NEW poultry welfare guidelines are set to cause a stir among local industry leaders at a State Government roundtable this month.
The draft Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Poultry is currently open for public consultation and will be at the forefront of the parliamentary meeting on January 28.
The new guidelines will replace 35-year-old animal welfare Code of Practices to provide nationally consistent legislation.
Representatives from the WA Poultry Association, WA Chicken Meat Council, WA Broilers Association, Midland Junction Poultry Society and the RSPCA WA will be amongst those attending.
RSPCA WA chief executive David van Ooran told Echo News the animal society was looking forward to “strongly advocating” its case for better welfare standards for poultry.
“It has been 15 years since the laws governing management of Australia’s 600 million poultry birds has been reviewed,” he said.
“In that time, scientific evidence around poultry welfare, and the public’s sentiment about caged birds, has changed considerably.
“RSPCA WA was hoping that the [guidelines] would better reflect those changes and bring Australia in line with the rest of the developed world.”
Concerning ‘housed poultry’ the guidelines outlined birds should have enough space “to stretch to their full height and flap their wings”.
Mr van Ooran disagreed.
“Hens confined to battery cages are also unable to walk, nest, dustbathe to clean their feathers, forage, or perch – all natural behaviours that foster healthier birds and better eggs,” he said.
“It is because of this that battery cages have been condemned by the community, and have been outlawed in most developed countries.”
Midland Junction Poultry Society President Graham McLevie said the society did not see a “great deal of change in the new guidelines” and was reluctant to provide further comment before the roundtable.
“It is great we have been afforded the opportunity to provide our say,” he said.
The creation of new guidelines was recommended during a review of the current poultry Code of Practice in 2005 due to changing community expectations as well as international pressure.
Project manager of the guidelines, Animal Health Australia said three additional sets of national standards and guidelines had been endorsed since 2005 – sheep and cattle, livestock land transport and livestock saleyards, depots and slaughterhouses.
“A number of stakeholders are involved in the development and implementation of these standards and guidelines, including government, industry and welfare organisations, and there is significant engagement throughout all components of the process,” a spokeswoman said.
“Government sign-off is also required at numerous stages and this, combined with wide engagement, can take time.”
Leading the charge, Department of Agriculture and Food minister Alannah MacTiernan said the standards drafted did little to improve conditions for egg-laying chickens and were not based on modern animal welfare science.
“While the WA Government’s strong preference would be to support national standards and guidelines, we will not adopt subpar standards that do not reflect modern science and community attitudes,” she said in a statement late last year.
RSPCA WA’s submission on the draft guidelines will reflect the opinions of more than “86 per cent of West Australians who think battery cages should not exist”.
Public consultation closes on February 28.
By Claire Ottaviano