When it comes to the abolition of commercial animal torture, an individual Australian state and territory government can do little more than engage in futile gestures. The ACT Environment Minister Shane Rattenbury explained why when introducing changes to the Animal Welfare (Factory Farming) Bill that became law during 2014. As he explained to the Legislative Assembly:
This is now the fifth bill introduced into this Assembly by a Greens member to ban battery hens in the ACT. The first bill was passed in 1997. However, as the bill also included provisions banning the sale of caged eggs in the ACT, under the commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act, it needed approval from all other jurisdictions in Australia before the act could commence. As this did not occur, the act has been sitting on our statute books uncommenced for 16 years. This bill removes those provisions to enable the current bill to commence.
So what the ACT ended up with is legislation that bans battery hens by new producers, with an existing one given an exemption until 2016, and a law preventing intensive pig production which does not exist in the Territory at all. All very noble in its intention but purely symbolic because of that dreaded Mutual Recognition Act. When it comes to animal welfare we are condemned to the law o the lowest common denominator.
How different that is to the United States where the New Year saw California’s Prop 2 come into operation.
The measure, which passed by a landslide vote in 2008, requires egg and some meat producers to confine their animals in far more humane conditions than they did before. No longer will baby calves (veal) or gestational pigs be kept in crates so small they cannot turn around and, perhaps more significantly, egg-laying hens may not be held in “battery” cages that prevent them from spreading their wings.
The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.
A caring Australian government would amend the Mutual Recognition Act to allow Australian states to follow the Californian example.