CONTRACTORS mulesing sheep in Victoria without pain relief will be potentially liable to prosecution under new state regulations, according to Agriculture Victoria.
However, it seems Agriculture Victoria is yet to clarify if this would be the case if a contractor was acting under the instructions of a flock owner who has not supplied pain relief products.
From 1 July 2020, if a person is mulesing sheep in Victoria, they must administer a registered pain relief product or risk an on-the spot fine of $496 or a court-imposed penalty of up to $3304. The requirement is part of the new Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act Regulations 2019.
Contractors have also sought clarification on their potential liability from state authorities and the Victorian Farmers Federation.
Agriculture Victoria has told Sheep Central that POCTA regulations (8/2) state ‘a person must not mules a sheep unless the sheep is administered with a pain relief product that has been registered for use on sheep by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.’
Therefore, the person who is conducting the mulesing without pain relief is potentially liable of an offence under this regulation; however, this will be determined by any investigation, Agriculture Victoria said in a statement.
Liability issue ‘clear as mud’
Livestock Contractors Association president Jamie Rowe said the issue of liability under the new regulation is “about as clear as mud.”
Mr Rowe said he had spoken to the VFF and a state government inspector, but this had provided no clarity.
“This puts contractors in a very unfair situation, because most contractors don’t take Tri-Solfen (a pain relief product) to properties, they don’t supply it.
“You expect the cocky to supply it (a pain relief product) and if he can’t get enough to do the job, I asked them who is at fault?” Mr Rowe said.
“Is it the contractor who is doing the mulesing or is it the cocky and they said ‘it’s the contractor’, because technically, whoever is doing the mulesing procedure is totally liable or responsible.”
Mr Rowe said he has instructed LCA members to walk away from jobs where pain relief products have not been supplied by the flock owner. Other contractors have told Sheep Central they have refused to mules lambs if a pain relief product was not supplied.
Mr Rowe said he was not aware of any consultation with contractors in the development of the new POCTA regulations around mulesing and pain relief.
“The VFF seemed to indicate to me it is the responsibility of the livestock owner and the mulesing contractor is there doing his job, but when you read into it the regulation basically says whoever is doing the procedure is totally liable.”
The LCA president said the responsibilities and liabilities of flock owners and contractors under the new regulations need to be clearly stated. He is also concerned that if contractors are forced to refuse work due to the lack of pain relief product supply that lambs would be mulesed late or the procedure might be done by untrained operators.
“It could be another animal welfare issue if lambs get too big (for mulesing) if contractors are forced to walk away from jobs….”
He believed there is a large cohort of untrained mulesers operating in the industry, but the LCA had found it difficult to get funding for mulesing training.
Liability assessed on case-by-case basis
An Agriculture Victoria spokesperson said incidents of mulesing without pain relief will be assessed on a case-by-case basis instead of a blanket rule.
“Investigations may be prompted from a variety of ways, with the regulatory outcome reflecting the circumstances of each case.
“Agriculture Victoria takes animal welfare very seriously and investigates all complaints received in accordance with departmental procedures,” the spokesperson said.
Anyone wishing to make a specific complaint in regard to livestock welfare can call Agriculture Victoria on 136 186 or email: [email protected].”
Agriculture Victoria said it has worked closely with the Victorian Farmers Federation to develop and distribute communications to sheep producers informing them of the requirement to administer pain relief if mulesing sheep from 1 July 2020.
Agriculture Victoria is the primary agency responsible for enforcing reports of cruelty or non-compliance for livestock. The POCTA Act provides power for POCTA inspectors to investigate any non-compliance with the Act or Regulations. This includes power to enter, on reasonable grounds, if an animal is distressed or disabled or under warrant to search and seize items related to non-compliance.
Fines per sheep or per flock?
Agriculture Victoria said: “Most often, one infringement would be issued for the mob; however, this will be assessed based on the facts of the case.
“For example, if multiple mobs were mulesed over a number of days then one infringement per mob may be issued, based on the investigation.”
Under the Memorandum of Understanding between the department and RSPCA Victoria, Agriculture Victoria is responsible for compliance activities for producers with greater than ten sheep, AV said.
This MoU can be found here http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare/reporting-animal-cruelty