25 Jun 2014

Know What A Battery Cage Looks Like? Thank An Animal Activist

By Siobhan O'Sullivan

Planned Australian laws to ban images of animal factory farms fly in the face of community demands to know where our food comes from, writes Siobhan O'Sullivan.

Last week, Victoria’s Napthine Government confirmed that it intends to introduce US style ‘ag gag’ laws before the next Victorian state election in November.

Eight such laws have been enacted in various parts of the US

The initiative is supported by the Victorian Farmers Federation whose president Peter Tuohey is reported to believe that farmers needed more protection against animal activists

Over the weekend the federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce also announced that the states and federal governments will be working together to crack down on animal activists, including plans to revoke some organisations’ charity status.

Again, the proposal is receiving strong support from some producers with Victorian egg farmer Meg Parkinson arguing that “these animal liberationists are just trying to stop all use of animals”.

If ‘ag gag’ style laws are introduced in Australia, and reflect the type of legislation implemented in the US, they are likely to make the collection and distribution of images captured within factory farms strictly illegal and heavily punishable.

Australia already has laws prohibiting trespass, and animal activists are regularly prosecuted under those laws.

The difference here is that people who are within factory farms legally will be prohibited from photographing what they see.

This will be a significant obstruction to information acquisition and distribution, as it is often people who visit factory farms for incidental purposes – truck drivers, trades people, vets, casual labourers - who are most affronted by what they see.

Moreover, the slated law may have an overall ‘chilling effect’ on people’s willingness to distribute the images they capture, certainly until the court’s interpretation of the law is established.

No doubt this is precisely what Minister Joyce is hoping for. But what he’s hoping for is clearly not in the community’s best interest.

On this matter the community has spoken, and it overwhelming wants to know where it’s food comes from.

Moreover, while only a small proportion of the community is vegetarian or vegan, people who eat eggs, diary and meat care about minimising suffering, at least to some extent.

In 2011, 34 per cent of all eggs sold in Australia were labeled free-range, representing 44 per cent of the entire value of the market

Woolworths is so certain that people don’t want to eat eggs from birds in cages that it has committed to selling exclusively cage-free eggs by 2018

In a survey of 900 people undertaken by consumer watchdog Choice in 2011, 60 per cent of respondents said that buying free-range eggs is essential to them, even though free-range eggs attract a price premium.

Of those who buy free-range, 85 per cent reported that they are motivated by animal welfare concerns.

While the meaning of free-range is far from settled, and serious questions remain around whether consumers are getting what they pay for, these facts nonetheless attest to the mind-set of consumers.

They care who lays their eggs and they want her to suffer minimally.

Concern for the wellbeing of commercial egg laying hens is not misplaced. Of all the nasty things humans have invented, a small wire cage that is intended to be home to three to four birds must be in the top 50.

The birds have almost no freedom of movement. They can’t stretch their wings, build a nest, see the sun or escape their cage mate who is just as likely to peck them to death.

In 18 months each bird will be dead, having laid around 550 eggs.

The South East Asian rainforest fowl from which the commercial egg-laying hen was bred lay around seven eggs per year and live well beyond five years.      

I don’t eat eggs. It’s a product I can’t support. But I know why I’m against the battery cage.

I have been inside a factory farm. Not at the invitation of the farmer. My visits were at night. But most people have never - and will never - step foot inside a factory farm, and battery cages are impossible to see from the street.

So how did most people come to the conclusion that they don’t want to buy eggs laid by hens living in small wire cages?

There’s only one logical answer, and it is that animal activists informed them.

In short, if you know what a battery cage looks like you should thank an animal activist. 

Type the words ‘battery cage’ into Google Images and you will be presented with photo after photo of birds packed tightly into small wire cages.

None of those images come courtesy of farmers. All of those images come courtesy of animal activists.

And it turns out that the community appreciates the heads up.

Given that the majority of people don’t want to buy eggs from hens living in battery cages, and that the images showing what a battery cage looks like are provided to the community by animal activists, it is clear that animal activists are providing a community service that is appreciated by most people.

The risk with laws like those flagged in Victoria is that the important communication and education role played by animal activists will be lost.

While most people will always carry the image of hens in battery cages with them, when it comes to animal suffering there is no end game.

Industry evolves new ways of farming animals and animal activists continue to bring news of those changes to the community.

Concerned about live animal exports? Thank Animals Australia.

Think sow-stalls are terrible? Thank Animal Liberation.

Would never buy a dog from a pet shop? Thank Oscar’s Law.

But there’s plenty of ways in which animals suffer that the community doesn’t yet know about.

My hope is that the community doesn’t just leave the work of opposing ag gag laws in Australia to animal activists.

I hope that people appreciate the work done by animal activists and that condemnation of these laws is widespread, allowing animal activists to continue their widely valued, unpaid community service.           

