Pet Food Industry

10 November 2020

Tonight I'd like to talk about an issue most of us care about but few of us spend time thinking about, and that's the quality of the food we feed our pets. Two years ago I tabled a petition with more than 80,000 signatures calling for pet food to be regulated. That petition was started by Christine and Peter Fry after they lost their two Great Dane dogs, Vincent and Mabel. Vincent and Mabel died from megaesophagus. They were victims of an outbreak that killed dozens of dogs and was linked to a particular brand of dry dog food. But the families of the canine victims found there was no regulator they could complain to, nobody who could take action on their behalf.

After tabling the petition, I called for an inquiry, which reported two years ago. That inquiry confirmed what the petitioners already knew when they found mould, metal shards or plastic in pet food: they had absolutely no recourse whatsoever. All they could do at that time was complain to the manufacturer, who also had absolutely no obligation to act. There was no agency where consumers could report their concerns, there was no regulator who could investigate and take any form of action and there were no officials who could be held accountable. The inquiry found there is a reporting system for vets called PetFAST, and, incredibly, very few vets even knew about it. It also revealed that pet food manufacturing is only governed by a voluntary manufacturing standard. There is no process for contaminated or unsafe products to be recalled whatsoever in Australia, and there is absolutely no oversight by government, which is quite ludicrous when you think about it. Pet food is a multibillion-dollar industry. In fact, it may be the only industry of that size which is unregulated in Australia.

If a person intentionally fed metal shards to a dog, they would be guilty of cruelty, an offence punishable by two years imprisonment. But if a business is guilty of the same thing, by having metal shards or anything equivalent in food that is fed to a pet, there is no offence and no penalty.

The inquiry found it was time for change in the industry. It recommended mandatory manufacturing standards, recall processes, better labelling and a better complaints process. At the time, the minister for agriculture created a working group to look at implementing the recommendations, and I'm grateful Mr Littleproud took this issue so seriously. I'm pleased some reforms are expected to be put to state and federal ministers by the end of this year. I hope we will soon adopt manufacturing standards that keep our pets safe and that we will have processes for complaints and product recalls. I would also like to see improved labelling so consumers know what is in products and how they have been prepared. Currently, in Australia, there is only one state that actually insists on mandatory labelling.

I recognise all of this is somewhat controversial. There are pet food manufacturers who are doing the right thing and don't want to be burdened with regulation, but the current unregulated approach is definitely not working. Our pets are paying the price. The megaesophagus outbreak was a watershed moment. It forced us to look seriously at an industry which was found wanting. It is time for a change. I hope that ministers genuinely engage with the working group and give its recommendations proper consideration, I hope they listen to their constituents and think about their own pets and I hope they make these reforms happen.

Our pets are an important part of our family. We should be able to expect that pet food is safe, that there are avenues for complaint and that actions can be taken to stop wrongdoing. We would expect such basic rights on behalf of anyone else in our family, and we should also expect it for our animal companions.

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