Cattle and Sheep Standards and Guidelines Q&A

Cattle and Sheep Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines Questions and Answers

July 2014

1.     What are cattle and sheep standards and guidelines?

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle and The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep are important components of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS). The AAWS was an Australian Government initiative that guides the development of new, nationally consistent policies to enhance animal welfare arrangements in all Australian states and territories.

Government and industry have agreed that national standards and guidelines are needed and are working cooperatively to develop the standards and guidelines under the AAWS. These standards and guidelines will replace the Current Model Code of Practice (MCOP) Model Codes of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Cattle, 2nd edition, PISC Report 85, CSIRO Publishing, 2004 and Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: The Sheep, 2nd edition, PISC Report 89, CSIRO Publishing, 2006.

The standards provide a basis for developing and implementing consistent legislation and enforcement across Australia, and provide guidance for all people responsible for cattle and sheep. They are based on current scientific knowledge, recommended industry practice and community expectations.

The Australian state and territory governments are responsible for the regulation of animal welfare in Australia. Under the Federal Constitution, States and Territories have the primary jurisdiction for animal welfare within Australia.

Australian producers have always been aware of their responsibilities for livestock welfare. However, increasing awareness among consumers is placing significant pressure on our livestock industries to demonstrate and enhance animal welfare.

The animal welfare system in Australia aims to ensure all animals receive an acceptable level of care and treatment including adequate housing or habitat, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather conditions and other forms of natural disasters.

2.     Why do we need new cattle and sheep welfare standards and guidelines?

For the past 20 years, the welfare of livestock in Australia has been supported by a series of MCOP. As community values and expectations have changed and our international trading partners have placed greater emphasis on livestock welfare, the usefulness and relevance of these Codes has been called into question, as has the process by which these Codes have been revised and developed.

A review undertaken by AAWS in 2005 of the MCOP system for welfare recommended they be converted into Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines.  The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines Land Transport of Livestock was the first test of this process.

The development of nationally consistent cattle and sheep welfare standards and guidelines underpins producers’ access to domestic and overseas markets and reinforces Australia’s international leadership in livestock welfare.

The standards aim to inform all producers responsible for the care and management of cattle and sheep.

The development of Australian Standards and Guidelines is relevant to industry quality assurance programs and it is expected that there will be close alignment between them. It should be noted that several livestock industries have made significant progress in developing quality assurance programs that incorporate livestock welfare requirements.

The welfare standards also aim to harmonise and streamline livestock welfare legislation across in Australia, ensuring results in improved welfare outcomes and practicality for industry.

3.     What’s the difference between a standard and a guideline?

Standards will be the legal requirements for livestock welfare and will use the word ‘must’. The standards will provide the basis for developing and implementing consistent legislation and enforcement across Australia.

The main decision-making principles used for developing the standards are to ensure the standards are:

  • Desirable for livestock welfare
  • Feasible for industry and government to implement
  • Important for the livestock-welfare regulatory framework
  • Achieves the intended outcome for livestock welfare.

The guidelines are the recommended practices to achieve desirable livestock welfare outcomes. Guidelines will use the word ‘should’ and are designed to complement the standards. Non-compliance with one or more guidelines will not constitute an offence under law.

The development process for the standards and guidelines is transparent and inclusive. Relevant scientific literature, current practice and community expectations are utilised to support an evidence-based approach.

4.     Who is involved in the development?

The development of the standards and guidelines for the welfare of all commercial livestock species at all points along the production supply chain is an important project in a comprehensive program under the AAWS.

The initial decision in 2008 to develop the cattle and sheep welfare standards was a shared decision between all governments and the cattle and sheep industry peak bodies – Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Lot Feeders Association and the Australian Dairy Federation and for sheep, Sheepmeat Council of Australia and WoolProducers Australia.

The standards are developed in consultation with state and territory governments, livestock industry organisations, animal welfare groups and the general public under the auspices of the Animal Welfare Committee (AWC).

