NEW South Wales sheep producers have been urged to have their say in an Upper House inquiry on whether to mandate pain relief for mulesing and/or ban the flystrike prevention practice in the state.
NSW sheep producers have until 31 July to respond via an online survey , with the inquiry committee set to report by 24 September.
On 17 June 2020, the NSW Legislative Council’s Portfolio Committee No. 4 – Industry began an inquiry into the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment (Restrictions on Stock Animal Procedures) Bill 2019, put by Animal Justice Party MLC Mark Pearson.
Mr Pearson’s Bill proposes the mandating of pain relief for mulesing and other sheep surgical procedures in NSW and the banning of mulesing after 1 January 2022. More information about the inquiry, including the terms of reference, can be found on the committee’s website here.
The POCTA inquiry followed a report from an NSW Upper House committee inquiring into animal cruelty laws in the state that urged the establishment an independent statutory body, the Independent Office of Animal Protection, to oversight the animal welfare framework.
Mr Pearson, then the committee chair, said the animal cruelty inquiry demonstrated the status quo is no longer acceptable in terms of animal welfare in NSW, with two approved charitable organisations, the RSPCA NSW and Animal Welfare League NSW, responsible for promotion of welfare and the investigation and prosecution of acts of animal cruelty. The committee recommended that a fully-funded specialist unit within the police force be established to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offences.
Mr Pearson said the committee also recommended that the POCTA Act 1979 and the animal welfare framework that supports it be overhauled to reflect modern knowledge and practices regarding the treatment of animals.
Mr Pearson told Sheep Central the developments were putting enormous pressure on NSW’s Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall to not just do an “uncommitted” overhaul of the state’s “outdated” animal protection legislation.
He said there was a need to potentially take on test cases to prosecute cases where pain relief is not used when mulesing sheep.
“We’ve had legal advice that at the moment even under current legislation you can’t perform a mulesing operation and cause unnecessary pain.
“Because pain relief is available they are causing pain which is unnecessary, but there is no will by the RSPCA or the Animal Welfare League NSW to take that test case.”
Mr Pearson said an Independent Office of Animal Protection working with a special police unit would provide independent resources to undertake animal cruelty cases involving mulesing without pain relief.
Nevertheless, believes “the tide has early turned” in favour of mandating mulesing pain relief and banning mulesing in NSW.
“I think the tide has already turned, it’s just that some constituents in the government and constituents in some farming sectors are not wanting to go with the flow.
“Farmers need to move with it, not against, otherwise they will criticised in the future for not being visionary and they will be criticised for knowingly permitting acute cruelty to millions of lambs.”
Mandating pain relief sets a precedent – NSW Farmers
At its 2019 annual general meeting NSW Farmers supported the mandating of local anaesthetic/analgesia during mulesing through an industry-led initiative, but the body’s president, Guyra farmer and and trained veterinarian James Jackson, reiterated today that this did not mean through government regulation.
Mr Jackson had not seen the inquiry’s online survey, but he urged the state’s sheep producers to respond to the inquiry’s online survey. However, he said mandating pain relief through regulation “was a bit liking shutting the gate after the horse has bolted; I mean, most people use pain relief.”
“It’s well over 85 percent I think of sheep in NSW, we actually have the figures on that.
“If they don’t use pain relief they are doing it when the lambs are on the mother and the milk has analgesic in it,” he said.
Mr Jackson said NSW Farmers believed that it is in the welfare interests of sheep to continue using mulesing with pain relief, though some sheep did not need to be mulesed in some environments.
“We strongly recommend pain relief, but we don’t want it mandated, because it is essentially unenforceable and essentially it is better done through market mechanisms.
“I am told there is a premium for wool from sheep mulesed with pain relief, so the idea that there is any amount of it from people who are not using pain relief is nonsense.”
Mr Jackson said the pain profile of mulesing depended on when it was done, ie the age of the lamb.
“The reality is that the timing of the operation is more critical to the pain profile of the operation than actually spray-on pain relief.
“The best pain relief is actually a bag full of milk under the ewe and some of the amino acids (in the milk) have quite strong analgesic functions,” he said.
“The operation is less painful for the animal if it is done four weeks after birth and if it is done after they are weaned the pain profile of the operation and the healing profile is a lot longer.”
But he said NSW Farmers did not want the time of mulesing mandated either, “because that’s not always … you know the wheels fall off and people can’t always do it.”
Mr Jackson said the problem with mandating pain relief for mulesing was that it created a precedent for regulating pain relief for other husbandry interventions on sheep “that hurt them more than mulesing.”
“The classic one is shearing; shearing is very, very stressful for sheep and in a lot of cases it takes more skin off than mulesing.
“If you set a precedent that painful operations or operations that create blood have to be accompanied by pain relief then you are setting a precedent that is going to cause a necessity that essentially there will be an imperative then to use pain relief at shearing and at crutching time,” he said.
Mr Jackson said tail docking also hurt lambs more than mulesing.
“The idea that you can contain it at mulesing is rubbish.”
He said the other problem is that sheep producers who did not mules were becoming “Clik junkies.”
“The idea that that chemical is going to be around forever is fanciful.”
Mr Jackson said breeding bare-breeched sheep is a really good option, but he disputed the claim this could be done in two years.
“The reality is that mandating everything is the thin edge of the wedge.
“So the principal problem that you’ve got with mandating it is the precedent that it will set and it will embed huge amounts of cost into our system and not improve the outcome of the sheep particularly.”