AWI to promote pain relief and non-mulesed wool as ‘musts’

Sheep Central, August 16, 2018

AWI genetics and animal welfare advocacy program manager Geoff Lindon.

NON-MULESED wool production and the use of pain relief for the surgical practice of mulesing are “musts” for wool growers, according to Australian Wool Innovation genetics and animal welfare advocacy program manager Geoff Lindon.

In a noticeable change in AWI’s industry position on the growing demand for wool from non-mulesed sheep, Mr Lindon will discuss animal welfare market signals and moving to a non-mulesed enterprise at forums at Longreach, Tambo and Mitchell in Queensland this month.

Mulesing is the surgical removal of pieces of skin around a lamb’s breech area to prevent flystrike, although some producers now breed and manage sheep to avoid mulesing. Between 2005 and September 2017, AWI invested $59 million in animal health and welfare research, development and extension, including more than $35 million on flystrike prevention.

AWI chairman and Merryville Merino Stud owner Wal Merriman has been at best non-committal on industry calls to mandate or increase pain relief use and discounted the influence of mulesing as a factor in Australian wool marketing. He and AWI staff have actively opposed industry and media discussion on mulesing. This include Mr Merriman’s infamous rejection of Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton’s assertion that the lamb industry was at risk over the issue.

Mr Merriman and AWI staff have pointed to bouyant wool prices and demand as proof of the market’s attitude to Australian wool, regardless of whether sheep are mulesed or not, and some AWI staff recently were still stating the best defence against anti-mulesing activists is to sell more wool.

AWI also refused to engage with and criticised the American-based Textile Exchange, owner of the Responsible Wool Standard. The RWS promotes non-mulesed wool production within an independent, voluntary standard verifying best practice animal welfare and land management practices.

In late March this year, AWI promoted its Planning for a non-mulesed Merino enterprise report among publications to help wool growers protect flocks against flystrike, three weeks after the 15-page report was uploaded on its website.

On its website, AWI says it has a proactive, intensive and committed flystrike prevention program with long term and short term aims. The ultimate long-tern aim is to remove the need for mulesing.  The more immediate or short term aim is to provide methods to replace the practice of traditional mulesing with welfare-improved practices.

“AWI supports all wool growers in their choice of best practice animal health and hygiene in flystrike control,” the company states.

Transparency is key to wool price premiums

The joint AWI and MLA release this week promoting ‘It’s Ewe Time’ forums from August 21-23, states that transparency is a key to wool price premiums and strategies to move to a non-mulesed flock and pain relief options for producers who continue mulesing will be discussed.

In the release, Mr Lindon said the wool supply chain is seeking increasing transparency regarding welfare practices and completing an accurate National Wool Declaration (NWD) is the best way for wool growers to ensure they’re meeting these customer needs.

“There’s now a small discount in the market for wools that are not declared.

“It’s best to consult with your wool broker so you fill out the NWD accurately,” he said.

Declaring use of pain relief, as well as being non-mulesed to the supply chain are two other musts, according to Mr Lindon.

“There are small premiums in the marketplace for using pain relief and the wool grower largely gets his money back for pain relief products.

“The premium for non-mulesed wool is increasing and is now about 40 to 50 cents a kilogram clean depending on micron category,” he said.

Processors welcome AWI statements

International wool processor and trader Laurence Modiano said the AWI-MLA release is the first time he could remember AWI not only encouraging growers to fill in the NWD, but also explaining to them the gains if they do and penalties if they don’t.

“They have finally taken responsibility by informing their stakeholders of the growing push for full traceability — a very welcome change,” he said.

“At these prices, if they can, growers have every reason to avoid mulesing their sheep and and using pain relief if they can’t.

“There is no going back — that is what the market wants.”

Victorian wool grower and garment manufacturer Peter Small said if there had been a change in AWI’s approach to the issue of mulesing, he wanted to know why there hasn’t there been an announcement by Mr Merriman or AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough.

“The interesting thing now is that AWI now is saying that this is what the market wants, but the board, and the CEO and (corporate communications manager) Marius Cuming, they are all mute about it.

“If AWI had come out with position five years ago, the industry would be in a completely different position,” he said.

“And it is not as if the industry does not have the capacity to produce a sheep that doesn’t need mulesing.”

Mr Merriman could not be contacted and did not return Sheep Central’s calls for comment. An AWI statement said the company’s role is to monitor and evaluate the success of its breech flystrike strategy, through the benchmarking and assessment of on-farm management change.

“AWI has and will continue to invest in a range of research projects including genetics and production research to inform breeding and management of non-mulesed sheep.”

A spokeswoman for the US-based Textile Exchange, owner of the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), which requires non-mulesed wool, said the non-profit is pleased to see the Australian wool industry is looking to support farmers to address mulesing.

“All aspects of animal welfare are important to consumers these days, and it takes the efforts of all members of the wool industry to build trust and appreciation for the good work that farmers are doing around the globe.”

Textile Exchange said companies making strong commitments to the RWS included PVH, owner of multiple brands, including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, and REI, North America’s largest outdoor retailer.

Italian Wool Trade Association board member Claudio Lacchio said Mr Lindon’s statements definitely represent a major change in AWI’s approach.

“Many things stated in this article were denied only a matter of a few months ago.

“It can only be welcomed after we’ve been discussing this issue, particularly from Italy, in the last 15 years.”

Mr Lacchio said the final market is requiring “this kind of wool and this kind of animal treatment”.

“To have ignored and even worse denied these signals for many year was serious and dangerous at the same time, in my opinion.

