A farmer’s trust broken at the abattoir and why it’s taken me so long to write about it.

riverside

Footage obtained by animal activists at Riverside Meats via the ABC

It left an indelible mark on me as a child watching Dad wiping away tears the afternoon his favourite cow, Queen Bessie, left the farm. She was getting old and arthritic, the last cow to reach the dairy. He couldn’t bear to see her fail or to pull the trigger himself.

And so it is for me these days. I hate watching trucks roll out the farm gate with any of our cows on board. A dairy farmer is in fact a shepherd, watching over our cows and willing each a long, healthy life in the herd.

We see off every threat imaginable, from making sure she gets enough colostrum at birth to making sure she has the right diet before and after giving birth herself.

It matters to me that cows sent to market have a gentle ride on the truck, so I choose a driver I know takes care. But once at the yards, all I have left for these cows we have raised is faith in the system. That we have done everything we can to give them a good life that ends without fear or pain.

So you can imagine how it felt to read of horrific cruelty at Echuca abattoir, Riverside Meats. Worse still, Riverside is a repeat offender. How could this happen?

I rang Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford’s office and asked if I could send in some questions. Her advisor was keen. Ten days later, my questions remain unanswered despite assurances.

In an online statement, Riverside Meats says it will “support the installation of 24-hour CCTV surveillance of its Echuca meat processing facility, with independent monitoring” and that four workers “have been moved to other roles”.

Now that Riverside has rolled over and the media has moved on, I guess there are higher priorities than answering questions about abattoirs and animal cruelty. But this farmer certainly has not forgotten and the thought of sending another cow to market leaves me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I do hope the minister’s office provides answers so I can post them for you here. In the meantime, here’s the list, which I will now also send to our local MP. Will you do the same for your cows, too?

  • What are the laws surrounding animal cruelty and what are the penalties for abuse?
  • What can people do when they see animal cruelty?
  • If you are concerned a neighbor is not coping and animals are suffering but do not want to see them get in trouble, what are your options?
  • What is the process for dealing with animal cruelty allegations and who is involved?
  • How can people who trigger animal abuse investigations feel confident their call is being acted on?
  • Are people found guilty of animal abuse allowed to continue working with animals?
  • Riverside has a history of animal abuse allegations. How can repeat offenders be stopped?
  • Why did it take almost a month for the minister to become aware of the Riverside abuse footage? How does Ms Pulford plan to respond?
  • Are animal abuse cases becoming more frequent?
  • How can farmers feel confident our animals are not suffering at abattoirs?
RiversideStatement.gif

See the full statement at www.riversidemeats.com.au

15 thoughts on “A farmer’s trust broken at the abattoir and why it’s taken me so long to write about it.

  1. This issue is such an important one. I’m sure there were many, many people who heard or read this story about such cruel mistreatment of these poor creatures and who feel equally upset that it occurs here in Australia. I hadn’t heard that the company involved is a repeat offender. As you have asked, I also wonder, how do they get away with it?

  2. An issue which is close to most farmers hearts. We spend more time with our girls than with many of our family and friends. The one thing we hope is that when the unfortunate time comes that they have to go, that they are treated humanely and that the process is quick and painless.

  3. What annoys me here is that those 4 workers involved are still employed just moved to other areas. That is BS. They should have been sacked never to work near animals again. Come on Riverside Meats. Explanation pleasel!!

  4. And without animal activists – called terrorists by some – this conduct would still be behind closed doors. What is happening elsewhere?

  5. Marian, you ask good questions. I think you might do well to actually investigate this more thoroughly yourself. As Candace notes above, it is only through the efforts of people like Animals Australia and other ‘activists’ that this kind of mistreatment is identified. The industry rarely bothers – in fact the industry is actively trying to stop activists (and the public) finding out. Look at the Ag Gag laws.

    Seriously, go look at what activists have found in their investigations. Have a look at the photos and videos. I know farmers argue that these are isolated cases, but are they really? When there is an inherent motivation to keep such poor behaviours out of the public gaze, I am not so easily convinced. If everything really was mostly fine, activists wouldn’t find these kinds of abuses, surely?

