Domesticated animals have a measure of protection under our laws.

The way that the law applies is the subject of considerable politics and is presently under review, in the area of the law preventing cruelty to animals.  Each State of Australia has specific law intended to provide safety for animals, and particularly has application for the safety of domestic dogs and cats.  Much more controversial and under review is the application of such laws to farm animals.  For example, the law properly protects deliberate cruelty to horses.  However, the law is not so definite in relation to intensively farmed pigs and hens in laying cages.  There is a contrast between enthusiastic protection given to companion animals (such as a dog or cat) yet lack of interest in animals raised for commercial enterprise.  It could be said that to keep a dog or cat in conditions which are common place for pigs or hens would attract prosecution and public censure.  Another example of the quirk in the law preventing animal cruelty is that the term “animal” may exclude fish.  Zoologically, fish are vertebrate animals, yet the exclusion appears to be political because fish for commercial purpose can be farmed and are killed by suffocation or being crushed, which would seem to be cruel.

Another example is that in New South Wales the law does not apply to “stock animals”.  This leads to the result that all captive animals in New South Wales must be fed and watered, but seemingly only domestic pets need exercise.  And, it is unlawful to poison an animal, but only if it is a domestic animal.

Layer hen housing laws in Australia is another “hot topic”.  Millions of hens are bred each year in Australia specifically for the purpose of egg production.  The law classifies these animals as property or “livestock”.  Australia has no federal law that applies to the raising or slaughter of poultry, including hens.  This means that the laws of each State or Territory will apply to regulate the welfare of the hens.  The point of contention is that under the State laws hens bred for commercial purposes fall largely outside the reach of the law when it comes to meaningful protection.  One example is that at the commencement of an egg-laying hen’s life, when chicks are sorted, sexed and vaccinated in hatcheries before being transported to egg production farms.  At this point, male chicks who cannot lay eggs, are designated an industry waste product and are “destroyed”, generally by gassing or maceration (disposal in a high-speed grinder).  Maybe this is a humane and animal welfare measure, maybe not?  Yet it applies to up to 12 million chicks each year, and is a practice that occurs largely unknown to the general public.

This Article was written by Mitchell Clark, MBA Partner.