“And this is, as said many times, without any presumption to tell or impose on (the) growers what to do or not to do, and with no relevance whatsoever to the price level and any premium or discount, which may or may not be there only depending upon the demand/offer balance,” he said.

“Let’s just hope this is the beginning of a new “era”…It would be good news for the whole wool trade, from growers to retailers.”

Planning is the key to moving to a non-mulesed flock

Mr Lindon said a case study of 40 sheep enterprises that moved from mulesed to non-mulesed showed planning was key to a successful transition and to “rebalancing” the other tools available to reduce the risk of flystrike.

“Those enterprises that have sat back and planned have been more successful at making that transition,” he said.

“It’s important to get your sheep type right before you cease mulesing, breech strike is strongly correlated with breech wrinkle so it’s important to get the wrinkle down but while you’re taking the wrinkle down it’s also important to also improve productivity.

“You’ve got to try and keep your fleece weight and pick up on more lambs from the lower wrinkle animals in the initial stages. If you get your sheep right first it does reduce the risk of increases in flystrike.”

For producers still mulesing, Mr Lindon said there were three main pain relief options: local anaesthetic Tri-Solfen, and Meloxicam products, Buccalgesic (delivered by a gel applied inside a sheep’s mouth) and Metacam (delivered by subcutaneous injection).

“The message is to consult your local veterinarian for the best advice on which pain relief product best suits your operation,” he said.

“We have done research trials that clearly show the pain relief options work.

“The local anaesthetic works a bit quicker and the anti-inflammatory drugs work a bit later, so they provide similar amounts of pain relief but at different stages.”

Mr Lindon said the It’s Ewe Time forums will be a good chance for producers to receive the latest industry advice and information, as well as to discuss pertinent issues and topics with other local sheep producers. Other speakers at the Queensland forums include Sprout Agribusiness Managing Partner Brecken Curtis, QLD Department of Agriculture & Fisheries beef and sheep extension officer Andrea McKenzie and MLA genetics program manager Hamish Chandler.

The forums will be held on:

Tuesday 21 August: Longreach, QLD – Stockman’s Hall of Fame

Wednesday 22 August: Tambo, QLD – Tambo Shire Hall

Thursday 23 August: Mitchell QLD – Mitchell Shire Hall

Click here to read the original article – ‘Transparency’ is a key to wool price premiums.

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  1. Keith Cowen, August 20, 2018

    A genetic solution was always the best option to stop mulesing in Australia. If a large group of Merino breeders across all states of Australia can successfully cease mulesing, some up to 12 years ago, the rest of the Merino industry can follow their path. The market signals are clear; mulesing will never be accepted nor should it. For wool to remain a leading natural fibre, we need to address this issue now. If our industry leaders fail to act they will put at risk the future of all Australia’s wool producers. Let’s get on with it and ban mulesing in Australia.

  2. Michael Day, August 19, 2018

    AWI has wasted millions of wool growers levies, when a solution to mulesing has been around for many years. Why has it taken so long to realise SRS genetics has already solved the mulesing problem? Well done AWI, better late than never.

  3. Dominic Hallam, August 19, 2018

    Great to see AWI with their leadership and acknowledgement of consumer demand by moving the Australian Merino industry into a new era where we can eliminate the need for mulesing. The genetics are already available to breed profitable, fertile, wrinkle-free Merinos. Keep the momentum going.

  4. Daniel Hammat, August 19, 2018

    As indicated above, SRS Merinos have actively pursued the mulesing issue since they arose some 14 years ago. As a part of this group we haven’t mulesed a sheep since 2006 and have found it to be a very simple and fast transition with the right genetics.
    We have no issues with breech strike or body strike for that matter, as sheep that are susceptible to breech strike often have a large instance of body strike.
    This was evident in late 2016 when fly strike was a major problem and we did not treat any of our ewes for breech or body strike. We do not preventatively treat any animal on our farm for breech strike with chemicals. We have clients that have transitioned to a non-mulesed flock and clients that are progressing that way. As they have the right genetics, they could move to a non-mulesed flock tomorrow. These clients have seen an increase in lambing percentage with the majority of clients marking 120pc and higher, with a poor lambing considered to be under 120pc. An SRS ewe is capable of producing lambing percentages well in excess of 130pc, with mobs up to 150pc being recorded here, without sacrificing wool cut.
    As a stud breeder, we actively provide support for our clients to move to a non-mulesed flock and also provide continued support to increase productivity through hosting workshops and ongoing contact with industry professionals in these fields.
    The answers are there if you choose to find them!

  5. Deane Goode, August 18, 2018

    Exactly Paul. It’s not about the protesters, it’s about treating the sheep ethically.
    It is simple now to become non-mulesed in a Merino operation; just get out there and take a look at what is around to help you.

  6. Jim Watts, August 18, 2018

    Good to see AWI finally admitting the importance of non-mulesed wool to our Merino wool users.

    SRS Merino studs have a market-ready product, namely smooth-bodied rams in large numbers, which fulfil Geoff Lindon’s twin criteria of ceasing mulesing and improving production. And they have had this genetic solution in place since 2004.

  7. Paul Favaloro, August 18, 2018

    Imagine what AWI could have done with $5 million/year if they had bitten the bullet on the mulesing issue 12 years ago? Stop wasting $ on research and development; there is already a genetic solution and has been there for more than 20 years.

  8. Deane Goode, August 17, 2018

    It’s about time AWI makes a stand on non-mulesing. Let’s now see how serious they are or if it is only a token gesture.
    How about banning it completely now. Let’s do it in three years.

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