Bullying media and sheep producers on mulesing will lead to a ban, MLA leader warns

Sheep Central, November 22, 2017

MLA managing director Richard Norton

BULLYING media and producers who question the surgical mulesing of sheep will lead to a ban on the practice, Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton told the 2017 MLA annual general meeting in Alice Springs today.

“A well-communicated explanation of our animal welfare practices will ensure farms have the ability to manage fly strike in the future.

“The other approach, bullying media and producers who question the practice, will lead to a ban,” Mr Norton said in a recognisable reference to Australian Wool Innovation reactions to industry discussion on mulesing and pain reliefpolicy.

“For that reason, I welcomed the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s recent statement that ‘no prime lamb in Australia should be mulesed’.”

Mr Norton later told Sheep Central that with an issue such as mulesing, if consumers perceived that something was being hidden and the practice was exposed in circumstances similar to those leading to the four-week ban of live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011, the sheep industry risked “at the bare minimum” losing consumer support or public pressure would force governments to make “heavy-handed policy decisions”.

“If a similar thing happened around animal welfare in the sheep industry, what would consumers think? Consumers would immediately walk away from our product.

“The strategy has been to bully people; the strategy of ringing me up saying that I should never talk about mulesing is a clear strategy that AWI has had around this issue,” he said.

“MLA is saying that if it (mulesing) provides lifetime animal welfare benefits, industry should at least acknowledge that pain relief should be used 100 percent of the time and demonstrate the benefits of the practice to consumers — in my mind, that is an easy sell.

“Something that provides lifetime animal welfare outcomes is something worth telling a consumer about, but at the moment we are hiding it as if we were ashamed of the practice,” Mr Norton said.

“MLA is in the consumer food industry and to not identify this as an issue would be incompetent of MLA around risk management.”

At the AGM, Mr Norton said meat sheep production has increased nine percent over the past 20 years, yet value has increased four-fold to be worth $3.7 billion per annum today.

“Do we as an industry really want to jeopardise that value by not addressing the risks to the industry and not having the hard conversations?” he asked.

Mr Norton said months ago he flagged the need for a whole-of-industry policy on mulesing – because consumers do not differentiate between wool sheep and meat sheep.

“I know prime lamb producers would ask questions of MLA if the price of lambs fell because of negative consumer publicity, particularly when the very first pillar of the current Meat Industry Strategic Plan relates to ‘Consumer and community support’ for our industry, its practices and its product.

Mr Norton said the sheep meat industry’s stance on mulesing is demonstrating that it understands consumers.

“This is also a sound strategy to manage risk in the event of a negative campaign about animal welfare.

“The fact is, we must remain on the front foot to protect our industry at all costs – even if that means having confronting conversations and making difficult decisions,” he said.

“We must learn from our mistakes, listen to our consumers and manage risk.

“If we only ever change because of a crisis or because we haven’t identified or acted to mitigate a risk, all red meat producers can expect to receive negative commercial impacts at farm gate,” Mr Norton said.

“MLA has never said ban mulesing; it has, however, called on industry to have a consumer strategy that informs consumers of the long-term benefits.

“Once a negative story breaks and becomes a headline, a consumer has made their mind up, and you as an industry will then have to spend millions of dollars trying to change their minds — the consumer is king,” he said.

“And as we learned again in recent years, with countries banning HGPs and Europe banning the castration of pigs, consumers can change markets.

“Our consumers here and abroad want traceability; they want insight into your farming operations; and they want consistent eating quality.”

Mr Norton said meeting these consumer demands is far from quick and easy.

“It can cause discomfort and require us all to change the way we do things.

“However, if we are to remain a consumer-focused industry and prosper into the future, we must recognise consumer demands early and then act to meet them.”


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  1. Warren Godson, November 27, 2017

    The mulesing problem is there is no proper training and pain relief should be mandatory. If mulesing is done properly, there is not a better welfare outcome for Merino sheep. If mulesing is banned, then we will have a huge welfare problem and the end of the Merino industry as we know it.

  2. John Karlsson, November 25, 2017

    The public/consumer concern with mulesing can only increase. So we should focus on a ‘natural’ solution. Genetic selection for ‘breech strike resistance’ will result in a permanent and natural solution. It will also result in an ‘easy care, clean and green’ sheep production system. I have been involved in the breech strike resistance research, as well as implementing it in my own sheep flock. Although we have demonstrated it works, there is a need for more research on genetic markers, hypersensitivity, scouring and olfactory traits.

  3. Colin Earl, November 24, 2017

    Can we not learn from the other industries, which tackle their problems without putting themselves in the press every week?

  4. Chick Olsson, November 23, 2017

    I 100 percent agree Richard. AWI have seriously lost the plot on the welfare debate and are clearly doing more harm than any good.

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