WA Labor takes aim at intensive farming

Haidee Vandenberghe and Rebecca TurnerCountryman

A Labor State Government would phase out intensive animal farming, after last weekend’s State Labor Conference ratified a move towards more “humane food production”.

In a motion put forward by Maylands MLA Lisa Baker, Labor vowed if elected to establish a parliamentary committee to investigate matters of animal welfare and reduce then eradicate intensive farming.

Under fire were the pork, chicken meat and egg industries, although feedlotting cattle and sheep were not included at this stage.

Ms Baker said she realised the pork and chicken industries had already done substantial self-regulation and Labor would work with industry to determine the best outcome.

She said work on sow stalls and laying cages would be her first priorities.

“The area of intensive farming is a huge, complex and an integral part of our economy, ” Ms Baker said.

“You don’t go messing with it without careful consideration and good industry advice.

“I would be looking in the first instance at going out to industry and other stakeholders to ask where the areas are that we can be most supportive of transitioning to a less intensive procedure.”

Labor Agriculture spokesman Mick Murray said consumers would simply have to accept paying more for their food.

He said many consumers were already “voting with their pockets” by choosing to pay more.

“One thing people have to realise is these changes come at a cost, ” Mr Murray said.

“Farmers markets are an example of that.

“Do people pay more at farmers markets? Yes.”

A move away from intensive farming would be transitional to prevent food prices “blowing out” and Mr Murray said his preference would be towards all meat being produced free range.

He said consumers would be horrified to see some of the conditions suffered by laying hens.

However, the industries under attack claim the Labor policy shows the party is now closer than ever to the Greens.

WA Pork Producers Association executive officer Russel Cox said the pork industry had already made substantial progress on improved housing and production systems for pigs.

He said if producers were not supported through this time of necessary change, WA was at risk of phasing out its pork farmers and opening the door to a flood of imported products that did not reach Australian consumers’ safety or moral standards.

Pastoralist and Graziers Association (PGA) president Rob Gillam was more scathing, describing Labor’s policy as rubbish.

Like Mr Cox, he held fears moving away from cost effective, intensive practices would push consumers towards cheap imports.

“We have seen this happen with pork production, where the restrictions placed on producing pigs has made importing pork and bacon from other countries cheaper, ” Mr Gillam said.

“Supermarkets have been telling us for years, and more recently in the last six months, that consumers want cheap food.”

WAFarmers president Mike Norton said the ‘feel good’ mentality of the new Labor platform did not necessarily work in a commercial reality.

He said the farming community would be extremely concerned by Labor’s new policy, but at this stage it was scant on detail.

“It leaves a lot of interpretation to the eye of the beholder, ” Mr Norton said.

Mr Norton said Coles revealed recently at the Victorian Farmers Federation Conference in Ballarat that from their survey work they had found consumers wanted the cheapest and the best food they could get and that only up to a point did consumers have a preference on how food was manufactured and grown.

“I’m not sure how consumers will react if governments and political parties are responsible for the inflation of food prices, ” he said.

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