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The whip is cracking at the ear of many – will they hear it

Sometimes dramatic decisions are a harbinger to test the wisdom and will of others.

When Harness Racing Australia momentously decided recently to ban the whip, it sent a cracking message not only to other performance animal codes but also to all animal industries.

Increasingly we are a society that cares deeply about the treatment of animals. This trend of increasing expectations for the humane treatment of animals can be ignored only at the deepest peril by anyone working with animals in any capacity.

In NSW, Greyhounds NSW came as close as it is possible to come to death after a damning Commission of Inquiry report into the Four Corners revelations about live baiting– using pigs, possums, and rabbits.

That it was saved by political reprieve at 1 minute to midnight should provide no comfort in the animal industry – Greyhounds NSW came close enough to death to indicate that it can happen.

So, what has the harness racing industry done?

After a 200-year history of using whips in racing, RMK+Associates was proud to help Harness Racing Australia communicate to the world its initiative to ban the whip.

What the industry has done is to signal that the fluoro writing on the wall, that it can co-opt the RSPCA to publicly laud its actions, and that the “impossible” is possible.

Take thoroughbred racing, for instance. Clearly, it is next in the sights of organisations like the RSPCA. The industry has long made its case for the whip and made modifications to reduce the pain it inflicts.

Here is the real choice.

Either the industry acts itself, on its own terms, or the whip will be taken from it by the force of public opinion. In the latter instance, it loses the whip and significant reputational skin; in the former, the outcome is identical but – like harness racing – it gains reputation and builds the sustainability of its industry.

The message is clear, too, for Greyhounds. They must solve the “impossible” problems regarding the overbreeding, the euthanasia of pups that don’t make the grade, and of post-raced dogs.

Beyond recreational performance animals is the animal food production industry.

Live export tops the list, and there is simply no latitude for continued error. Despite the systems in place, cruelty to Australian animals overseas continues. The industry must find the fortitude to simply stop exporting where it cannot guarantee animals are processed to Australian standards.

Again, either the industry acts unilaterally, or repeated horrors will see an imposed solution.

The dairy, beef, sheep, and chicken industries have their own “skeletons” in the closet. Dairy needs to change its bobby calf rules and shorten travel times and feeding times to abattoirs.

They must stop calving induction, where premature calves are artificially birthed then unceremoniously dispatched, often with a hammer – all this for the convenient alignment of milking cycles.

Beef cattle, especially up north, may be out of sight but not entirely out of mind. Painful practices like summary castration with blades, cutting off horns at an early age, or spaying, all occur without anaesthetic.

Chicken processing and death can be less than efficient, and millions of chicks still conveyor-belted alive and tweeting into a meat masher. Solutions to sheep inflictions, like mulesing or cutting skin off the backsides to stop them become fly blown, is still done without anaesthetic.

The tide of public opinion is rising around all these industries daily. The picture of futility is farmers preaching that the city doesn’t understand what they do.

The truth is some of them fail dismally to understand their own societies.

It they want to take a leaf from the harness racing book, the process is not that hard.

With guidance and expert management of engagement processes, they can be helped to engage meaningfully with stakeholders, including those that some in their industries consider “enemies”.

They can achieve outcomes that are mutually beneficial and acceptable, and that secure the sustainability of their industries – but they do need to make genuine and difficult changes.

The writing remains on the wall, and it’s getting bigger and more fluorescent. What is left is for the industries to read it, and act.