OPINION: When RSPCA investigates alleged swearing at sheep…

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 2nd June 2015

Jan Davis is a guest contributor to Australian Food News and writes another of her regular articles here.

Did you know sheep could be offended by rude words? NSW farmer Ken Turner didn’t.
Did you know sheep could be offended by rude words? NSW farmer Ken Turner didn’t.

Did you know sheep could be offended by rude words? NSW farmer Ken Turner didn’t.

That was until the RSPCA came knocking on his door, acting on a complaint from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after one of their ‘undercover’ operatives secretly filmed a worker in a shearing shed using bad language in front of the sheep.

A bewildered Mr Turner said that none of the sheep had actually told him they were offended. “I still haven’t had a sheep come to me (to complain) – they didn’t even look offended after they were shorn,” he said.

The RSPCA conceded that many of the complaints the organisation received each year were “petty”. However, Steve Coleman, CEO of NSW RSPCA, said that while complaints about verbal abuse of animals were rare, ‘if there is an allegation that puts at risk an animal that causes an unreasonable amount of pain and that pain causes suffering or distress, then we investigate’. Eventually, but not surprisingly, this complaint was dismissed. However, to get to that point, the RSPCA invested significant time and, some would say, reputational risk, in investigating the allegations.

It would be a sad loss if the long history of colourful characters and even more colourful language in shearing sheds is sanitised by politicised actions such as this. And I can’t help but wonder if cartoonists have had it right all along; and sheep really do speak English when we’re not around; rather than as I had expected, well, sheep.

It is clear that PETA really is on a mission to shut down the sheep and wool industries in Australia.

Last year, it launched a campaign against alleged cruelty to sheep featuring a bearded pop star holding a lamb covered in blood and open wounds.

A poster carried the caption ‘here’s the rest of your wool coat’; and a video asked people to boycott wool products.  The video claimed to show ‘how impatient shearers leave sheep with bloody wounds and how wool producers hack chunks of skin off lambs’ backsides in a crude attempt to prevent maggot infestations’.

At first glance, the poster insinuates that woollen products can’t be obtained without slaughtering a sheep. This is completely untrue: a sheep’s wool can be harvested more than once a year without having to kill it. This is exactly the same as saying you can’t have milk without killing a cow; which, just in case PETA doesn’t know, is also untrue.

But that’s not the extent of PETA’s unfamiliarity with the industry.  Clearly, it has difficulty in knowing one end of a sheep from the other, as the so-called ‘wounds’ were nowhere near the back end of the lamb.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the worst of their dishonest and ideologically driven campaign. After being repeatedly challenged to divulge the source of the photo, PETA was forced to admit that the ‘lamb’ was actually made of foam rubber because it could not find an example that suited their argument.

Outraged farmers insisted that PETA should stop misleading people with gruesome materials that were completely untrue. Shearing is important for a sheep’s wellbeing; and farmers and shearers are overwhelmingly extremely decent people who take their responsibilities to their animals very seriously.

Barnaby Joyce, federal Minister for Agriculture, nailed it when he said “PETA wants to shut our sheep and wool industry down and send farmers back to on-farm poverty because PETA believes their beliefs gives them unrestrained license to do this … The argument of PETA is to portray the exceptional as the generality to discredit the whole industry – the car crash as a reason to ban cars, the assault to ban alcohol, the mistreatment of an animal as the reason to shut down farming.”

My household includes a very pampered pooch which is often sent to the groomers to be shorn. Being professionals, I am sure they don’t swear at the clientele. However, I am guilty of letting rip with some very colloquial Aussie phrases from time to time in the privacy of my own home, and in the hearing of the dog. So I’m expecting a knock on my front door from the authorities sometime soon.

Oh, I forgot. Pet owners are not on PETA’s radar. They are only interested in persecuting hard-working farmers.

PETA has shown its true colours by using such dishonest and emotive techniques to bully other people into accepting their vision of a world where no-one eats meat or wears wool. Such disrespect is offensive to the public and farmers alike. Serious questions need to be asked about its moral code.

Jan Davis has worked in senior agribusiness roles across Australia for thirty years. Tagged as Tasmania’s top political lobbyist and one of the most influential people in the state; she works as an agribusiness and government relations consultant. To read her full biography click HERE.