Coalition agriculture spokesman John Cobb has accused the Federal Government of engaging in a race with the Greens to "shut down animal food production", following its moves to develop an Animal Welfare Office.
However federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig has rejected the criticism, claiming the Coalition cares more about political point scoring than about the welfare of Australian animals.
In a media statement issued this morning Mr Cobb said Labor’s plans to develop an Animal Welfare Office would contradict all of the principles needed to get Australia “back on track”.
The proposed office was a shifty backdoor approach concocted by the Greens and Labor to tighten the rack on animal husbandry and farming in Australia, he said.
It would create substantial new costs for government and industry and impose unnecessary regulatory burdens on farmers.
However, he said the Federal Government could not, constitutionally, impose rules on the states and nor could it unilaterally impose rules internationally.
“If they tried, there would be a backlash from our trading partners.
"Advocates of this new regulatory body would no doubt welcome those consequences, but they are misguided, as it would be to the detriment of global animal welfare standards.
“So, in practical terms, this is another Labor dud.”
Mr Cobb said Australian famers already adhered, voluntarily, to the highest animal welfare standards in the world. Of the 109 countries exporting live animals, Australia was the only nation in the world that actively worked to change attitudes and practices in those markets. Today, 80pc of facilities with Australian Cattle in Indonesia used stunning.
“Raising the bar higher again and creating more red tape is about shutting them down, not lifting standards.”
Mr Cobb said Labor had added 20,000 new regulations since coming to office and had repealed only 100.
“It’s through building relationships with foreign governments and working with them to improve animal welfare standards, that the industry and sound animal welfare have a mutual future.
“That’s in stark contrast to Labor’s unilateral approach bans and regulations, based on uniformed dogma, that tear apart our important trade relationships and which still have our $1 billion a year live trade sector reeling.
“Labor’s Melissa Parkes is a case in point, insisting that “improvements in animal welfare are often not consonant with increased productivity and profitability”.
“Dead wrong! In the real world, there is a direct correlation between the quality of meat and profitability of farm enterprises and even the youngest farmer knows that a productive, profitable animal is a contented one.
“If there is any conflict of interest in roles it is the RSPCA who has the dual role as a lobbyist and regulator that needs to be addressed.
“Our farmers take immense pride and care in raising their animals and the community instinctively understands that.”
“Just like farmers have moved from ploughing to zero till farming, which retains soil moisture and structure and farm profitability, so too happier, healthier animal produces higher quality meat and makes farmers more profitable.
“The proposed Animal Welfare Office is another fundamentally flawed Labor snow job.”
Cobb full of “huff and puff”: Ludwig
Minster for agriculture Joe Ludwig said Mr Cobb’s comments “spoke volumes” about the Coalition’s complete disregard for animal welfare and the value placed on it by Australian producers and the community.
“Mr Cobb may huff and puff, but improvements made to animal welfare because of cooperation between the Gillard Government and the livestock industry are there for everyone to see,” Minister Ludwig said in a statement in response to Mr Cobb's earlier press release.
“The Labor Government stands by the live export trade, and we stand by Australian producers as they work alongside us to improve welfare standards.
“I have always said that Australian producers are some of the best in the world, especially when it comes to their expectations about how animals should be treated.
“The hard work and willingness of industry to work with us to strive for improved animal welfare practices over the last 18 months is testament to that.”
Minister Ludwig said Mr Cobb acknowledged the positive flow on effects Australia’s efforts are having in other markets.
“In his release Mr Cobb notes the significant increase in the use of stunning in Indonesia, as well as the fact Australia is actively changing attitudes and practices in overseas markets,” he said.
“Mr Cobb himself recognises that Labor’s reforms have delivered results.
“This Government has a strong record in improvements to animal welfare in the live export trade. We also have a strong record of working with industry and State and Territory Governments to advocate for animal welfare improvements domestically.
“A communiqué issued by the Standing Council on Primary Industries, which consists of all Federal, State and Territory Primary Industries Ministers, reinforces this by stating: ‘Council noted that jurisdictions are working in partnership with industry and welfare groups to continue improving animal welfare outcomes, particularly in respect to livestock production animals.’ [27 April 2012]
“Labor also has a dedicated caucus committee looking at ways to continue this work. The recommendations they will make are yet to be seen.
“Animal welfare will continue to be a pivotal issue for Australia’s producers and Australia’s community. Mr Cobb’s State counterparts know that, and scaremongering by Mr Cobb won’t change that. Mr Cobb is the odd man out.
“When it comes to animal welfare, our producers and our community expect more than the Federal Coalition could ever deliver.”
What is the Office of Animal Welfare?
Labor MPs Melissa Parkes and Kelvin Thomson have been at the forefront of a push by a group of Labor backbenchers to have the Gillard Government establish a statutory authority outside the Department of Agriculture which would oversee animal welfare issues.
In comments to a senate committee hearing earlier this month Ms Parkes said the office would be “dedicated to animal welfare policy, science and law, and will be independent of undue influence from competing political and commercial interests".
“For the first time, the Australian government would be able to provide an expert animal welfare opinion free of the conflicts of interest that characterise existing arrangements.
“The office would take the lead role in managing the development of national animal welfare policy, including the standards and guidelines, and facilitating harmonised legal outcomes by the states and territories.
“The office would not administer or enforce animal welfare legislation—currently, the responsibility of states and territories—due to the political, constitutional and budgetary difficulties this would involve.
“However, it would oversee the live export system since this is a specific responsibility of the Commonwealth.”
A working group led by Ms Parkes is due to present its model for the Office of Animal Welfare to the federal Labor Caucus by the end of this month.