HYSTERIA over the release of a map produced by animal activists showing the locations of Australian farms, feedlots and processors is not fully warranted, according to Victorian agricultural consultant Nathan Scott.
Farmer bodies, agvocates and the Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud have reacted angrily to the animal rights charity Aussie Farms publishing the locations of hundreds of farms, feedlots and processing plants without the owners’ permission.
Mr Scott said although he didn’t agree with what Aussie Farms has done in producing a map designed to assist protestors and animal liberationists in locating farming businesses, “I also don’t think the hysteria it has created within the ag industry is fully warranted either.”
“A quick search of some key words in Google Maps will produce plenty of locations of farming enterprises of all types.
“What Aussie Farms have created isn’t rocket science and I don’t believe it is the end of the world either,” he said.
“It has, however; provided them with massive media coverage, and is morally questionable, particularly given that there are little kids and families at a lot of the locations listed, and consent has not been given.”
Mr Scott said people with extreme views intent on breaking the law and entering a premises unlawfully to commit a crime don’t need a website to help them.
“The law will deal with them in any case.
“For the wider public, the everyday consumer who may have been caught up in this hype, if they are interested in what happens at these locations then show them,” he said.
“Open up your gates and explain how well you care for your animals, and what is involved in producing the highest quality products for them to consume.”
Aussie Farms has said it is “dedicated to ending commercialised animal abuse and exploitation in Australian animal agriculture facilities by increasing industry transparency and educating the public about modern farming and slaughtering practices”. The group has linked the map to its free public repository described as an “information centre and toolkit for animal rights activists in Australia” which solicits material on farms in “an effort to force transparency on an industry dependent on secrecy.”
Aussie Farms executive director Chris Delforce has defended the map, saying “consumers are being withheld crucial information about the reality of modern animal farming, to the point of deception, and we have released this map to encourage transparency and consumer awareness”. The interactive map urges the uploading of documents, images and videos associated with the farm or facility, but also lists links showing “photos from similar facilities” of wounded, dead or distressed animals.
A stud sheep farmer listed on the website said the group appeared to have its own set of rules. He would continue to have sale and open days, but will consider increasing farm security to counter any trespassers or protesters.
“I believe it’s a big publicity stunt to a certain extent.”
The operation’s website already contains Google Map location directions, but he believed Aussie Farms’ actions are an invasion of his privacy and he will investigate options to get the farm location from the map.
The sheep breeder was more concerned about Aussie Farms listing photographs through a link on his farm’s map reference that were not associated with the operation.
“That’s just straight out misleading, because none of those photos have come from our property.”
Tasmanian farmer George Gatenby put a link to the ABC’s coverage of the story on his Twitter page and defended livestock farmers.
“Our gates are always open, we welcome anyone that would like to visit our property and see how food & fibre is produced.
“Australian farms have the best quality assurance programs in the world & have people that care for their animals more than themselves,” he wrote.
The National Farmers Federation has said Australian farming families are under siege from “a malicious social media campaign run by an extreme anti-farm group” which believes that animals should not be owned for human purposes.
NFF president Fiona Simson said the implications could be dire and has demanded Facebook close the page promoting the Aussie Farms map immediately and for the group to be stripped of its charity status. The NFF has also started a campaign to urge those listed on the website to ask Aussie Farms to remove their details from the site and complain to the Office of the Information Commissioner.
On Monday, Mr Littleproud said the Aussie Farms map was irresponsible, “an anonymous farm-shaming website with no real outcomes for animal welfare” and potentially encouraging activists to trespass and worse after being misled about the practices on that farm. Trespass also has the potential to cause significant bio-security issues, he said.
“Putting the locations of farms online could be creating an attack map for activists. This will potentially result in illegal behaviour by activists.
“Farms are people’s homes, not just their businesses,” he said.
“Some farmers have already complained the website claims they run businesses which they do not.”
Mr Littleproud’s comments have prompted Mr Delforce to challenge the minister to an impartially moderated publicly televised debate “on the morality of Australian animal agriculture.”
Mr Littleproud also today called on state governments to review and beef up trespass laws following the Aussie Farms “personal address scandal”.
The minister’s statement said he had received preliminary advice that is there is little the Federal Government can do about Aussie Farms putting the personal addresses of thousands of farmers online – but state governments can adjust trespass and other criminal laws as they see fit.
“The risk of trespass and farm vandalism is higher since this website went up and state governments need to respond with laws that punish trespassers and vigilantes.
“Plenty of information on this website has already been proven wrong and it would only take one idiot to act on information from this website for a tragedy to occur.”
Respected agvocate Catherine Marriott said animal rights activists can never be shut them down “and sometimes we can learn from them.”
“However, giving out names and addresses of individuals family businesses and homes, insinuating that they are criminals because they farm livestock and encouraging illegal activity through trespassing and stealing animals is under no circumstances acceptable and I suspect in breach of the privacy laws.
“It certainly doesn’t pass the “betterment of the people” charity test,” she said.
“It would be very frightening for the families targeted and I would like to see the organisation shut down.”
Ms Marriott said Aussie Farms’ behaviour can be compared to the promotion of all families names and addresses if they have children, encouraging people to break in and take photos in case there is child abuse happening.
“It is so unreasonable, to almost be unbelievable.
“The industry is constantly improving their processes and sometimes people do the wrong thing, however; there are legal reporting mechanisms in place through the police and animal welfare officers to manage these situations,” she said.
“It is absolutely not the role for a charity moonlighting as experts in animal welfare to promote illegal and frightening activity.
“Farmers know more about animal welfare than most activists ever will, they work with animals every day.”
Mr Scott also said farmers won’t ever convince those with extreme views, “but they aren’t our customers anyway.”
However, he said farmers, by opening their gates could engage directly with people that represent the majority.
“The silent majority — the everyday person in the street that are currently observing what looks like a bunch of crazies from either side yelling at each other on a number of topics.
“Enough of the yelling on social media, it is time to properly engage with those that matter,” he said.
“While our industry continues to engage in this unproductive aggression, we will slowly erode the good standing we have enjoyed with our everyday consumers.
“If there are laws broken in publishing the map, then it should be dealt with,” he said.
“If not, we need to stop yelling and get on with showing the world how good we are, and how much better we still want to be.
“Not because some organisation is trying to shame us into it, but because we actually care.”
Ms Simson said the NFF had fielded calls from farmers who had been included on the map, in some instances who were represented as running businesses that in fact, they do not.
“They are rightly distressed that their name has incorrectly been linked to ‘animal cruelty’.
“They are extremely anxious and very angry that their workplace, and their home, has become the target of extreme and dangerous activities,” Ms Simson said.
She said Aussie Farms has been linked to a number of trespass incidents, including an incident in December where 55 protesters forced their way into an abattoir in Nhill, Victoria.
“Their agenda is simple and straightforward: they want to see an end to farms, and that means an end to many farmers and the contribution they make.
“The charitable status of the group must be retracted by the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission.
“Their business model is to openly flout Australia’s laws to undermine farming and agriculture in Australia.”
Ms Simson said she would write to police in each state and territory, alerting them to the ‘library’ of imagery on the Aussie Farms website, and questioning how the material was collected.
The NFF is also seeking legal counsel on the implied link the map makes to the farmers represented and animal cruelty; and in regards to any potential infringement of privacy and trespass laws.
NSW Farmers vice president Chris Groves said that the clear purpose of Aussie Farms was to attack the integrity of farmers and encourage further trespassing by activists. The association is calling on all level of government to undertake immediate action to protect farmers from increasingly dangerous tactics from activists.