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Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement: How do UK farmed animal laws stack up against Australia’?

Discover how cows, sheep, pigs and hens in Australia suffer some of the worst cruelties simply because they were born here - and how you can help.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated July 14, 2021

It comes as a shock to many Australians to learn that our laws allow treatment of farmed animals that has been banned for decades in the United Kingdom.

The Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (Aus-UK FTA) has thrown a spotlight on these failings. Discover how cows, sheep, pigs and hens in Australia suffer some of the worst cruelties simply because they were born here – and how you can help.

Many of us in Australia grew up reassuring ourselves that – surely – the farmed animals who end up as plastic-wrapped meat on supermarket chiller shelves were at least not treated cruelly during their lives.

Sadly, the reality is that Australian farmed animals are largely excluded from the protection of cruelty laws that apply to companion animals like dogs or cats. This legalises treatment like being kept in tiny cages or having body parts cut off without pain relief, that would otherwise be prosecutable offences.

Crucially, some of the routine and legalised cruelty that Australian farmed animals are subjected to means that our laws are also falling behind other countries, like the UK. Animal advocates have raised this problem in relation to the negotiations for the Aus-UK FTA, which lays out rules for trade between the two countries.

Of course, farmed animals in the UK still endure cruelties (more on that later), but Australia is failing to meet even the most basic animal protection standards for millions of animals. And freely allowing imports to the UK of Australian meat or other animal products that don’t meet UK standards undermines the farmed animal welfare laws that the UK does have.

Australia’s farmed animal laws allow cruel treatment that’s illegal in the UK

As you can see in the table below, the UK has taken steps to require some basic standards in relation to how animals raised for food are treated. Australia has not been willing to keep up.

While UK farmed animals can still face cruelty, especially in factory farms and slaughterhouses, many of the UK government’s decisions so far reflect both established animal welfare science and the commonsense views of everyday people.

How do farmed animal laws in the UK compare to Australia?

UK Australia
Commitment to end live export by sea for slaughter YES NO
Barren battery cages banned YES (since 2012) NO
Sow stalls banned YES (since 1999) NO
Hot iron branding banned YES NO
Mulesing banned YES NO
CCTV monitoring required in slaughterhouses YES (since 2018) NO
Hormone-fed beef banned YES NO
Food and water required for transport over 24 hrs YES NO (only after 48hrs)

Australia (mostly) doesn’t recognise animals as sentient

Most state and national farmed animal laws in Australia currently don’t even recognise that animals are sentient (meaning that they are aware and feeling beings). Australian laws usually categorise animals as ‘property’ :dash: effectively objects.

In contrast, the UK has committed to introduce legislation that will formally recognise animal sentience.

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A cow mother licking her calf

The Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement highlights Australia’s failings

Negotiations for the Aus-UK FTA have seen the two nations hammering out what Australia will and won’t be able to export to the UK, and under what trade conditions.

And it seems that there will be little to no restriction on Australian exports of meat, dairy, wool or other animal products that involved the cruel treatment of animals in Australia that wouldn’t be legal in the UK.

Doing so gives the green light to Australian legalised cruelty and undermines UK animal welfare laws.

Farmed animals face cruelty in the UK, too

While the UK has outlawed some of the most obvious cruelties inflicted on animals raised for food :dash: and should be applauded for that – our two countries still share some fundamental problems that many people would find surprising, and distressing.

  • Male chicks in the egg industry – whether that’s barn-laid, free range, organic, or RSPCA Approved – are killed on their first day of life, usually by being ground up alive or gassed.
  • Unwanted dairy calves, born only to keep their mothers producing milk, are taken from their mums at days old and may be slaughtered.
  • Farmed fish, like those revealed by investigations into Scottish salmon farms, suffer immensely in ‘underwater factory farms’.

Slaughter means suffering, anywhere it happens

No matter what farmed animals’ lives are like here or in the UK, they almost all end up in similar slaughterhouses. Even the most ‘modern’ or ‘state of the art’ slaughter process routinely inflicts terrible fear and distress on animals.

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There is simply no humane way to kill animals at the speed and on the scale that slaughterhouses around the world do every day.

Whether in Australia, the UK, or elsewhere, slaughterhouses are killing factories in which animals and people suffer.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A little girl holding a cute little piglet