HARSHER penalties may deter animal activists from breaking into farming properties, but it’s more important to focus on ensuring animal cruelty doesn’t occur in the first place.
That’s the view of the director of Wodonga Abattoirs and Rendering, Matthew McPhee, in response to a push from federal Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce to introduce “ag-gag” laws to stop people placing cameras in factory farms to expose animal welfare breaches.
Mr McPhee made the comments yesterday after the rendering plant’s launch of a $4 million tri-generation plant that will reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 300,000 tonnes.
Mr Joyce is in discussions with the states to introduce the laws to “stop vigilantes”, as farmers felt such break-ins were a breach of privacy.
EDITORIAL: Welfare should be the focus
It comes after two workers at Corowa abattoir Rivalea were sacked following the release of footage of a pig being excessively prodded and kicked, something Mr McPhee said he was not aware of happening at his Wodonga factory.
“Animal welfare is first and foremost the No. 1 issue,” he said.
“Incidences like this at other plants are horrible and I’m sure the owners of those businesses would agree ... it’s not tolerated by our customers or us.
“If the government is looking at harsher penalties, that’s fine, but really as a business we just don’t want it (animal cruelty) to happen at all.”
Mr McPhee said the abattoir had its own CCTV to regulate itself, plus an independent vet and government inspector on-site at all times.
“We’re constantly trying to improve and monitoring ourselves,” he said.
On the subject of improving, the factory has made positive steps forward on the environmental front.
Its tri-generation unit uses natural gas to produce 2000 kilowatts of electricity, 1000 kilowatts of hot water, and 1000 kilograms of steam an hour, enough to power the entire site.
The equipment was bought with the help of a $1 million Victorian government grant, plus $1 million from the federal government.
Benambra MP Bill Tilley was on hand for the launch of the machinery yesterday, saying it was a positive move forward for the business.
Mr McPhee said the decision to go green was in part due to rising electricity costs and to reduce its own carbon footprint.
The company has also installed a $500,000 solar panel system at its Kane Road cold store in Wodonga, which will be switched on soon.