Ministers at state and federal level have voiced their support for saleyards selling this week as the RSPCA moved to distance itself from calls for a ban on live auction selling.
Late last year the RSPCA released a new set of animal welfare guidelines for the beef catte industry, which included the specific recommendation that cattle “are not consigned through saleyards”.
A spokesperson told Beef Central at the time that saleyards selling raised a range of animal welfare issues relating to transport to and from selling centres, loading and unloading, the mixing of unfamiliar animals in unfamiliar environments, unfamiliar handling and time off feed and water.
“Transport is stressful for farm animals and can cause suffering and distress,” RSCPA Scientific Officer – Farm Animals, Melina Tensen, said.
“So, in order to reduce this stress, transport from point of origin directly to the final destination, be that an abattoir, a feedlot or another property, is, from an animal welfare perspective, the best thing to do.”
Asked about the RSPCA’s position during a senate estimates committee hearing in Canberra earlier this week, federal agriculture minister Joe Ludwig said he would not support moves to ban saleyard selling.
“I would have thought the first thing to do would be work with local councils, work with the producers, work with the saleyard owners about how to improve if they think there is a deficiency in saleyards rather than come out with some sort of circumstance of saying there should be a ban,” Senator Ludwig said.
“When you look at it, more than three-quarters of sales of stock is through saleyards—saleyards form a very important part of rural sales of livestock."
Minister Ludwig said that the primary responsibility for saleyard selling lay with states and territories, and he suspected they would have a similar view to his: “at first instance you should work with the saleyard owners and all of those, if you then identify and think there is a problem work with saleyards about how you logically improve saleyard outcomes.
“My understanding is that over the last period saleyards have been working diligently on improving their operation.”
Queensland minister for agriculture John McVeigh also weighed into the debate yesterday, labelling the moves to ban saleyards as 'unAustralian".
“Like many who work in or have an interest in agriculture, I was shocked by the recent comments from RSPCA regarding closures to saleyards,” Mr McVeigh said.
“Saleyards have been the foundation of our livestock marketing systems through Australia and Queensland since the 1800s.
“They have contributed extensively to the social fabric throughout regional Queensland and are fundamental to our rural culture.
“Whilst cattle are sold directly to meatworks or feedlots, saleyards are still necessary in the cattle sale supply chain.
“For anyone to suggest their closure is both unrealistic and un-Australian.”
The RSPCA has moved to distance itself from the controversy this week, with national president Lynne Bradshaw telling the media that the society is not calling for a ban on saleyards, and acknowledges recent improvements that have been made to address animal welfare issues.
"While RSPCA Australia strongly encourages the direct consignment of farm animals because of the inherent stress caused by multiple transport and handling, we recognise that for many producers saleyards will continue to be part of the supply chain," she said in a statement to media.
Mr McVeigh said he had also received a letter from the RSPCA advising that it will not seek a ban on saleyard selling.
“My office raised my concerns regarding saleyards with the RSPCA at the first opportunity.
“I am pleased to confirm that the RSPCA have written to me advising that they will not seek the closure of saleyards.
“The welfare of animals during transport to saleyards and whilst at saleyards before selling, is very important to me and I will continue to work with all saleyards to assist and support them.”
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