.
In buildings like battery cage sheds, mouth and nose coverings serve the dual purpose of both maintaining biosecurity and offering a modicum of relief from the suffocating ammonia fumes that reportedly make it hard to breathe even for a few minutes. Spare a thought for the chickens forced to breathe in these fumes for most of their lives.
If animal enterprises truly wish to deter people from documenting the living and dying conditions of the animals housed in their facilities, they must actually improve welfare and commit to transparency by placing CCTV cameras in all their commercial operations. In addition, a long-overdue independent office for animal welfare must be established, and the laws that such a body could use to address systemic cruelty must be strengthened.
Instead, these new proposals seek to criminalise further the actions of those trying to expose suffering. They are politically motivated and expose pandering at its ugliest. Consumers who recognise that will continue to reject products from farming operations whose inner workings are increasingly hidden from public view.
- Paula Hough is vice president and deputy general counsel, Asia-Pacific, of PETA Australia.