Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Animal Liberation activists launch spy drone to test free-range claims
August 30, 2013 Landline reporter Sean Murphy abc.net.au
Animal Liberation activists have dramatically stepped up their campaign against intensive livestock production, with their first official investigation using a hexacopter drone to capture aerial footage.
The animal rights charity purchased a $14,000 aircraft earlier this year and had it fitted with a $3,000 high-definition video camera, stabilisers and a 10-times zoom lens. "It gives the opportunity to document from above 10 metres and below 30 metres, and it is lawful," said Animal Liberation NSW executive director Mark Pearson.
"So the key to the remote-controlled device is that it's actually vision that's obtained without trespass, it's obtained lawfully in our airspace so what it documents is something that can be used by all the authorities, police and the courts."
It was recently used to film a free-range egg farm at Dora Creek on the Central Coast of New South Wales and another at Maitland, north of Newcastle.
Animal Liberation says it is providing the pictures to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate whether the farms are really free range. "If it's free range, the birds must have access to outside vegetation, palatable vegetation, shade, light, dust, etc, to fulfil their needs, which is what consumers expect to be the case if consumers are paying the premium for free-range eggs," Mr Pearson said.
The ABC's Landline program filmed part of the operation at the Dora Creek farm. According to one of its owners, Glenn Moncrieff, his 65,000 hens are let out every afternoon and were simply confined to their sheds on the day Animal Liberation filmed because they were being treated for worms. This is an approved husbandry practice under Australia's Model Code for Poultry. Mr Moncrieff would not let Landline inspect his sheds, but we observed hens outside later that day.
Drone amounts to 'shoot first, ask later'
Mr Moncrieff is unhappy about being spied on by the Animal Liberation drone.
"I find it extremely intrusive, I don't believe these people should have the right to do what they've just done," Mr Moncrieff said. "If they come and knock on my door and ask questions, [I am] happy to help, if they want to fly things over my fence, I just don't agree with it."
The National Farmers Federation president Duncan Fraser says it is clear Animal Liberation would rather shoot first and ask questions later. "There's an element of grandstanding there, that they're seeking to use shock tactics themselves and we don't know if they get hold of all this footage how it's used or edited," Mr Fraser said. "So there's a lot of hidden issues there that need to be worked through."
He says some farmers have vowed to shoot the drone if it flies over their property but he urges caution. "Well I think that'd be counter-productive. I know the temptation is there but they would be breaking the law themselves so they don't really achieve anything in the end. "So I think cool heads are required here and hopefully we can talk reason with these animal rights groups and to better understand their motives."
Campaigners unlikely to be prosecuted
The timing of Animal Liberation's investigation is intended to promote Mark Pearson's campaign for the Australian Senate next week. He is the lead candidate in NSW for the Animal Justice Party. "I think people are interested to see the truth, to see what's behind closed doors," Mr Pearson said. "The Animal Justice Party is very much about and supports the exposing of what has been kept hidden from people in the treatment of animals."
Mr Pearson NSW executive director) says Animal Liberation also obtained vision inside the Dora Creek farm from a secretly-installed camera and additional vision, which he shot himself. This was done without permission, but Mr Pearson is confident he and other Animal Liberation operatives will not be prosecuted. "I have been arrested and charged for trespass numerous times - about 12 times," he said.
"I have no conviction as a consequence of those because the judge and the courts look at the situation, okay a person has gone and filmed and documented something, but look at what they've documented."
The NSW Minister For Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson, says the police should investigate the case and that she has already spoken with the state Attorney-General about what she calls "agri-terrorism". "I have had correspondence and personal correspondence from some of the people that have been victims of this type of thing and they have been terrified as a result of this," Ms Hodgkinson said.
"You've got people living in houses, these are family properties, they have been terrified as a result of these break-ins and you could actually call it a form of agri-terrorism."
Next target: live exports
Animal Liberation has now trained three operators to fly the hexacopter and is planning to use it to film anywhere in Australia. It says its future targets will include live export facilities and cattle feedlots.
Mr Pearson says the group wants police to investigate if feedlots are breaking the law when cattle are kept, often unsheltered, in heat wave conditions. "To be able to put all these cattle and feed them this high energy diet, no exercise, often no shelter, is supposed to be an acceptable practise by the Australian Lot Feeders Association and acceptable in law according to them and some veterinarians. We want to test that," Mr Pearson said.
The National Farmers Federation's Duncan Fraser says farmers take animal welfare seriously and welcome public scrutiny, but he believes the community will agree that using drones to film their farms is a breach of privacy.
"I just say to the general public, would they want this sort of machine hovering over their backyard or their house or whatever infringing on their privacy on the suspicion that you might be kicking your dog in the back yard, where do you end up with these sort of things?"
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