The horrific live-baiting scandal exposed by ABC’s Four Corners sent shockwaves through the greyhound industry and around the country. The footage obtained by Animals Australia and Animal Liberation Queensland revealed the terror that many piglets, possums and other such forms of “bait” have endured for years for the benefit of greyhound racing.
In 2011, Four Corners famously uncovered another story of animal abuse, documenting the cruel conditions Australian cattle are routinely subjected to in Indonesian slaughterhouses.
However, what these episodes reveal most is our readiness to point the finger. They reveal our willingness to (rightfully) blame and shame those perpetrators who carry out animal abuse. In one instance the greyhound industry is put to the sword and in the other, it is the abattoirs of Indonesia. Both stories feature an easily identifiable antagonist, one that is easy to pin down. In both stories our public and political response was swift. Both industries suffered immediately.
But what if the enemy were less easy to detect?
Last year Aussie Farms, an animal rights-based website, was anonymously supplied footage inside Australia’s largest abattoir for pigs, in Corowa. The footage shows workers kicking and excessively prodding pigs into a gas chamber where they are “put to sleep” before slaughter. Once inside, the frightened swine scream and thrash about as they gasp for air. Their screams are reminiscent to those of the baited piglets before the dog devours it.
After the undercover footage of the abattoir was released publicly, abattoir owner and operator Hamsdale Australia was forced to respond. In such a situation a semblance of action is necessary. Predictable PR ensued: “We were distressed and shocked to see the footage … We have taken swift action … [we] maintain a very strong commitment to animal welfare,” and so on. In addition, Hamsdale Australia dismissed the two workers who were seen mishandling the pigs.
Almost a year has passed since the release of this footage, and the Corowa abattoir continues to operate. The site still “processes” approximately 1 million pigs each year. Except for the two men dismissed for pig mistreatment, the company’s methods were well within the law. In fact, carbon dioxide is touted by the industry and the RSPCA as the most “humane” way to slaughter pigs. In the eyes of the law, the sole wrongdoing here was the undercover installation of surveillance cameras.
Although this story achieved considerable attention, it lacked the scale and prominence to affect any immediate change. Liberal Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson expressed no desire to alter the status quo of abattoirs in NSW.
Moreover, the story lacked a clear-cut criminal, forcing us to confront the methods used for producing our food in our country. Although we’re probably not the workers, managers or owners of the Corowa abattoir, we are and remain an integral part of the problem. Economically, we are the demand that has led to the gross mistreatment of our supply. If a story such as this has led to relative inaction, who are we to direct blame when we witness live baiting or the appalling conditions of abattoirs overseas? If we are still willing to consume the products made at an abattoir such as Hamsdale’s, surely we must share a moral blind spot on animal cruelty.