17 June 2014

NSW Ag-Gag and Biosecurity

In Australia the SMH reports that Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has told the NSW Nationals annual conference that the national and state/territory governments are acting to protect farmers from camera-wielding “vigilantes”, who will be targeted by 'tough new biosecurity measures'. The Minister appears to envisage  something in the style of the US Ag-Gag statutes - noted elsewhere in this blog - that address "agri-terrorism".

Joyce is reportedly 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 also help states to coordinate 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".

The proposed NSW "new legal biosecurity framework" features "much heavier penalties when it comes to trespass", albeit the framework documents do not seem to actually refer to trespass.

The SMH states that
 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.
Looking at  Lenah Game Meats and the Windridge Farms cases we might wonder whether existing law really is out of step.

NSW Primary Industry Minister Hodgkinson on 29 May announced that
“The draft framework outlines all the future legislative tools and powers needed to better manage biosecurity threats in NSW,”...
“This framework will be used to form a single piece of legislation, the NSW Biosecurity Act, which will wholly or partly replace 14 pieces of existing legislation. “The proposed changes will improve the State’s ability to manage animal and plant pests, diseases, contaminants and weeds in NSW by cutting red-tape for farmers and industry and strengthening our world class biosecurity systems.
“The NSW Liberals and Nationals recognise the need to create modern and innovative legislation that supports the national agreed principle that biosecurity is a shared responsibility among government, industries and individuals.”
Ms Hodgkinson said the release of the draft framework was the next step following the release of the NSW Biosecurity Strategy 2013-2021 last May.
“Key components of the proposed framework include an enhanced role of industry and community in preventing and minimising biosecurity threats as well as improved emergency and rapid response powers,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
“A biosecurity emergency requires swift and decisive action to protect the economy, environment and community, and this new legislation will minimise delays and reduce the impact of an emergency situation.“
It is expected that the Biosecurity statute will repeal the following Acts or parts of Acts and relevant regulations
  • Animal Diseases and Animal Pests (Emergency Outbreaks) Act 1991 (NSW)
  • Apiaries Act 1985 (NSW)
  • Deer Act 2006  (NSW)
  • Fertilisers Act 1985 (NSW)
  • Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW) Part 6 Division 4; Part 7 Division 6; Schedules 6B and 6C
  • Local Land Services Act 2014 (NSW) Part 10 - Pests
  • Non-Indigenous Animals Act 1987 (NSW)
  • Noxious Weeds Act 1993 (NSW)
  • Plant Diseases Act 1924 (NSW)
  • Stock (Chemical Residues) Act 1975 (NSW)
  • Stock Diseases Act 1923 (NSW)
  • Stock Foods Act 1940 (NSW)
  • Stock Medicines Act 1989 (NSW)  - authorisation and powers of inspectors 
  • Wild Dog Destruction Act 1921 (NSW)
The statute will not cover:
  • contamination risks arising from manufacturing or processing facilities (which will continue to be dealt with under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997  (NSW))
  • animal welfare, except in relation to the licensing and keeping of animals presently dealt with under the Non-Indigenous Animals Act 1987  (NSW)
  •  the approval, management or utilisation of genetically modified crops, which will continue to be dealt with under existing State and Commonwealth legislation, or 
  • direct human health issues such as influenza and tuberculosis; but measures to mitigate the direct risks to human health arising from diseases, toxins and irritants produced by animals or plants will be included.
Meanwhile in Canada eight employees of Canada’s largest dairy have reportedly been suspended after animal rights campaigners released a video showing cows being viciously beaten and repeatedly kicked in the head. Video given to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by the Mercy for Animals Canada group appears to show egregious misbehaviour involving chains, canes and rakes.

The Society's chief prevention and enforcement officer commented "It is important that producers have clear expectations around standards of care for farm animals and that there is a system in place to monitor and enforce these standards". The company is co-operating with an investigation but the Society believes criminal charges relating to animal cruelty should be laid.