Brian Daly interviews RSPCA Australia’s Humane Food Marketing Officer, Talulah Gaunt to find out more about the topics covered in season 2 of the Humane Food podcast.
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Opening quote: There has certainly been a lot more people interested in reducing their consumption of animal products. And there is far more availability of plant-based products or you know, stuff has grown in labs. But really whilst that farming of animals in food and fibre continues, we really do need to seek to ensure that the conditions that those animals live meet, you know, various physical and behavioural needs that they have.
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Brian: Hello, and welcome to RSPCA Australia's humane food podcast. Welcome to series two. My name is Brian Daly and I'd like to thank everybody for listening to the first series, we've had some really lovely feedback from listeners across Australia and even around the world. We've got some great guests lined up for you in season two to talk more about animal welfare in Australia and today for this first episode. We're going to kick off with Talulah Gaunt, the Humane Food Marketing Officer at RSPCA Australia. Welcome to the podcast. Talulah.
Talulah: Thanks, Brian, good to be here.
Brian: So you were saying when we're speaking just before that the first season has met with a lot of positive feedback for you, you're happy with how it's all worked out. And we're getting the message across about our efforts in improving the lives of farm animals in Australia?
Talulah: Yeah, we’re really pleased with how it's turned out. We've had quite a lot of listeners in Australia, but also internationally, which is fantastic. I think, you know, it's really positive to show the changes that are happening in Australia. But also flag where there's still some room for improvement. So, yeah, it's been great to get all the positive feedback, understand where we can improve. But yeah, I've been thinking it's a pretty great way for a long time to reach people, educate them about the ways that animals are farmed, but also yeah, how they can make better choices to improve animal welfare.
Brian: And a lot of people would know RSPCA as a companion animal welfare charity for cats and dogs, but it's actually got a long history in working with improving farm animal welfare in Australia.
Talulah: Yeah, I think, you know, for a lot of people that do that have that immediate thought of you know, companion animals and RSPCA inspectors going out and helping save animals and also the rehoming work of RSPCA, but yeah, so in Australia RSPCA actually was started to improve the lives of working horses in Victoria. So back then those would have been horses, you know, trawling heavy loads and helping with building, and really just on the ground equine management. And since then, really RSPCA has actually been for all creatures great and small. So, you know, as much as we also work with companion animals, wildlife, we also do a lot of work to improve farm animal welfare. So as many people might know, there's RSPCA’s in different states and territories of Australia. But we also have the national body RSPCA Australia. And that was really created to address those key farm animal welfare issues at a federal level. So things like battery cages for hens, and also the live exportation of sheep and cattle.
Brian: And they are some of the issues that we are looking forward to discussing on this podcast series coming up early.
Talulah: Yeah, so we're going to dive in a little bit more on those key ones. I think, you know, for most people in Australia, that's some of the big things that they think of when they're thinking of farm animal welfare problems. But there's also been quite a lot of, I guess, communications and noise around some other issues. So, we're going to take a look at some other topics such as culling of male chicks in the egg industry, and also handling before slaughter, so things like stunning and ensuring animals are handled in a humane way before they're slaughtered. So, it's been really great to see, I guess, in that positive feedback, where people are asking more questions, and would like further information. So that's really what we're trying to achieve with this podcast is, I guess, talking about those quite visionary subjects that, you know, not everyone wants to watch a gory video to find out more, but they still would like the information in a way that they can understand it.
Brian: Yeah. And that's, I guess the point of the series is that people want to have this information, but they're not necessarily going to sit down and read a whole policy statement or a textbook on this, and they don't want to be confronted by those images. But this is at least a way we can convey a lot of the real information because there's obviously a lot of emotion involved in these matters. But I guess the RSPCA’s approach has always been very much of looking at the science and the welfare of the animal, hasn't it?
Talulah: Yeah, and I do think that is the key points of difference for the RSPCA. Particularly against sort of other animal welfare groups. And that differentiating point really is our policies, our position is based on the best available science and evidence. And that's something that's very important to understand because it's really crucial in our work and our activities, and the approach that we take with our role in Australian agriculture. And really, our focus is always to work, engage with a wide range of stakeholders. And I think that in terms of our engagement with those stakeholders, having that evidence-based approach really gives a lot of weight to what we're trying to achieve and ask for.
Brian: There's always that question of why isn't the RSPCA, a vegetarian or vegan organization, but it's really about, I guess, looking at what's happening right now and what we can do to improve the situation right now, isn't it?
