Video surveillance in all areas of live animal handling and a prohibition on the use of electrical prodders are the two big ticket items on the RSPCA's want list for abattoirs.
The peak animal welfare organisation's chief executive officer Richard Mussell gave a comprehensive rundown of why at the 2023 conference hosted by the Australian Meat Industry Council.
He also moved to differentiate the RSPCA from extreme animal activist groups and spoke about the risks the meat processing industry runs if it fails to 'own' its challenges and control its own narrative.
Mr Mussell, who interestingly started out his working life as a butcher's lackey and whose family still runs a butcher shop in the United Kingdom, said closed-circuit television - CCTV - was a 'no brainer'.
There was good evidence of the beneficial role of CCTV in auditing and oversight as well as a mechanism to improve human behaviour, he said.
With the right support from governments, the privacy and cybersecurity concerns could be overcome.
In the UK, mandatory CCTV was implemented in slaughterhouses five years ago and it had resulted in assurance to the community of high animal welfare standards, Mr Mussell reported.
It had also led to a reduction of covert filming and expose style reports.
Processors expressed concerns around who would look at the footage and how it would be utilised. They also made the point a barrier was unions, who do not want to have workers under CCTV.
Mr Mussell said the RSPCA envisaged abattoir management would be the ones who utilised the footage - for the purpose of staff training, improvement and in the case of a complaint to have evidence of what occurred.
"If you have CCTV you have a defendable position to take to the community," he said.
"It also says to society 'we do this because we want to ensure we are doing the right thing by animals.'"
On prodders, Mr Mussell said there was overwhelming evidence of inappropriate and excessive use at abattoirs.
That came to the detriment of not just the animal but the time it takes to move them, he said.
"Electric prodders inherently result in poor animal welfare outcomes. There are better alternatives," he said.
Other priorities for animal welfare at slaughter identified by the RSPCA were improved record keeping and reporting of animals unfit for transport and greater action taken when things were reported.
He said a large number of animal welfare incidences lodged at export abattoirs were related to fit-to-load issues.
Improved training of abattoir staff, research into better stunning and slaughter techniques - especially for pigs - and investment in technology, including artificial intelligence for automated handling were also on the RSPCA's want list.
A common question fired at the RSPCA is whether it promotes veganism and vegetarianism.
"The answer is no," Mr Mussell said.
"But we respect the choice that some make that not consuming animal products is one way they can demonstrate their compassion for animals," he said.
"The RSPCA has a key role in improving how farm animals are treated from birth through to slaughter and this means constantly pushing for improved standards along the supply chain and urging that animals be kept in environments that meet their physical and behavioural needs and are handled, transported or killed humanely.
"We accept the reality that the majority of Australians will continue to eat meat products.
"The RSPCA wants these consumers to support the farmers and businesses that prioritise animal welfare."
This was a key difference between the RSPCA and other animal rights groups, Mr Mussell explained.
"There is agreement that various things need to change and why but we are doing it for different reasons," he said.
"For us, it is about improving the lives of animals in production. Other groups want to see an end to those systems.
"For us, this is a challenging area."
He said activists were not going away.
"In fact, we expect their activities will increase," Mr Mussell said.
"It's important to control your narrative, be transparent and own your challenges and what you are doing about them."
He urged action on the key areas the RSPCA had identified and the acknowledgement the industry should be on the front foot in speaking publicly about animal welfare.
"You certainly do not want to be taking the risk that the public ends up thinking the industry doesn't care," he said.
Mr Mussell explained that because the goal for activist groups was abolishment, their strategy was less about the facts and more about the emotive response.
"The extreme activist groups use the power of emotion very well and are getting the first crack at establishing 'the truth' for many people," he said.
"Up to 45 per cent of people are unsure of whether cattle and sheep are being farmed humanely and ethically.
"It is the industry's role to build trust. It's in your interest to be proactive and engage with the general public."
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