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Taking a stand for all animals

By Katrina Sharman - posted Wednesday, 20 December 2006

If you are lucky enough to be a pampered pet in the US, you might find yourself checked into one of the nation’s five-star pet resorts, complete with daily cuddle sessions, couch time and nature walks. When it comes to the nation’s farm animals, however, it’s an altogether different story.

As components of the modern factory farming machine, most farm animals live short, miserable lives devoid of meaningful legal protections. Their lot ensures they are whipped down the assembly line of mass production before being expediently converted into the nuggets, burgers and meaty snacks that fill the nation’s supermarket shelves and fast food outlets.

Approximately 9.5 billion animals are slaughtered every year in the US. Take a moment to consider that number, because it is truly staggering. Many of these intelligent, sentient animals never see the light of day and never feel the earth under their feet. If America is a beacon of freedom and justice for its human inhabitants, it seems that its beneficial rays have never reached the nation’s farm animals.


Of course, back home in the lucky country, our animals are faring little better. As Australians and as legal professionals, we should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the presence of our state and territory anti-cruelty legislation or “talk” of animal welfare. While it’s proper to acknowledge that the government has committed $6 million to the implementation of an Australian Animal Welfare Strategy, this project is unlikely to serve as a clarion call to end the suffering of millions of animals in our factory farms.

In fact, as a nation we have gone one step further than many American states by codifying “intensive” factory farming practices such as the confinement of pregnant pigs in crates so small they cannot turn around and the docking of piglet’s tails without pain relief. The Federal Codes of Practice are not mandatory in every jurisdiction; however they appear to have entrenched many of the most barbaric and morally repugnant aspects of factory farming.

Sadly, just like the US, our legal abandonment of animals doesn’t end at the factory farm gate. At a conference I recently attended in Portland, Oregon, one of the big issues up for discussion was attempts to expand hunting. This topic covered recent legal responses to canned hunting, which is the killing of animals in a confined area, for trophy purposes.

It also included a discussion about Internet hunting, an activity that allows animals to be killed by a remote-controlled gun linked to a home or office keyboard. The phenomenon, which started in Texas last year, is rapidly being outlawed.

Although those practices presently seem far from home, hunting is becoming an increasingly contentious issue in Australia. We ought not forget that earlier this year New South Wales lawfully opened up 162 of its state forests to hunters equipped with firearms, bows and arrows as a means of addressing our much maligned wild dogs, cats, deer, foxes and other “feral and game animals”.

This exercise took place (and continues) in the name of conservation. Furthermore, although recreational duck hunting is banned in NSW, shooting continues to be permitted in prescribed circumstances, when it can be classified as “duck mitigation”.


Australia is also the proud home to one of the largest wildlife slaughters on earth, with many millions of kangaroos harvested under commercial kill quotas in the last decade. Under the current Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos, joeys are required to be removed from their mothers’ pouches and killed. The Code cites decapitation and the execution of a heavy blow to the brain among its recommended methods of “dispatchment” of joeys. To its credit, the US took active legal steps to halt the killing of its coat of arms over 60 years ago.

You could be excused for thinking that it’s not a great day to be an animal in Australia. But there’s hope in the wings - a new social justice movement is emerging.

Animal law is now a cutting edge legal discipline, with courses being taught at more than 60 US law faculties including Harvard, Columbia and New York University. Australian law schools are set to follow suit, with the University of NSW offering the first animal law course in 2004 and a host of law schools across the Asia-Pacific region expected to introduce courses over the next few years.

Groups of animal lawyers have also formed, with advocates actively speaking up for animals in NSW, Queensland, the ACT and Victoria.

Lawyers have played a pivotal role in social justice at important moments in history, through their involvement in the slavery, human rights and environmental movements. They have also been integral in securing greater justice for women, children, indigenous communities and people with disabilities. With 540 million production animals being raised in our backyard every year and the legalised suffering of countless other species, surely it’s time to extend our circle of compassion and take a stand for all animals in Australia.

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First published in Lawyers Weekly on December 1, 2006. This article is based on a presentation the author made to the 14th Annual Animal Law Conference Market Revolution: Recognizing Animals' Intrinsic Values at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon (USA) on October 13-15, 2006.

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About the Author

Katrina Sharman is the Corporate Counsel for Voiceless, a non-profit organisation for animals in Australia. Voiceless is an animal protection think-tank established by Brian Sherman AM and Ondine Sherman.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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