SHEEP Producers Australia will discuss the issue of a mulesing declaration for meat sheep – lambs and mutton – at its next board meeting on October 22.
Merino and White Suffolk breeder Andrew Michael last week suggested that non-mulesing flock owners should be able to declare the animal welfare status of lambs and sheep – especially mulesing status — on Australia’s National Vendor Declaration.
In September last year, SPA’s predecessor, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia, stated that prime lambs should not be mulesed and it encouraged producers to introduce genetics and management changes to enable prime lamb mothers not to be mulesed.
The council last year said it was reviewing strategies to manage sector risks, including mulesing, before commencing discussions with WoolProducers Australia on an Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework.
MLA managing director Richard Norton last year claimed Australia’s sheep meat sector was “very exposed” on the issue of mulesing and has told industry leaders a mulesing and animal welfare plan for Australia’s sheep meat industry would help trade negotiations with the European Union after Brexit is completed. Last week he said risk identification has clearly shown mulesing is unacceptable to consumers and declaring the mulesed or unmulesed status of meat sheep is risk management.
SPA president Allan Piggott said consideration of a mulesed/non-mulesed declaration on the NVD was on SPA’s “agenda”, but it did not have a “stated position”, though it “needs to be addressed and addressed fairly quickly.”
SPA chief executive officer Graham Smith said yesterday there was a range of views in the industry on the issue of mulesing, which would be discussed at the October 22 SPA board meeting
“My personal view is that we absolutely have to get on top of it and the attitudes and behaviour of consumers have to be central to our thinking,” he said.
“I know it is contentious, but there is a good deal of thought that we need to do very quickly, because some of our international competitors have made key decisions and we need to look at it in that light.”
So what is the sheep meat market significance of mulesing?
Australia’s main international lamb market competitor New Zealand this month banned surgical mulesing and tail-stripping of sheep in a raft of regulations covering the treatment and management of farm and companion animal species. Failure to comply with the NZ Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2018, could attract a conviction and fine of up to $5000 for an individual and up to $25,000 for a body corporate.
New Zealand has an EU sheep meat quota of 285,260 tonnes (carcase weight equivalent), whereas Australia’s is just 19,186 tonnes cwe. Kantar World Panel UK grocery retailer market share figures for September 2018 provided by MLA, show that the five largest retailers with clear policies prohibiting mulesed lamb product – Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrisons and Co-op — have 59.4 percent of sales. Another four retailers with non-mulesed wool product policies – ASDA, Aldi and Lidl – have a combined UK grocery market share of 27.3pc.
AMIC says mulesing is a wool issue
However, Australia’s peak meat processor body believes mulesing is a wool industry issue and is managed through the voluntary National Wool Declaration. The council’s website says it is the only industry association representing the post-farm-gate Australian meat industry on committees covering technical, food standards, food safety, communications and export – “to ensure the best trading environment for members and the industry.”
On the inclusion of a mulesing status question on the sheep NVD, AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson this week said AMIC reaffirmed its position that the NVD is a food safety certification document that is underpinned by LPA records and audit outcomes from the PIC of consignment.
“This is also bought up in Federal Export Orders across a number of markets.
“Currently this is a wool industry issue and is managed through a wool industry declaration,” he said.
“AMIC supports the NVD to meet the needs of our sheep meat markets domestically and internationally, based on the questions outlined in the NVD, the responses provided, and the LPA program to “Prove what they say” on an NVD.
“This has been the same position since the introduction of the Sheep NVD in 2000, which I was heavily involved in, and underpinned by the LPA program, which was introduced in 2004, again which, as most of industry knows, I was involved in,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“This has not changed.”
On the possibility that an NVD mulesing declaration might assist processors supplying markets requiring non-mulesed meat, Mr Hutchinson said “this is a commercial arrangement, not an country to country arrangement, which is managed through commercial agreements (as and if required), between commercial companies and their customers.”
“Outcomes for commercial customers have never been a part of the NVD or LPA,” he said.
In October last year Mr Hutchinson told Sheep Central that the council did not believe the lamb sector is “overly exposed” to a consumer acceptance risk because of the mulesing of lambs and ewes.
However, Mr Norton said mulesing is “absolutely a meat issue.”
“When I got to Europe, we still have the reputation for mulesing everything (all sheep) in Australia.”
Mr Norton said the Sheepmeat Council’s mulesing policy last year was “an enormous breakthrough”.
“So when you got to market Australian lamb into European markets or even the US market, you can state that position.
“To say it is just a wool issue is really naïve, in the eyes of consumers, the production side of it is a different story,” he said.
“But I talk from the side of the consumer; the consumer doesn’t see the difference between a meat sheep and a wool sheep, and anyone in our industry in a leadership position that takes that position is not acting in the best interests of our industry.”
Mr Norton said market forces will determine what declarations have to happen in the future.
“The wool industry to its credit has a declaration for mulesed, non-mulesed, pain relief etc and I have no doubt that market forces will drive the sheep meat industry to a similar position.”
NVD allows for extra declarations
SAFEMEAT Partners chairman Ross Keane said sheep producers could declare the mulesing status of their stock on the NVD via Question 7, which asks for additional information to be included.
“If a supply chain wanted it, you could do that tomorrow – the supply chain would just have to advise its suppliers ‘we want that comment on the NVD’ — that’s how you would fix it quick.”
However, Mr Michael said producers making a declaration via Question 7 voluntarily would not provide industry-wide traceability and have no supply chain credibility.
“And because it is not (specifically) stated, it doesn’t give the industry an even playing field.
“It needs to be explicit to make it credible,” he said.
“Unless you put something specific it is never going to be picked up.”
SAFEMEAT policy group chairman Andrew Henderson said SAFEMEAT is actively engaged in ensuring Australian livestock and red meat products achieve the highest standards of safety and hygiene right throughout the supply chain from the farm right through to the consumer.
“I am not aware of the matter having been raised at the SAFEMEAT Policy Group to date; however, SAFEMEAT members are welcome to raise any issue for consideration relevant to the organisations role in the red meat and livestock sector, including proposed amendments to the NVD.”
Total madness to associate mulesing with lamb production. Wool market growth is now fully limited by the crazy NWD system of non-mulesed wool vs mulesed wool. Can anyone think of a worse association with a fashion or food product? Sorry Sheep Producers Australia, you are barking mad if you go down such a stupid road.