One of the topics that has been debated around the review of the Animal Welfare Act concerns entry to properties by animal welfare inspectors. There is misunderstanding among some industry groups and individual farmers about what this might mean for them.

The issue of animal welfare inspectors conducting inspections of premises where animals are kept came into focus in WA late last year after footage of horses being abused at an abattoir in Queensland was shown on national television. We can’t recall a single animal welfare incident that generated so much public outrage and concern.

West Australians contacted RSPCA WA wanting to know if horses slaughtered here could also be abused and mistreated. The fact is that we are unable to reassure the public that it isn’t happening here because we simply don’t know. Inspections of slaughter facilities, or any other place where animals are kept for commercial reasons, are not permitted under our current legislation. Obviously, inspectors need to be on site to check compliance with the Animal Welfare Act to ensure animals are being treated humanely.

RSPCA WA believes that improving powers of entry for animal welfare inspectors will benefit both those in charge of the animals and animal welfare. Having such powers in place and promoting that to the general community would establish greater public confidence that animals are being treated humanely where they are farmed, transported, held for sale or slaughtered.

The vast majority of farmers have nothing to worry about if animal welfare inspectors in WA are given the same powers as they currently have in other parts of Australia. In New South Wales, for example, animal welfare inspectors can enter without prior notice or owner consent on any property where animals are kept for commercial purposes or in connection with any trade or profession.

Under the current Act in WA, inspectors aren’t able to enter farms, abattoirs or knackeries without prior notice unless they have a reasonable suspicion that an offence may be occurring, which could include allegations of cruelty by a visitor to the property or an employee. If inspectors had been able to conduct random checks prior to the situation reaching the stage where cruelty has occurred, then people in charge of the animals may have received advice on how to improve their management of the animals and therefore avoid prosecution.

Some misconceptions that have come to light in discussions with producers include the belief that random inspections by animal welfare inspectors are not necessary because the condition of animals, practices and facilities on farm are consistent with standards and guidelines for animal welfare. But, without inspections, it is not possible to know that care and management are in line with welfare standards.

Another misplaced fear that has been put forward is that animal welfare inspectors are “bureaucrats” who know nothing about animals and will disrupt farm biosecurity. That too is not true. Designated animal welfare inspectors under the Act, whether employed by RSPCA WA, DPIRD’s Livestock Compliance Unit or other government agencies, undergo extensive training including about biosecurity. Indeed, biosecurity is not only an issue for farms but also for veterinary clinics and at the RSPCA WA’s own animal shelter and vet clinic at Malaga.

Random inspections of commercial premises will identify those who need to do more to meet the minimum standards as well as those who are blatantly breaching the Act and need to be found out. This latter group places the reputation of the whole industry at risk.
These inspections will help to build public trust in the enterprises and industries which use animals and these businesses should welcome inspections. However, we acknowledge it will be imperative to have appropriately trained and skilled inspectors undertaking this role and that continuing professional development for designated inspectors will be important.

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