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“We’re going into these places and saving as many animals as we can and relocating them to a better place where they won’t be treated as a commodity.”
Originating in Australia in the 1980s, it’s now a worldwide form of activism that involves taking animals from farms in secret. Activists say the aim is to save individual lives, as well as documenting their living conditions.
Sophie often participates in protests for animal rights while dressed in lingerie. Source: SBS
Sophie said the chickens, pigs and ducks she’s taken are re-homed with other people and allowed to roam outdoors.
“We’re tearing back the curtain and showing people…the consequences of their choices.”
How does this kind of activism affect farmers?
Danyel recalls the night her uncle woke up thinking a routine alarm had been set off, only to find two vegan activists inside one of the sheds, trying to remove around six chickens. Shaken, he called the police, who arrested the two women.
Danyel Cucinotta’s family farm has been in business for over 50 years. Source: SBS
“These people were there to, in their words, ‘rescue the birds’. I’m not entirely sure what they were going to achieve with two people and 30,000 chickens,” she said.
Danyel said the incident cost her farm thousands of dollars worth of damage, and she was forced to heighten security to protect the family and workers.
Danyel insists the welfare of her animals is one of her top priorities. Her hens are given 750 square centimetres per bird in what’s known as “enriched” or “furnished” cages.
Danyel says her animals are well cared for – she posted this photo of her hens in 2018. Credit: Danyel Cucinotta/Facebook
“They’re certainly not crowded. They have more than enough room to perch, to walk around,” she said.
“There is nothing wrong with having your particular views…but imposing them in an illegal manner towards other humans and other animals is just simply not the right way to go about it.”
How many animal rights activists are involved in illegal activities?
According to Chen, “99.9 per cent of activism that occurs in Australia is completely legal, democratic activity that we encourage and wish our citizens to do.”
Peter Chen is an expert on animal rights activism in Australia. Source: SBS
Peter’s research shows Australia’s animal rights activists are involved in fewer incidents of illegal activity compared to other countries.
“What we found within the 25 countries with the most animal activism within them, that Australia ranked 19th,” he said.
Peter said thousands of Australians are engaged in lawful forms of activism such as protesting, signing petitions and writing letters to MPs.
What are the penalties for illegal activism?
This chart shows the maximum penalties for individuals found to be trespassing on farms. In some states, bigger fines apply to those who are part of organised groups.
Danyel said the changes in Victoria, introduced last year, are a step in the right direction.
So far, Sophie hasn’t been arrested for breaking the law – but she said the potential punishments haven’t deterred her.
“Giving these animals a voice and sharing their story is just far more important to me than obeying unjust laws.”
A small number of activists around Australia, like this Victorian group, are secretly taking animals from farms. Source: Supplied / Farm Transparency Project
Caged eggs to be banned in Australia
The news has caused a furore in the egg industry. Farmers are concerned 13 years is insufficient time for a transition to cage-free eggs. However animal welfare advocates such as the RSPCA argue the ban should have come sooner.
Free range chickens must have regular access to an outdoor range. Source: AAP / Bob Gibbons / ardea.com / Mary Evans
Danyel said the change will remove choices for consumers who still wish to buy caged eggs, which are cheaper than cage-free alternatives. She has no intention of converting her farm to free range.
In 2020-21, there were over five million caged hens in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. One in three hens in the egg industry is caged, with the rest in free range or barn-laid systems.
Chickens inside a caged egg farm, photographed by Victorian animal rights activists in 2020. Source: Supplied / Farm Transparency Project
The RSPCA pointed out birds were allowed less space than an A4 piece of paper (625 square centimetres) in conventional cages.
Sophie supports the phaseout of battery cages. But it won’t stop her from taking matters into her own hands and continuing with open rescue.
Sophie said she’s willing to risk being fined or going to prison for her activism. Source: SBS
She said free-range farms have their own problems – the ones she’s been to are often rife with disease.
Australian Eggs, the marketing and research group for the egg industry, acknowledges on its website that greater exposure to manure-borne diseases, parasites and predators are downsides of the free-range system.
“What we need to be doing is just phasing out exploiting animals as a whole.”