FORMER Australian Wool Innovation board member, AWEX and Sheep CRC chairman John Keniry has joined calls for a sheep industry-wide policy on mulesing and animal welfare, and believed AWI is “walking away from” the market for non-mulesed wool.
“We need to have a sensible comprehensive policy for the whole industry, but there obviously isn’t,” he told Sheep Central.
Dr Keniry believes Australian Wool Innovation should not be taking a position on mulesing and should have done long-term trials comparing mulesed and unmulesed sheep on farms.
Dr Keniry’s comments follow AWI chairman Wal Merriman’s recent lobbying of the Meat & Livestock Australia board, after managing director Richard Norton, answered a question on mulesing at the BestWool BestLamb conference. Mr Norton said the sheep meat sector was “very exposed” on the issue of mulesing — the on-farm surgical procedure done to prevent flystrike in sheep.
Since Mr Norton’s comments and his support for an Australian sheep industry consumer strategy on animal welfare, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia has said it had committed to working with MLA on the proposed Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework.
WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall has said WPA also supported a whole of industry strategic approach to animal welfare and mulesing. WPA is also commencing discussions with the SCA on the Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework.
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AWI is “walking away from” non-mulesed wool market
Dr Keniry said he had written a letter to the editor of The Land on the issue of industry mulesing and animal welfare policy.
“What AWI is doing in not wanting to talk about it, is effectively walking away from a segment of the market (unmulesed wool), which even though it is small now, is growing.
“So that can’t be in the interests of any wool growers, short-term or long-term, to be closing your eyes to a growing part of the market.”
Dr Keniry agreed AWI appeared to be attempting to stifle industry debate and discussion on mulesing or public mention of the practice.
“I’m only reading what’s been reported by you and other people and that’s what it sounds like.”
“I haven’t been party to any of those discussions, but that’s how it looks to me, it’s just ‘shut it down’.”
Dr Keniry’s family ceased mulesing its New South Wales Merino flock in 2007 and had also bred sheep of a broader micron.
“Obviously the majority of people, wool growers in the industry, think that mulesing is the right thing to do and I think plenty of people believe that if there is no premium for non-mulesed wool then maybe they should continue to mules.
“What I’m sort of saying is the markets are growing for non-mulesed wool and sooner or later there will be premiums,” he said.
“I think there probably are some people now who prepared to pay premiums.”
With current superfine wool contract premiums for non-mulesed wool, the assertion that there are no premiums is no longer correct, he said.
AWI should not be taking a position on mulesing
Dr Keniry said he doesn’t believe it is up to AWI to take a particular position on the issue of mulesing.
“They are a research and development corporation, so they should be presenting information in a way that allows wool growers to make informed decisions, or sheep producers to make informed decisions about what genetics they use and how they run their business.
“And in order to do that their needs to be and there should have been some long-term trials done that compared mulesed and non-mulesed sheep over an extended period because some people who don’t mules think they get a productivity benefit by not providing a setback in the lamb’s first year.
That sort of long-term trial to present the information that allows people to make informed decisions … that’s not there … that should been done a long time ago.”
Dr Keniry said it doesn’t do the sheep industry “any good at all” to have MLA and AWI arguing over the issue.
“The industry needs to get itself sorted out with a policy and it should be the sheep industry, not the wool industry or the meat industry – it should the sheep industry.”
He believes the entire sheep industry, including AWI, should participate in developing the Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework.
“The way genetics has developed, we are not being sensible in looking at a wool industry and sheep meat industry anymore, because it is really about the sheep.
“We should be looking at something that is optimising the sheep, whether that’s between the wool and the meat.
“The development of modern genetics has facilitated that, because in a lot of the genomics work there’s increased potential to measure hard-to-measure traits, which are often the meat traits.”
AWI has a duty to inform growers of research outcomes
An AWI spokesman said AWI has a duty to inform all woolgrowers and industry stakeholders of research and development outcomes from the $59 million investment in animal health and welfare — including $34 million in fly strike prevention programs — over the last decade.
“This research investment is extensive and covers a vast array of potential ways to protect sheep from flystrike.
“This information is regularly audited by the Australian Veterinary Association and is regularly communicated at field days and seminars, extension network events, through Beyond the Bale and e-newsletters, at wool.com, at the bi-annual R+D update forums and at meetings both domestically and overseas with key retail organisations. Please see the attached factsheet for details,” the spokesman said.
“As the marketing arm of the Australian wool industry, AWI speaks with and develops campaigns with consumers, designers, manufacturers, retailers and brands in key markets around the world every day on issues that help the Australian wool industry sell our great product.”
Sheep Central also asked AWI what the body has done to inform Australian wool growers on the market and demand for unmulesed wool, whether it believed there was merit in research comparing the running of mulesed and unmulesed sheep on-farms and whether AWI believed there should be just one Australian sheep industry policy on mulesing and animal welfare.
Click here to see AWI’s Flystrike Prevention Program Report Card: Progress 2005-2016.