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Proposed sheep welfare standards “unachievable”

by Terry Sim, 09 March 2016

WoolProducers Australia logo Mar 2016AUSTRALIA’S leading wool grower body believes the nation’s producers cannot achieve new sheep welfare standards proposed by the American-based Textile Exchange.

The Textile Exchange’s draft Responsible Wool Standard states that measures should be taken to prevent or control fly strike, yet mulesing is prohibited and farms with ceased mulesing status are accepted.

The draft RWS also required pain relief to be used on shearing injuries when available and a shearer should cease shearing immediately if a sheep suffers a severe cut or injury. Records of injuries must be kept and all shearers and contractors must sign a RWS declaration.

Under the draft standard, the decision to carry out tail-docking and castration shall be based on a welfare risk/benefit analysis rather than as a routine. It states that tail-docking shall be done only if a failure to do so would lead to a welfare problem and prescribes specific acceptable methods for docking and castration. The draft RWS has been released for public consultation until April 15 this year.

WoolProducers Australia said it only recently became aware of the draft RWS and it is concerned that they have been developed by retailers with little to no input from actual growers.

“The fact that these standards are also very northern hemisphere-centric in terms of production means that they are completely unrealistic and unachievable for Australian production systems, particularly in the pastoral zones,” WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall said.

“We are concerned over the complete lack of recognition that these standards have for the current work and investment into animal health and welfare issues that Australian growers have been doing.

“Animal welfare is a key priority for Australian wool growers who have invested over $59 million into the health and welfare area since 2005 while good welfare practices are also done on a daily basis as part of normal management procedures,” she said.

“What our customers must realise is Australia already has legislation in place that must be adhered to by growers for the issues that are in the draft RWS, including animal welfare, transport and land management.”

Ms Hall said WPA would not be making a submission on the draft RWS during the current consultation period.

“A collective decision was made by the Federation of Australian Wool Organisations (FAWO), of which WPA is a member that there will not be a submission made into this process.”

Ms Hall said the Australian wool industry is already doing a lot of work in addressing the mulesing issue through an investment of $33 million over the past decade.

“Many producers have already stopped mulesing, or are using pain relief and there has been a concerted effort by growers across the country to breed plainer bodied sheep.

“The industry has demonstrated its ongoing commitment to addressing the breech strike issue and we hope that this is acknowledged by our customers,” she said.

“We are extremely disappointed that the market is speaking about discounts when there are currently no, or insignificant premiums being paid by customers for those producers who have either stopped mulesing or use pain relief.

“The quickest way to affect change at a farm gate level is through market forces.”

Ms Hall said the high voluntary uptake of pain relief, which according to Australian Wool Innovation is around 70pc of all mulesed lambs, is a huge success story for the Australian wool industry.

“We can only assume that our customers realise this and will continue to support our industry.”

Read the draft Responsible Wool Standard here (clicking here will open an Excel spreadsheet file).

Listen to a Textile Exchange global wool standard webinar recording here.

Further details on the draft RWS can be found on http://responsiblewool.org/

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