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New regulations to ensure welfare of animals in NSW abattoirs

New South Wales has unveiled new regulations in state abattoirs to ensure the wellbeing and welfare of animals.

The new legislation will require a designated Animal Welfare Officer to be on the premises of any abattoir to oversee and be accountable for the welfare of animals.

Yesterday the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson the new “animal welfare package” will significant improve the treatment of animals in abattoirs and Animal Welfare Officers will be required to undergo thorough training.

“Only employees that have undertaken specific animal welfare officer training will be eligible to be designated”, she said.

By 1 January 2013, all domestic abattoirs will be required to have a trained Animal Welfare Officer on the premises while processing is occurring.

The appointment of Animal Welfare Officers is part of a range of changes being implemented by the NSW government.

The treatment of pregnant sheep has been widely criticised, and the use of gestational pens has been slammed by welfare advocates.

Many operators have already begun phasing out the gestational crates, and the industry had pledged to have their use completely stopped by 2017.

Despite calls from Animals Australia to bring the changes forward, a spokesperson from Australian Pork Limited told Food Magazine it is “not as simple as walking into a room and turning off the light.”

“And for producers to make changes within their own infrastructure, they need authority approval, from local councils and state regulatory services, and that takes time,” the spokesperson said,

“Then they need finances to undertake the changes.”

Other conditions to be imposed on domestic abattoirs include all NSW domestic abattoirs complying with the mandatory adoption of Section 2 of the “Industry Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments preparing meat for human consumption”, 2nd Edition.

All relevant employees will also be required to complete training in the “stunning, sticking and shackling” code set out by the Australian Meat Industry.

Several abattoirs have hit headlines in the past year over allegations of cruelty and mistreatment of animals.

The Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors has been ordered to pay $5 200 and will be placed on the Food Authority’s Name & Shame register after a NSW government investigation found the abattoir was breaching its licence conditions.

In February the state government launched a full investigation into operations at the meat processor located in Wilberforce, following the release of footage showing pigs being beaten with metal bars and sheep being skinned while still conscious.

The RSPCA investigation into alleged mistreatment of animals is still ongoing.

The revelations followed the discovery of an illegal slaughterhouse in Victoria  which led to criminal charges, as well as a broiler farm that was found to be underfeeding chickens causing them removed from the premises.

There is also much debate about the increase in meat being produced to meet Jewish and Muslim requirements, both in Australia and overseas, with opponents saying the slitting of the animal’s throat without stunning to comply with religious beliefs is cruel.

But Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said earlier this month that there is a "lot of confusion" over Halal meat.

He said animals can be stunned before slaughter and still be labelled Halal.

"Over 90 per cent of Halal meat is stunned before slaughter," he said.

In October, Australian agriculture ministers failed to resolve discussions over ritual slaughters, meaning exemptions that allow some Australian abattoirs to conduct slaughter without prior stunning will continue.

There are 12 abattoirs in Australia that are exempt from the regulations that say animals for consumption must be stunned before they are slaughtered.

The exemptions are on religious or cultural grounds, but animal welfare groups want to practice stopped altogether.

The council released a statement following the meeting, saying ministers have reviewed the results of a two-year consultation process with stakeholders and have considered the science involved and the views of religious groups, but could not reach a conclusion.

Up to 250,000 animals are killed without prior stunning in Australia every year under the religious slaughter exemptions and the RSPCA has rejected claims that stunning is not allowed on religious grounds, saying stunning is accepted by the Islamic community and Jewish community and no reason existed for un-stunned slaughter to continue.

The new measures in New South Wales will ensure the meat industry is heading in the right direction, Hodgkinson said.

“These tough new measures are being introduced to foster a culture in which abattoir management and employees fully understand and implement procedures that consistently comply with animal welfare standards.

“The NSW Government will also introduce an additional annual audit specifically focussing on animal welfare compliance and develop a sanctions policy to address any non-compliance with these requirements.”

 “This Government has listened to community concern about animal welfare standards in domestic abattoirs following the incident at Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors in February this year, and now we’re acting to ensure animal welfare standards in domestic abattoirs are improved”, Hodgkinson said.

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