Talulah: Yeah, I think that's definitely key to understand. You know, certainly when lots of people find out more about farming of animals and practices that are, you know, still legal, they may choose not to consume or buy those animal derived products that's absolutely within their right. And, you know, the RSPCA totally respects the choices of those people who don't want to do that. It is still really important to recognize, though that a lot of people do still choose to consume meat, eggs or dairy. And one way that we can also reduce suffering is by informing those people about what they can do to make a better choice and to drive better welfare for those animals. So, I guess when it comes back to is we really want to see large scale improvements for farm animals, today. So, you know, the ones that are in the paddocks right now or in the sheds being grown out. And the way that consumers who are part of the process can do that really, it comes down to voting with their wallets. So, if there is a higher welfare option, you know, they can drive changes by signalling to industry that that's what they want to purchase. And I think that's really crucial in our sort of approach with a lot of things. So, you know, most people in Australia might have heard of the RSPCA approved farming scheme. And that was really developed, because we don't necessarily think that the law goes far enough for a lot of farm animals. And by having a product on the shelf, that's farmed to better high welfare standards, consumers who still except animal farming, can choose that product. And then they're able to also signal that there is a market for better welfare practices, and they don't agree that you know, lower welfare standards such as you know, cages for layer hens.
Brian: Yes, yes. Because, realistically, we're hearing a lot about possibility of meat substitutes, grown in labs and increasing nutrition in this way. And the whole change in the structure of food production in the next 10/15 years could be quite an amazing thing, but right now on the ground, it's not going to change tomorrow, we're still going to have, you know, at least well, I think it's roughly over 80% of people still choosing to eat some form of animal produce. So my way of viewing it, as you point out is that you know, there are animals here, and in the millions, obviously, there's millions of animals, individual animals that are still going to be in these systems. So we can't ignore those animals we need to actually do the best we can for them within the current system.
Talulah: Definitely. And yeah, as you're perfectly right, you know, the farming of animals for food and fibre is going to continue for quite a while yet there has certainly been, you know, a lot more people interested in reducing their consumption of animal products. And yeah, there are more there is far more availability of plant-based products or you know, stuff that's grown in labs. And that's a really great win and I think for those that want to try new things in their diets and you know, have more inclusion when they go out to eat and restaurants, there's actually something that they're able to have, rather than, you know, just hot chips and a salad. But really, whilst that farming of animals food and fibre continues, we really do need to seek to ensure that the conditions that those animals live meet, you know, very essential physical and behavioural needs that they have. I think it is also important to recognize yes, but a lot of people are going to continue to eat these products. Also, particularly in Australia, there is a very large export market for animal products. So, you know, Australians can be reducing their consumption, but in a lot of developing countries, meat consumption is really still rising quite dramatically. And those are markets that Australian production is going to fill in terms of what we're producing. So it's, you know, quite crucial that people perhaps look at what they're doing with their own diets, in terms of you know, pushing for higher welfare practices with their purchasing decisions. But we still need to be working with, you know, as many producers as possible, even if they're, you know, selling to an export market to ensure those animals are being kept in a good way that's meeting those physical behavioural needs.
Brian: And that's why you work so closely, I guess with the agriculture and livestock production industry in Australia, isn't it then can you tell me a bit about how the RSPCA goes about that?
