Animals raised for food and the law

The issues with animal protection legislation
Our solution
How you can help


With few exceptions, all of the horrendous treatment of animals described in this section on animals used for food is permitted by Australian law, through:

  • exemptions to the law
  • cruel practices that became entrenched when legislation was developed
  • the notion that such practices are ‘necessary’ to provide cheap food derived from animals.

Animal welfare is regulated by legislation and a series of model codes of practice at the federal and state/territory levels. The treatment of animals in NSW is governed by the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act 1979 (NSW).

The issues with animal protection legislation

Exemptions to the law

Acts that would be considered cruelty under the law if done to cats or dogs are allowed to be done to ‘livestock’ animals, under Australia’s Model Codes of Practice. The Codes effectively act as a defence or exemption to animal cruelty legislation, rendering the law useless.

The livestock industry and the government hide behind Australia’s ‘world-class’ animal protection laws, deceiving the public into thinking animals are being treated well. However, by adhering to the Codes of Practice the law is circumvented, and horrendous cruelty is allowed to take place in the name of cheap meat, eggs and dairy.

Unreasonable, unnecessary or unjustifiable

Under legislation, an act is deemed to be cruel only if it is found to be unreasonable, unnecessary or unjustifiable. Unfortunately for the animals, the law frequently deems what we would call cruelty to be necessary and reasonable in the pursuit of cheap meat and animal products.

Legislation also lacks a definition of what constitutes unreasonable, unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering. We can ask why it’s necessary to perform surgery – such as castration or de-budding – without anaesthetic, but the answer will be ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done’.

When the Codes of Practice were developed, current industry practices were simply entrenched, without examination of whether there were more humane methods.

Entrenched cruelty

The Codes of Practice sanction cruel practices that have been carried out by livestock producers since intensive farming began. Adherence to the Codes can constitute a defence to or exemption from anti-cruelty legislation, and this is how Australian law permits and institutionalises wide-scale animal cruelty.

Examples of cruel practices entrenched by the Codes of Practice include:

  • mutilation without anaesthetic, such as clipping pigs’ teeth, de-budding cows and trimming hens’ beaks
  • the minimum amount of space required per animal
  • confinement for pigs, such as farrowing crates and sow stalls.


Standing is the legal right of a party to bring a lawsuit, based on their stake in the outcome of that lawsuit. Unfortunately in NSW, individuals and animal rights groups do not have standing to bring a suit against people who commit animal cruelty.

Animal rights groups

Groups such as Animal Liberation exist to raise awareness about animal cruelty, and advocate for changes to the legislation that allows such cruelty to take place.

Despite extensive lobbying by charity groups like Animal Liberation, the government is showing no signs of changing this, meaning animals continue to have no voice under the law. You can help by making a donation or becoming a member of Animal Liberation, and spreading the word to your friends and family.

Our solution

Animal Liberation believes the system of legislation and codes that govern animal welfare need major overhaul. Cruelty to animals should not be dependant upon a species’ use to humans. The legal torture of animals must not be allowed to continue under the guise of being ‘necessary’ and ‘reasonable’ for food production.

For further information about the legal issues surrounding animals used for food, please see:

Animal Law: Principles and Frontiers

A comprehensive, free e-book produced by the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel’s Graeme McEwen

Animal Law Toolkit, produced by Voiceless, the animal protection institute

How you can help

  • Don’t consume animal products
  • Become a member of Animal Liberation and help fund the fight to challenge the laws that condone animal cruelty
  • Write letters to the editor, and spread the word among your family, friends and colleagues about how the law does not protect animals
  • Write to the NSW Minister for Primary Industries and to your local MP, lobbying for changes to animal cruelty legislation.