Coles are the piggy in the middle of animal welfare confrontation

Last week, Coles supermarkets began selling shopping bags on behalf of animal rights campaigners Animal Australia. Following a backlash from farmers, Animals Australia withdrew the bags. But the stoush raised some important questions about the growing power of ethical consumption, and about who gets to decide how much animal welfare is enough.

The animal rights group produced 15,000 bags displaying a little winged pig who encourages consumers to “believe in a world without factory farming”. They were to be sold in 500 metropolitan Coles Supermarkets. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) urged producers to boycott Coles, saying Animals Australia were “anti-farmer”.

Since ending the campaign, Animals Australia has raised enough in donations from sympathetic Australians to secure valuable air time for their television ad. According to the Canberra Times, Coles also received huge support in favour of the bags – leading many to ask why farm lobby groups are so strongly opposed the campaign.

Why don’t farmers like animal welfare campaigns?

The supermarket giant is trying to cater for the growing demand for high-welfare meat and eggs while remaining supportive of producers. But several farming lobbies called for immediate action against Coles in response to the bag sales.

Farmers groups didn’t object to a campaign to end factory farming. They objected to Animals Australia and its platforms. A representative of the pork lobby expressed his outrage that Coles would partner with an “anti-meat” organisation, and described Animals Australia as campaigning for a “meat-free world”.


At the core of any animal rights ideology is the objective to reduce suffering, as animal activists explain. Getting sows out of stalls and chickens out of cages is the first step in this process. Farmers say they also care about welfare. But farming lobby groups such as the NFF feel vulnerable to the effects of marketing campaigns by animal rights groups.

While animal welfare is important to farmers, there is immense pressure to supply chicken, pork and eggs to consumers at a low cost. This is why the factory farms that Animals Australia are protesting against exist. The Farmers Federation says it works with respected animal welfare groups and the government to make improvements in the industry. But they seem to think there is no place in the debate for a group that campaigns for animal rights; a group they describe as “extremist animal activist[s]”.

Farmers label the group as extremists because they campaign for an end to rodeos, no more kangaroo culling and no more culling of introduced animals. But these are different matters: if farmers are opposed to Animals Australia’s anti-factory farming campaign because it is based on false claims, they should tell the public what they are doing to improve farm animal welfare.

Can high-welfare foods work for supermarkets and producers?

Rather than trying to turn Australia vegan, Animals Australia told the Age they want Australians to “eat less and pay more [for meat and eggs] – ensuring that the bottom line for producers can remain positive”. To achieve this requires a dramatic shift in thinking by consumers and support for supermarkets and farmers to supply high-welfare foods to the public.

An open conversation between producers, supermarkets, and consumers on the realities of farming, include the unpleasant truths, may help Australia move forward and implement more animal-friendly farming practices.

Both meat farmers and Animals Australia agree that consumers need to know more about farming in Australia. The Farmers Federation say on their website they are dedicated to increasing awareness of farming’s role in society.

When transparency and labelling standards are improved, it will be the consumer who determines the importance of animal welfare – and rights – in the scheme of things.

The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has found welfare is not keeping up with consumer demands. Consumers' concern makes them sensitive to campaigns such as “Make It Possible” and open to alternative products and lifestyles.

On the surface, the farming organisations who were calling for an immediate boycott of Coles have won the debate. But they have done little to convince consumers they needn’t worry about farm animal welfare.

Australian consumers, and subsequently legislators, will determine the direction for farm animal welfare in the future. It is in the best interests of the meat and egg industries to reassure consumers that animal welfare is a priority. Otherwise Animals Australia will have gained much more from the proposed boycott than anticipated.

Sally Healy was the 2011 recipient for the RSPCA Australia Scholarship for Humane Animal Production Research.

Georgette Burns does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


Animals Australia asks Coles to withdraw Make it Possible bags

Animal activist group Animals Australia have asked supermarket giant Coles to withdrawal their Make it Possible shopper bags from stores.

The decision to pull the bags was a direct response of the ‘vicious campaign’ launched by the National Farmers Federation (NFF) against Coles and Wesfarmers.

"It is a dark day for animal welfare in this country when a retailer’s support for an animal welfare initiative is vehemently opposed by the farming lobby,” said Animals Australia Campaign Director, Lyn White.

“This decision was not made lightly but in the midst of this distracting attack, the animals at the heart of this issue were being disregarded and forgotten. We also could not stand by and watch an act of generosity from Coles be turned against them.

“It is one thing for these groups to defend the live export trade, but to actively oppose a public initiative encouraging consumers to use their purchasing power to get laying hens out of cages and a better quality of life for pigs and meat chickens in this country is deplorable.” 

White says that while some members of the farming community may see the decision to pull the bags as a victory, she urges them to reflect on the message that they are sending to the wider community.

The alliance between Coles and AA was designed to provide a platform for farmers to move to more humane systems, but White says this message has been lost.

She adds that the NFF’s reaction to the campaign has only increased the groups’ determination to provide factory-farmed animals with the representation they need, and the group will bring back their successful Make it Possible television commercial to air from next Monday.

“Assisting us to keep this ad on air will provide the many thousands of Australians who have been angered by the farming lobby's attack on Coles with the opportunity to respond in the most positive way.”


Animals Australia urges Coles to stand by bag campaign

Animals Australia has said that it was ‘exasperated’ that sectors of the rural community have widely criticised supermarket giant Coles over the ‘Make it Possible’ bag campaign.

The National Farmers Federation along with other rural groups have labelled the animal rights group as ‘anti-farming’ claiming that the group openly supports veganism and is actively working to stop animal agriculture.

Animals Australia believes that the reference to a secret vegan agenda is nonsense and detracts from the real issue of the campaign which is to see animals raised humanely.

“We understand that we have a differing view to rural lobby groups on the live export trade, but it is profoundly disappointing to see this attack on Coles for supporting an unrelated campaign that encourages consumers to support higher welfare methods of production,” said Animals Australia Executive Director, Glenys Oogjes.

“How does this look to the average Australian to have rural lobbyists actively criticising efforts to encourage consumers to invest in higher standards of welfare? Consumer-driven change should be seen as a win/win as it gives producers the confidence to move to higher welfare systems.”

Oogjes believes that Coles should be ‘applauded’ for supporting higher welfare standards for livestock along with suppliers who comply by those high standards. Oogjes said that it is Animals Australia’s job to inform the public of welfare standards so consumers can make an educated decision at the checkout.

Animals Australia say that having the ‘make it possible’ bags in store serves as a reminder to consumer of their power to create a kinder world for farmed animals.

“Representative bodies need to realise that it is in fact their own defence of unconscionable industries such as factory farming and live export that is driving people to consider meat-free diets.”

“The goal of ‘Make it Possible’ is simply to see animals being raised in systems where they are afforded quality of life and protection from cruel treatment. It is both astonishing and disappointing that this hasn't represented a point of agreement between animal welfare and industry bodies.”