ANIMAL welfare has become a major issue in the 2019 Australian Innovation election, with peak wool grower body, WoolProducers Australia, taking AWI and two re-standing directors to task for their stance on mulesing.
WPA is questioning how incumbent AWI directors seeking re-election – Wal Merriman and David Webster – could claim they will maintain growers’ rights to continue mulesing, “given their previous and current strategies appear to be failing.”
In a letter to AWI shareholders, Mr Merriman, Mr Webster and New South Wales veterinarian Michelle Humphries have stated they have a “strong belief in the importance of maintaining the practice of mulesing for best practice animal welfare and industry viability”. Click here to read the Merriman/Webster/Humphries letter.
Mr Merriman, Mr Webster and Dr Humphries told shareholders they would defend growers’ ability to care for their sheep with “the best current practices”, but without specifically supporting mandatory pain relief or renewed breeder efforts to breed plain-bodied sheep to avoid mulesing by using existing AWI-funded tools such as breech wrinkle and visual sheep scoring.
WoolProducers is questioning the stance from the two incumbent directors given that there are now price premiums for non-mulesed wool and they have been on the board that has overseen AWI’s approach to mulesing for more than a decade. Australia has also lost demand from brands and retailers seeking non-mulesed wool, which have turned to other countries such as South Africa, South America and New Zealand.
WoolProducers president Ed Storey said AWI has consistently had their head in the sand when it comes to mulesing and have had an unwavering position of not acknowledging the issue publicly.
“This tactic may have been appropriate 10 years ago, but over recent years has obviously been to the detriment of industry, as mulesing is not seen as acceptable by many of our customers.
“Can we as an industry afford more of the same?” he asked.
Despite escalating market signals that wool from mulesed wool is selling, and will increasingly sell at a discount to ‘non-mulesed’ wool, and with more customers turning exclusively to non-mulesed wool use, and to other countries for supplies, the Merriman ticket candidates give no consideration to the benefits of increasing non-mulesed wool production to Australian growers.
When Sheep Central asked AWI chair Colette Garnsey if she supported the Merriman/Webster/Humphries view on mulesing, an AWI spokesperson said body’s short-term goal is to replace or refine traditional mulesing with welfare-improved practices, including the use of anaesthesia and analgesia.
“In the longer-term AWI’s goal is to reduce the reliance on mulesing through non-invasive management practices and breeding programs.”
Mr Storey said it is very surprising that the Merriman letter makes any comment about mulesing, given that WoolProducers has for several years approached AWI to have constructive dialogue about the issue, to ensure the industry is effectively communicating to the trade about the excellent welfare credentials Australian growers possess.
“Each time WoolProducers has made these approaches we have been rebuffed by AWI or completely ignored.”
Mr Storey said it is unfortunate that the three candidates have chosen to politicise the issue of mulesing and make it a platform for election.
“In doing so they have left WoolProducers with little choice but to point out some facts on this issue.”
WoolProducers adopted a policy supporting mandatory pain relief for mulesing in November, 2018, but the AWI board has not responded to a WPA request in July this year to support this position.
“WoolProducers did not take this position of calling for mandatory pain relief for mulesing lightly; however, it was determined that this was the most appropriate course of action to place the practice of mulesing on a firmer footing legally and socially,” Mr Storey said.
WoolProducers believes mulesing with pain relief in many circumstances is the highest standard of animal welfare that can be provided to a sheep during the course of its life; however, this fact does not appear to have cut through in the marketplace.
“The reality is that with the availability of three registered pain relief products, the argument for the retention of mulesing is only plausible if industry is calling for the mandatory application of pain relief.
“There is simply no valid argument against this position,” Mr Storey said.
Last week the National Council of Wool Brokers reported on the ongoing premiums for non-mulesed wool, indicating that these premiums should help growers with their management decisions regarding mulesing.
“What is disappointing about AWI’s approach to this, is that growers are simply not getting this information from the industry’s marketing body, who purports to have the relationships with our customers,” Mr Storey said.
The lack of response from AWI on WoolProducers call for support on mandatory pain relief for mulesing demonstrates that the current board has no interest in providing an industry solution, coupled with complete arrogance and a lack of will to collaborate with other groups in the best interests of industry, WPA said.
“What are Mr Merriman and Mr Webster going to do differently?
“If re-elected, are they and the rest of the AWI board going to acknowledge that this is an issue that is not going away, so that levy payers can make informed decisions?”
WoolProducers said it is currently the only national grower body that is actively doing anything to preserve growers’ rights to legally mules their animals in the interest of animal welfare.
“WoolProducers will continue to be proactive in this space as opposed to AWI.
“Shareholders need to consider this issue when they take the time to vote in this year’s AWI election,” Mr Storey said.
“Wool growers need to ask themselves; can we afford more of the same or are we going to make a change in the interests of our industry?
“This is why we are urging shareholders to vote for Dr Holmes, Dr Hocking-Edwards and Mr Noel Henderson.’ Mr Storey said.