How laws are failing animals: Codes of Cruelty

How can a country that recognises all animals share the ability to suffer, not protect all animals from acts of cruelty?


Australians love animals. We give our pets the best life we can, we fiercely oppose whaling, and are horrified by the killing of seals for fur. As a nation we despise cruelty to animals, but few of us realise that legally sanctioned acts of cruelty to animals happen every day in Australia. Animals raised for food in Australia have been deliberately excluded from cruelty laws that protect cats and dogs — despite sharing the exact same capacity to suffer.

These animals, including over 500 million animals raised every year in factory farms, experience pain and suffering in the same ways as our beloved pets. Yet the Australian legal system actively and deliberately excludes these 'farmed' animals from protection against cruel treatment. The sole reason being ensuring that animal industries remain as profitable as possible — no matter what the cost in terrible, and avoidable, animal suffering.

Codes of Practice

Common practices on factory farms which cause immense suffering — and would be illegal in any other circumstance — are permitted due to industry 'Codes of Practice'.

Pregnant pigs can legally be confined in 'sow stalls' 1cm longer and wider than their actual bodies. They are barely able to move and are totally unable to turn around.They are forced to give birth in a 'farrowing crate' which restricts their movement even more, and denies them the strong maternal instinct to nurture or interact with their young.Piglets have their teeth cut, exposing the sensitive pulp inside. This excruciating procedure is done without pain relief.Crude 'surgical' implements are used to castrate males, and cut the teeth and tails off piglets without anaesthetic.Battery hen cages are still used in Australia. Up to 5 birds are crammed into each tiny wire cage, each given a 'living' space smaller than 1 A4 page - not even enough room to spread their wings.Day-old chicks often have parts of their beaks painfully severed off in an attempt to mitigate canibalism brought on by the stress and unnatural confinement of battery hens.50% of chicks born into the egg industry are male, but are of no economic use to the industry. These birds are typically gassed to death or ground up alive.Chickens raised for meat are crammed into sheds by the tens of thousands for their entire six-week lives. During this time sheds are not cleaned and are left to accumulate with pungent faeces which can burn the skin and lungs of the chicks inside.'Meat chickens' have been bred to grow at 3 times their natural rate, leading to joint problems and lameness. These birds - with overgrown adult-sized bodies - still chirp like babies when they are sent to slaughter.

As a result of Codes of Practice, sensitive and intelligent mother pigs can be locked up in crates barely bigger than their bodies for most of their pregnancy. Piglets can have their tails sliced off and teeth cut without any form of pain relief. Laying hens suffer their entire lives in battery cages where they can't even stretch their wings. And millions of 'meat chickens' die every year because they are bred to grow so fast that their hearts give out, or their legs are unable to support them and they die from starvation or dehydration.

Few in the community are aware that animals raised for food are denied the same legal protection from cruelty as dogs or cats — and governments, retailers and cruel animal industries would prefer it remained that way. They know as we do, that since all animals share an ability to suffer we have an ethical responsibility to protect them all from harm. 

Maximising profits for cruel industries is the motivation of industry operators and governments. It can never provide a justifiable excuse in any civilised society for permitting abhorrent acts of cruelty to millions of animals each year.

Codes of Practice also cover animals used in rodeos, circuses, theme parks or those hunted for 'sport' — allowing them to be treated in a way that would be illegal if those responsible were accountable to actual animal cruelty laws.

Animal Law

For more information on Animal Law refer to the (free) e-book Animal Law: Principles and Frontiers by Graeme McEwen, a past President of Animals Australia. The Foreword is by former High Court justice, the Hon Michael Kirby, who launched the book in Melbourne on 27 July 2012.


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