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Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 04:45

Is Warren Truss actually doing something on behalf of the Farmers Federation for a change, even it is more of the same Liberal Party push for total freedom to exploit everybody and every thing in pursuit of the holy dollar ?

Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 12:34

Great article Dr O'Sullivan.

I've noticed the Australian government has taken increasingly aggressive steps to silence its critics and protesters. Recent changes to protest laws in Victoria are another example, and I think Australians need to let the government know this is not acceptable.

I would add that the animal protection group Voiceless recently ran a law lecture series with US Journalist Will Potter, and I thought that would be a relevant addition to this timely article. 

Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 13:55

The effort being made to maintain secrecy is frightening. Voiceless were on to this issue early and it's a worry that the threat is now so real in Australia. As Curly says, they need credit along with Will Potter for raising this issue so early. 

Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 16:28

It’s an interesting line to take that we only have community education on practices such as battery hen cages because of animal activists and to some extent that is true.  But there is a fine line out there between exposing inhumane treatment of animals by “bad” farmers and causing unnecessary trouble, grief and persecution of “good” farmers.  Now good farmers are not afraid of scrutiny of their animal management practices by people who want to see where their food is coming from.  One of agriculture’s overall biggest problem is the growing disconnect between consumer and producer and the lack of understanding of the reality of producing food that this disconnect creates.  BUT there are a number of cases of activists breaking into good farmers property and filming activities and then selectively using the footage they get to create a sensationalist story designed to shock consumers to the point of shunning meat and other animal products which appears the be the main goal of most of the activists i.e. no more animal production.  These laws are a reaction to that practice.  It’s not a conspiracy theory as some comments have suggested.  The only sustainable way forward in this debate of treatment of animals is not confrontation but ongoing consumer education and engagement with food producers.  There are plenty of farmers out there that would welcome this

This user is a New Matilda supporter. thomasee73
Posted Thursday, June 26, 2014 - 19:57

Well, if animal activists can't legally get hold of photos of ACTUAL farm conditions, they might have to resort to "dramatised" photoshopped images to get their point across. And unless and until alternative evidence is provided to the contrary, that will be the images that we are stuck with. In the information age, the discursosphere abhors a vaccuum, and if people who have access to evidence refuse to provide it, their opponents will quite justifiably make stuff up. 

Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 - 10:29

Anyone with a serious interest in this subject should read Will Potter's 'Green Is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Seige':

"At a time when it seems that everyone is going green, most people are unaware that the FBI is using anti-terrorism resources to target environmentalists and animal rights activists. The courts are being used to push conventional boundaries of what constitutes 'terrorism' and to hit nonviolent activists with disproportionate sentences. Some have faced terrorism charges for simply chalking slogans on the sidewalk. Like the Red Scare, this 'Green Scare' is about intimidation, using a word - 'eco-terrorist'  - to push a political agenda, instill fear and silence dissent."

Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 - 12:16

Siobhan, I'd be very interested in asking you a few questions and perhaps requesting an article from you for a non-profit publication I run. How would I best get in contact with you (being that no contact details are provided in your bio)? 

Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 - 12:52

karimcgregor, try this link: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Siobhan+O%27Sullivan

Posted Friday, June 27, 2014 - 17:47

Some farmers are better than others, sure. But there is no such thing as a "nice" factory farm, battery cage, sow stall etc... The only way to educate is to let the public see for itself. Animal activists don't want to break windows, they want to create them. 

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Pegi
Posted Saturday, June 28, 2014 - 19:11

Thanks for the article. It is quite certain that we moving towards a fascist type of regulation. But what I suggest there instead of being upset about the treatment of animals and showing terrible pictures, these animal welfare NGO's should promote the farmers who actually treat their animal in a more human way. Working in tandem with them will actually do a disservice to the rotten and greedy companies who have no compassion for animals.

Continual promotion of good companies policies will eventually and hopefully help the consumers. The bad ones will be disappear.

Governments wanting to hide or favour stupidity will have nothing to bite on if continual promotion of good practice prevails.

Play the opposite to counter these stupid laws.

Posted Saturday, June 28, 2014 - 20:07

This is why i have my own three chickens! I know exactly where they and their eggs come from and i am fully responsibile for them...and teach my kdis about where their food comes from. ie from ALIVE creatures.

I think the farmers that are really good should be starting up their own system even putting pictures on their cartons and stories so people will be able to pick out the factory eggs and avoid them.

Also I thought the present government was all about deregulating everything?  But this policy only seems to apply to commerce/business activities that benefit the wealthiest members of our country not when it protects those who cannot speak for themselves and the vulnerable.  So regulate the hell out of people who morals and interests in rights because this is so threatening to people who want to exploit everything for profit...but fuck everyone else.  No surprises from the gutless little bully Abbott and his spoilt broad of private-school over-privileged, entitled societal leeches...