Following Milk Maid Marian’s recent post discussing animal cruelty at Riverside Meats, the Victorian Minister for Agriculture’s office has provided responses:
What are the laws surrounding animal cruelty and what are the penalties for abuse?
In Victoria the relevant animal welfare legislation is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (“the Act”). A copy of the Act is available on the Victorian Law Today website.
The Act sets out who can enforce the provisions within it and what powers inspectors, such as officers from the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), have to enforce the laws. In addition, the Act makes it an offence for a person to do something that is likely to result in the unreasonable pain or suffering of an animal. This enables inspectors to intervene and prevent cruelty occurring.
The penalties for an offences in the Act are considerable, with fines of up to $38,865 or jail for up to 12 months for animal cruelty, and up to $77,700 or jail for up to 2 years for an act of aggravated cruelty, which is cruelty that results in the death or serious disablement of an animal.
What can people do when they see animal cruelty?
Animal cruelty can be investigated by Inspectors authorised under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) Inspectors primarily investigate matters concerning commercial livestock. Complaints should be directed to the Animal Health Officer at a person’s local DEDJTR office. People can contact the DEDJTR customer service centre on 136 186 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further information on reporting cruelty can be found on the Agriculture Victoria website.
If you are concerned a neighbour is not coping and animals are suffering but do not want to see them get in trouble, what are your options?
It is the primary responsibility of owners or persons in charge of animals to ensure that their welfare needs are met at all times. DEDJTR staff can provide a range of extension materials and advice to assist farmers in managing the health and welfare of their animals.
If a person is concerned about the welfare of neighbouring animals, they can contact their local DEDJTR office to report their concerns. Not all complaints about the welfare of animals result in prosecution, often the most appropriate response is to provide farmers with education and advice.
What is the process for dealing with animal cruelty allegations and who is involved?
DEDJTR inspectors have powers to investigate complaints about the inappropriate treatment of animals and prosecute those responsible where there is evidence of cruelty.
When a complaint is alleging animal cruelty is made an Inspector will examine the available evidence and determine whether an offence under animal welfare legislation is likely to have occurred or not.
Following a complaint an Inspector has the power to undertake any one of the following actions depending on the outcome of their investigation:
• take no further action
• provide education and advice
• issue a formal notice to comply
• seize the animals and collect evidence including requiring information from relevant persons
• begin a prosecution
During an investigation a person must comply with the requirements to give information to Inspectors as detailed in the Act. It is an offence to give false or misleading information. It is also an offence to assault, hinder or threaten an Inspector. Complainants are able to enquire as to the outcome of investigations but the investigating organisation may not be able to reveal the outcome in all cases.
How can people who trigger animal abuse investigations feel confident their call is being acted on?
Cruelty in any form is completely unacceptable, it is illegal, and is a blight on both our hard working farmers and the broader industry.
DEDJTR takes all allegations of animal cruelty seriously. All complaints that are received by DEDJTR are assessed and an appropriate response is determined based on the nature of the complaint.
Complainants are able to enquire as to the outcome of investigations but the investigating organisation may not be able to reveal the outcome in all cases.
Are people found guilty of animal abuse allowed to continue working with animals?
If a person has been found guilty by a court of an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, the court has the ability, if it thinks fit, to order that a person be disqualified from owning or being in charge of animals. This can be for a period of up to 10 years for a first offence. For a person that has previously been subject to a disqualification order, a permanent disqualification on owning or being in charge of animals can be imposed by the court.
Riverside has a history of animal abuse allegations. How can repeat offenders be stopped?
Non-compliance was previously identified at the Echuca abattoir when regulatory oversight was increased, and stayed in place until the facility could demonstrate that it complied with the Standards. The corrective actions put in place by PrimeSafe at that time have been maintained. While there is some overlap of previous and current allegations, the current substantive non-compliance is different.
Why did it take almost a month for the minister to become aware of the Riverside abuse footage? How does the Minister plan to respond?
The Minister’s Office was advised about this complaint on the day it was received by PrimeSafe. PrimeSafe is an independent statutory authority and as such it was appropriate that its investigation was carried out independently.
The initial response from PrimeSafe to the complaint occurred within 12 hours of its receipt. As PrimeSafe obtained new information it was acted on. The video evidence was investigated and actions were taken as new information and allegations were made available to PrimeSafe. For example, after the receipt of the first videos, four abattoir staff were immediately removed from their roles. Regulatory directions and sanctions are in place, with ongoing regulatory oversight to ensure animal welfare is maintained in accordance with Standards. PrimeSafe had adequate resources to manage the issues as the information became available and used the powers available to it within the Meat Industry Act 1993.
Minister Pulford has now also asked that the CVO, Dr Charles Milne, lead an additional investigation by Agriculture Victoria to identify whether any breaches of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 have occurred and if so, to determine what further action should be taken to hold those responsible to account.
Are animal abuse cases becoming more frequent?
Agencies that have responsibility for enforcing animal welfare legislation including DEDJTR and the RSPCA have seen a trend of increasing complaints about animal welfare. This does not necessarily mean that there is more frequent abuse. An increase in abuse complaints could occur for a range of reasons including, increasing community awareness of animal welfare issues and increased expectations from all members of the community, including farmers, for the humane treatment of animals.
How can farmers feel confident our animals are not suffering at abattoirs?
Abattoirs in Victoria are licensed under the Meat Industry Act 1993, which requires compliance with the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production and Transportation of Meat and Meat Products for Human Consumption. This requires that animals are handled and slaughtered in a humane manner.
The management of animal welfare at meat processing facilities is controlled and monitored. Incidents of cruelty or poor welfare outcomes at meat processing facilities in Victoria are initially investigated by PrimeSafe, and where those incidents are substantiated, details are passed on to the DEDJTR for further investigation under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
A big thank you to the Minister of Agriculture’s office and that of the Chief vet for responding to Milk Maid Marian’s questions.