    Yet at every turn, activists are the only ones speaking up. Live export, intensive piggeries, cattle at abattoirs, calves on trucks, it is right there, all the time. Just waiting for someone to come along and bring the plight of these unlucky beings into the light.

    Marian, livestock farming is built on a foundation of harm and abuse. Why are you feeling so betrayed?

    • Hi Graeme, I am not an expert in any kind of farming but my own and do not soeak for anyone but myself here.

      I agree that farmers like me must learn more about what happens beyond the farm gate. But that is precisely because dairy farming is fundamentally based on the care of and respect for our animals. A dairy farmer who forgets either loses everything: her entire reason for being a farmer.

  6. Yes, I think it’s important for all of us to keep a watchful eye beyond our own small sphere of experience. I don’t think it’s fair to either the animals or the paying public to choose to ignore the broader perspective. We are all – farmers, animals and consumers – part of a larger thing, an industry that would not exist without its constituent elements.

    Something that worries me is the trend – I see it as an inexorable process that drives the simple values of compassion and humanity out of the equation. In the US intensive operations are increasingly the norm. The impetus for this comes from the economics. And it’s all too easy for farmers to lose themselves in this because at heart, farming isn’t about feeding the world, it’s about turning a profit. Sad but true, just like every other economic enterprise.

    I worry at how easily could this become the norm in Australia, especially when I read about our active courting of overseas markets such as China. Again, consider how dairying happens in the US. Are we sure that can’t and won’t happen here?

    I do ask that rather than seeing ‘activists’ as the enemy (and they are, if your view is that economic success transcends all other considerations), you see them as everyday people with a belief that we cannot and should not separate ourselves from a responsibility to thoughtful stewardship of the nature we are part of.

    I’m not saying activists are perfect or even always right. But they play an important role in preventing the excesses of an industry bent on profits over care. I used to be an everyday consumer, not particularly caught up in environmental concerns or whatever (I still am pretty sceptical of climate change for example). But when I went and looked at what happens, I simply couldn’t keep being a part of such an awful thing. Not when there is no necessity for it…

    My point is, you shouldn’t be surprised about what happens at Riverside. If even half of what I’ve uncovered is true, this is not at all abnormal. In fact, a lot of what people like me think of as cruel or harmful is often seen as entirely normal and somehow entirely acceptable within the livestock industry.

    It’s a sad divide that ultimately costs those without a voice or a stake in representation. The animals themselves.

    • Hi Graeme,
      I am not only surprised by what happened at Riverside, I am horrified.

      As a farmer, I naturally focus on what happens here on the farm (which is a big job in itself) and it’s clearly difficult to uncover the truth, even with the right resources.

  7. Coincidentally, there is an article in The Guardian highlighting how much the industry and the government want to prevent activists revealing poor practices. I do understand the concerns farmers must feel at having people trespass on their land, yet how else are the public to become aware of what goes on? And it’s not even those practices that are in breach of regulations – I think many people don’t even know about the harmful nature of everyday farming operations.

    I have no answer to that, but it seems to me that the public narrative shouldn’t be owned by the industry alone.

    I thought this bit of the article was interesting:

    “Although the report claims that animal rights activists have not had an impact on public debate, there have been a succession of stories over the last 20 years that have forced major changes to animal welfare practices.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/dec/08/barnaby-joyce-and-nsw-ministers-target-charity-status-of-animal-rights-groups

    How many improvements in animal welfare, and how many cases of cruelty/inappropriate practices have come to light from farmers themselves? From where I sit as a member of the public, I am only aware of those cases brought to public attention by activists and of the industry’s attempts to shut them down. What if most farmers just do as you suggest – focus on their own experience without considering what happens elsewhere?

    The more that activists are gagged and the more that the public perception remains in the hands of the industry itself, the less will the animals rights to fair treatment be properly represented.

    • Look, it’s not a simple issue but, at the end of the day, I’m not in favour of people creeping into farms for all sorts of reasons including biosecurity, the disturbance of the animals during break-ins, the potential for misunderstandings (some treated cows look bad – imagine a cow after an eye cancer is removed, for example) and the huge concerns around privacy on family farms like ours.

      There are checks and balances to prevent animal cruelty but, clearly, they’re not being applied properly. That has to change!

  8. Pingback: The response to animal cruelty | The Milk Maid Marian

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