IN THE NEWS: On DEC 5, 2019
Footage shown on Israeli TV of distressed cattle on Western Australian stations prompts calls for mandatory pain relief.
“Despicable and horrific” footage showing cattle in distress after having their horns removed without pain relief has prompted renewed calls for the use of pain relief to be made mandatory on Australian cattle stations.
Western Australia has promised to fast-track its laws following the release of footage on Israeli television this week that showed cattle on several stations in northern WA bellowing while having their horns removed, staggering and panting following horn removal or castration, and being kicked in the face by station workers.
One station worker, whose face and voice have been distorted, can be heard saying: “Nobody uses pain killer. Too expensive, too much hassle.”
None of the stations were identified by Israel-based animal rights organisation Sentient, which conducted the investigation. But the managers of one station came forward on Thursday to say they had launched an independent investigation to identify those responsible for the abuse.
Australian animal welfare standards state that pain relief must be used when dehorning cattle over six months old, or 12 months in rangelands stations. But so far those standards, which were introduced in 2016, are only enforced by law in one state – South Australia.
The WA agriculture minister, Alannah MacTiernan, said her department was reviewing the footage to determine if it breached animal welfare laws. MacTiernan said she would fast-track regulations that would make it an offence to dehorn cattle above six months of age without appropriate pain relief.
“This footage is confronting and the community will rightly question how producers can be permitted to operate in this way,” she said. “We cannot tolerate inhumane and cruel treatment of animals if we want a strong future for the northern cattle sector.”
The footage was filmed over two years by animal welfare investigators from Israel, who took jobs on the stations.
About 3% of the 1.2m cattle live exported from Australia in 2018-19 were sent to Israel. Israel has been moving toward a ban of live cattle and sheep imports from Australia following a sustained campaign from animal rights campaigners, including the first lady, Sara Netanyahu.
Yeeda Pastoral Company leases Kilto Station, where undercover investigators filmed in 2018. It said it was unaware of the “despicable and horrific acts” before the footage was released this week.
“Yeeda strongly condemns these acts of cruelty,” its chairman, Mervyn Key, said. “It is not what Yeeda stands for and contrary to Yeeda’s core values and principles.”
Key said the company employed a full-time animal welfare officer and had already appointed independent investigators to “identify the culprits and ensure they are appropriately dealt with”.
RSPCA Australia said mandatory pain relief was “the very least the cattle industry must do” to repair its national and international reputation.
The RSPCA’s senior scientific officer for farm animals, Melina Tensen, said the cattle being dehorned in the footage were “clearly in extreme pain and distress”.
“The outright animal abuse shown by these workers is appalling, and completely unacceptable,” she said.
Emma White, the chief executive of the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association, said the footage was “distressing”.
“The best-practice approach to welfare, which most of our producers are embracing, exceeds the legal standards,” White said.
White said a “clear majority” of producers in areas where horned cattle remain common use pain relief when de-horning and are breeding for poll (hornless) cattle.
According to the Australia Beef Sustainability Network, a “rapid uptake” of pain relief had seen the percentage of producers using pain relief on cattle increase from 4% to 15% in 2019. The industry has committed to reaching 100% by 2025.
The same report said 86% of the Australian cattle herd now carried poll genes.
The Cattle Council president, Tony Hegarty, said animal welfare breaches should be investigated and prosecuted.
“The overwhelming majority of my fellow producers who uphold best-practice husbandry standards would share my sense of distress and, frankly, the sense of betrayal arising from evidence of livestock abuse,” Hegarty said.