The draft standards were compiled by a small writing group convened and managed by Animal Health Australia (AHA) which comprises researchers, government and industry representatives, which are supported by a widely representative reference group. An important part of the process has been the preparation of a Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) to assess the proposed standards and evaluate the potential costs to producers and others which may result from changes to existing requirements.

The preparation of the standards represents a significant investment of time and effort by all parties, especially members of the writing and reference groups.

5.     What was the AAWS?

The Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS) was a national partnership between governments, industries and the community to improve animal welfare for all animals in Australia. The AAWS project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture.

First launched in 2005, the 2010-2014 AAWS, aims to assist in the creation of a more consistent and effective animal welfare system. The Strategy is overseen by a skills-based Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AAWAC), which is charged with driving the implementation of the AAWS. The 15-person committee is comprised of a mixture of stakeholder representatives and experts in various fields of animal welfare.

AAWAC members are selected because of their skills, knowledge and experience across a wide range of stakeholder groups and their ability to steer complex animal welfare issues and policy development to a successful conclusion.

The animal industries, animal welfare bodies, the veterinary profession and the research community are all engaged in the development of animal welfare policy and legislation through formal and informal consultation with various committees, particularly the AWC.

6.     What is AHA’s role in this process?

The AAWS commissioned AHA to facilitate the development of nationally consistent standards and guidelines for livestock following the 2005 review.

The fundamental components and workings of the development process are available in the introduction of the draft standards and guidelines document and in the agreed development business plan, available on this website.

However, specifically the role of AHA is to:

  • Manage the overall process for the development of standards and guidelines according to the revised Standards and Guidelines Development Plan and under the direction of the writing group funding members and the reference group for each project.
  • Provide support to the Chair and provide leadership to facilitate solutions for animal welfare issues.
  • Recruit and manage outside consultants for key tasks, specifically; literature review, regulation impact statement, public consultation and editing.
  • Provide project support.
  • Ensure that final reports satisfy stakeholder requirements.
  • Maintain a high level of consensus in decision making and transparency in recording any revised position.

7.     How was consultation conducted?

The process AHA was engaged to conduct has three phases: development; public consultation; and revision.

The development process began in late 2008. Click on the links to view a detailed timeline of the process for cattle and sheep.

The public consultation phase ran from its opening on 7 March until 5 August 2013. The initial consultation phase was to be 60 days, however AHA was asked by SCoPI to extend this period to 150 days (five months) concluding on 5 August.

Views were sought from a range of organisations and people interested in the welfare of cattle and sheep via the tools on this website.

An extensive consultation process was undertaken by members of the reference group during development of the draft standards and guidelines. The final public consultation highlighted ethical and practical issues, which will lead to the development of more robust standards. The reference group will carefully consider the views and comments of all stakeholders in revising the final standards and guidelines for recommendation to AWC.

To increase awareness of the consultation, AHA placed advertisements in major rural newspapers in the states and territories, including the Australian newspaper, which is distributed nationally across the country. A media release announcing the start of the consultation provided information to our writing and reference groups, members and stakeholders asking them to promote the consultation and encourage producers and individuals to make submissions.  Additional media releases were produced during the period and close to closure.

Submissions were accepted by AHA in several ways, including email, conventional post, or through filling out an electronic survey which was available, along with background information to assist producers, on the this website, which is managed by AHA.

Currently, AHA is engaged in the revision phase, where all submissions are being reviewed and documented before relevant issues are passed on to the AWC in May 2014.

8.     What are the next steps?

Both the sheep and cattle Writing and Reference Groups reviewed the submissions and endorsed the draft standards and guidelines documents. Both the Sheep and Cattle Decision Regulation Impact Statement have been endorsed by Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR).

The Animal Welfare Task Group (AWTG) reviewed all jurisdictional positions and addresses any outstanding issues of concern.

The AWTG then presented both final standards and guidelines to The Agriculture Senior Officials Committee (AgSOC) and then to the Agriculture Ministers (AGMIN) for endorsement.

The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines – for Sheep and the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines – for Cattle have been agreed by State and Territory government ministers. (Jan 2016)

Implementation of the standards and guidelines is another step. For specific information and timelines please contact your relevant State or Territory Government agency.