On 25 February 2014 the Animal Welfare (Factory Farming) Amendment Bill 2013 was passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly. The Bill is noteworthy as it is the first time that certain intensive farming practices – specifically the use of battery cages in egg production and the use of sow stalls and gestational crates for pigs — will be banned in any Australian jurisdiction. (Although the Tasmanian Government had, in May 2012, announced its intention to phase out battery cages and ‘fast track’ a planned ban on sow stalls, no legislation has been introduced to implement the proposed changes.) The Bill, which will also ban beak trimming of chickens (sometimes referred to as ‘de-beaking’), was introduced by Shane Rattenbury, the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services and sole Greens member of the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Battery cages have been banned in a number of countries including Switzerland, Austria and Sweden. They are being phased out in New Zealand and in a number of states in the USA, including California and Michigan. Conventional battery cages have been banned in the European Union since 1 January 2012 (although birds may still be housed in ‘enriched cages’).
Sow stalls are already banned in the United Kingdom and Sweden, and will be banned in New Zealand from 2015. Other jurisdictions restrict the use of sow stalls - for example, in the European Union sow stalls may only be used in the first four weeks of pregnancy and for a week before the piglets are expected to be born; and in some USA states, including California, Arizona and Florida, a pig may only be confined for a week before she is expected to give birth.
Industry statistics indicate that there were 16.859 million laying hens in Australia as at 31 December 2012, of which approximately 11 million were housed in battery cages. As at 30 June 2013, there were 218,000 breeding sows in Australia, in a total pig population of 2 million.
There is one battery cage facility in the ACT, which entered into an agreement in 2012 with the ACT Government to convert to a barn-laid facility by 15 May 2016. This agreement is recognised by the Bill, with the existing facility being exempted from the new housing requirements until 16 May 2016. There are no intensive piggeries in the ACT.
The Bill does not ban the sale of eggs produced in caged systems or pork produced using sow stalls—only the use of those methods of production in the ACT. Interestingly, the ACT previously enacted legislation that would have prevented eggs produced in a battery system from being sold in the ACT. However, this legislation never commenced, due to national competition policy concerns (specifically the refusal of other jurisdictions to agree to required amendments to the Mutual Recognition Act 1992 (Cth)).
Some retailers have already begun moving away from the production methods addressed in the ACT Bill—Coles removed cage eggs and sow stall produced pork from its own brand products in January 2013 and Woolworths has committed to phasing out the sale of all caged eggs by December 2018.