Talulah: Sure, Brian, so I can actually just talk to you through a few of the different I guess, avenues that we work in in terms of improving farm animal welfare. The probably the core sort of underlying vehicle for change really is going to be legislation. So, you know, we have a great science and policy team that work informing policy to government. You know, unfortunately, we don't always get what we want in this area, in terms of proposing legislation, policymakers will be engaging with a wide range of stakeholders, including us. And, you know, we'll put forward what we would like and certainly push for it and, provide the evidence, whether it's, you know, scientific or economic modelling, in terms of driving those changes, but ultimately, it really is down to the politicians what they choose to take up. So, I guess in the interim of legislation, taking its time to get through government and implemented, we also work on a producer level, so that's more on the ground. And most of that's done through the approved farming scheme. So that's our certification scheme for you know, farmers that wants to farm to higher levels of animal welfare, which is voluntary because it goes above and beyond what legislation requires. And really, we've seen a great uptake in terms of the meat chicken industry there in terms of going beyond what they legally need to do and ensuring that they’re providing better welfare for the animals. I guess the sort of next sort of avenue that we look at is really those brands. So those big corporate companies, right through to, you know, smaller, medium sized businesses. But, that's a lot of behind the scenes work sort of informing them about, well, you purchase these different animal derived products or proteins. These are the welfares issues, you know, in Australia today that you need to consider. Let's have a look at your supply chain, make assessments see where you can improve things, you know, a lot of b2b connections. So that's really linking businesses together. You know, we might be working with a producer that has made significant changes to improve what they're doing. And really trying to find them a market is a really great way to, ensure that high welfare farming practices continue. But also, consumers can find it. So I guess that's kind of the last sort of piece of the puzzle is those consumers and the really key thing around, I guess the Australian public is for them to understand that farm animal welfare is something to consider in your daily choices. You know, the way to do that is to be educated and informed. And so, we do a lot of different activities to raise awareness there. For some people, they might, you know, just want really quick and easy bit of information. So they feel like they're doing the right thing, others like a lot of detail. So really, all activities are sort of aligned with that sort of either, you know, it's the quick and dirty or it's the more in depth detailed, scientifically backed information so it can really get into it. So, yeah, I guess it's sort of all those different areas that you've got to look at really to drive change, and a lot of that work is behind the scenes. So it's not always out there in the public domain, but I guess people, would be great if they can keep informed and still ask questions and keep animal welfare front of mind. So, yeah, simple things like you know, the eating brunch out the weekend asking where those eggs are coming from, you know, their cage eggs or their cage free. Because that's really going to keep it front of mind for those businesses as well, and show that you care as a consumer.
Brian: So it's a really wide ranging strategy that you're following with the RSPCA that covers all those stakeholders for you like that. I guess, from that point of view that, as you said at the end, that last point, was the consumers can really make a difference in this, can't they?
Talulah: Yeah, definitely. I would say that. And most changes come from companies recognizing, their market research that consumers asking for a particular thing or interested in particular area, whether it's, you know, sustainability, reduction of plastic and packaging, or even animal welfare. That's going to all feed into their ESGs. So that's the environmental social governance practices, or their CSR. So, it's corporate social responsibility. So really, if people can show that there is a demand for higher welfare products by purchasing it or inquiring, to sort of say, well, where is this? Why can't I buy it? And that's going to drive companies to actually make the changes in their supply chains, work with producers to improve practices, you know, actually put the funds into development and research because ultimately, it does cost more to farm to higher standards and better welfare standards. So, companies do need to be involved with that and drive it forward. And the way that they're going to do it is if there's consumer demand and support there, which is why it really is important that you know, those consumers that do choose to still consume animal products, look for better options and show that they care by you know, simple things like picking up those cage free eggs, but then also writing to those brands where they're not seeing those products and saying, Hey, I really would like you to actually supply these eggs, as it's important to me as a customer is continuing to buy eggs to have higher welfare options.
Brian: That's right. And we've seen that we've seen that drive change in the egg area and we've had over the last 20 years the consumer demand for cage free eggs has really grown significantly.
Talulah: Yeah, so I would say, you know, particularly in retail and food service, so cafes and restaurants and those fast food chains where consumers have been voicing their concerns. We've seen really big brands, you know, make commitments, already move to cage free eggs, you know, where there is still a lot of cage egg production and it's sort of ending up in the chain still, is through those manufactured products. So, egg is used as ingredients so it might be processed into a powder or liquid egg. And then it could go into you know, baked goods and sauces, eggs are used in lots of different ways. And those caged eggs are a cheaper product and ultimately they do end up in those areas and consumers are less aware of thinking about eggs in those places. So, they're less likely to actually ask whether or not that egg is cage free. They're similarly you know, if you buy a sandwich out in the weekend from a cafe, like a small, small place, they might actually be using cage eggs, same as even if you're paying, you know, 30 dollars for smashed over an egg on toast. You might think you're getting a higher welfare egg, but majority of those small businesses are using caged eggs, just due to cost, so unless their consumers are saying, Hey, where are your eggs from? It's not something that everyone necessarily thinks about.
Brian: Yeah. So there's still a way to go with the with the whole egg situation, obviously, but it's a shame is can really make a difference, I guess.
Talulah: Yes, certainly can. I mean we've still got over 10 million hens in cages that we you know, that's likely to change because a lot of those bigger companies commitments will be coming into effect in the next five years, so there is a demand for more cage free eggs on the market. And, you know, companies are looking to find these from different areas and, you know, actually struggling in some cases. And so for consumers to continue driving that demand, keeping the conversation going is really key to those other companies that, you know, maybe they haven't made commitments, maybe they've still got their head in the sand a little bit about, you know, the direction of change that's happening. Um, so that's where we need to keep the conversation going. Like, it's not something that's been fixed. We still need to be thinking about eggs in all areas of our lives, not just when you're in the supermarket.
Brian: Yes. And that's something that, you know, it's been a long process as of the inception of the RSPCA approved farming scheme back in the 90s. We're still pushing for some of these essential changes there. But as you say, we've had a lot of success in I guess it's something like 80% of meat chickens these days are raised to your standards. Is that correct?
Talulah: Yes. So both Coles and Woolworths both require all their fresh chicken, raised to the same standards as is RSPCA approved. And that's really hard a dramatic impact on meat chicken industry in Australia, because Australia really has those two main supermarket chains. Aldi is the third in market, but not nearly as much of a sort of market share as those other two, and really essentially, if you're going to supply either of those two, you have to meet an RSPCA standard, which is really great for us in terms of, yes, you know, over half a billion meat chickens have gone from quite low standards of welfare, living in quite cramped conditions with poor litter quality, poor lighting, you know, no enrichment to actually having a much better quality of life. And that's happened really in the last decade, and that's quite a dramatic turn for an agriculture industry to make such vast improvements on such a large scale, I don't think anywhere else in the world has seen such a dramatic shift in terms of meat chicken production. Moving to such a higher welfare standard, and you know, there's a whole range of factors in those standards that are accounted for in terms of improving welfare. And then also, I guess, the assessment schedule. So the approved farming scheme goes out to farm two to four times a year. So really, we're seeing quite a lot of animals and ensuring that the standards are being met, which is very different other schemes, in other countries, which might only go once a year, might even be a desktop audit, so they might not actually even see animals on the ground. But our assessors go into every single shed to see all the animals that are there at that point in time. You know, that could be four times a year, which is far more frequent than other schemes. So, I think that's a really key point of difference from the approved farming scheme and something to recognize.
Brian: Yes, the rigor of assessment can give consumers confidence that when they say that RSPCA approved stamp, it actually mean something that must be very satisfying, you know, working as you do in this, this area to see those changes and to know that it's come about through collaboration between all the stakeholders.
Talulah: Yeah, it's something where you really have to take those wins. Because, you know, for the most part, it can feel quite depressing at times. But the changes that we have seen, I think it's really important to reflect on because it really makes the job worthwhile. And really, those changes are only going to come about with collaborative approach. And that's certainly something that we're seeing more of and yeah, just I feel like we should all feel very proud of the progression that's happening. Take stock where there's still improvements to make and drive forward where we can. And only really with that collaborative approach, are we going to see dramatic improvements to farm animal welfare. And I think for what we have already accomplished with industry we should definitely feel proud of and so should they, and yeah keep looking to the horizon to say what further improvements can be made? Because we can always do better?
Brian: Yeah, well, let's, I guess that's the point of this podcast series as well is to help people know more about farming in Australia about what RSPCA is doing and how the farm production industry and the retailers are all working together to improve the welfare of animals on farms.
Talulah: Yeah. And I guess also continue the conversation about it because, as I said, you know, we have seen dramatic improvements, but there's still a long way to go and other areas. So I think it's important for consumers to, as I said before, and always talk about is to be educated, understand where they can drive further improvements, and yeah still talk to the supermarkets and you know, your local restaurant. They're all really simple things that you can do to keep animal welfare front of mind, for industry, and we've seen great improvements, but we definitely can't be silent.
Brian: Well, we definitely not going to be silent in the next few episodes, we've got some great guests lined up for you to continue the conversation, as you said, around farm animal welfare in Australia. And you know, we're really looking forward to this new season and Season Two of the RSPCA humane food podcast that we'll be sharing with you anywhere on the web, anywhere in the world, really in Australia and around the world, as you were saying Talulah, so Talulah, thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate talking to you and all the work you're doing to improve farm animal welfare in Australia.
Talulah: Thank you. It's been great to have a chat today.
Brian: We've been talking today with Talulah Gaunt, the humane food Marketing Officer RSPCA Australia. So thank you for listening. And if you'd like any more information on the RSPCA approved farming scheme, visit rspcaapproved.org.au. You can also subscribe to the podcast series at the RSPCA Australia website rspca.org.au all the usual podcast suspects. I'm Brian Daly and I look forward to your company next time on the RSPCA Australia humane food podcast.