COULD the race to be the first Australian state to mandate pain relief for mulesing sheep be the next State of Origin contest between Victoria and New South Wales?
Victoria’s peak farmer body – the Victorian Farmers Federation — has already moved to mandate pain relief in an overhauled Prevention of Cruelty of Animals Act, with consultation expected to begin in less than a month.
Now after more than 80 percent of sheep producers in a NSW Farmers survey supported mandating pain relief, Animal Justice Party member and Member of NSW’s Legislative Council Mark Pearson has said he will introduce a bill to outlaw mulesing without analgesia.
“Who would have thought that it would be a race between two states to mandate pain relief for lamb?
“That’s what I call a major evolution in animal agriculture.”
Mr Pearson said he had always believed that NSW could have run “a test case” under its POCTA Act which would have made it an offence to mules without pain relief.
The MLC has supported the banning of mulesing and in 2016 won unanimous support for a NSW Parliament motion that encouraged the breeding of flystrike resistant sheep and the use of pain relief for surgical mulesing. At that time he also approached the RSPCA and the (NSW) police to run a test case under the state’s POCTA Act, under which certain operations such as mulesing, castration and tail docking are allowed, but as long as no unnecessary pain is inflicted on the animal.
“I pitched to the police, to say you could run a test case or warn the industry you will, if a farmer muleses a lamb or when pain relief is applicable to other procedures, and they do that without pain relief that is available and reasonably cheap, then they have caused pain that is unnecessary and therefore are captured,” he said.
NSW Police turned down Mr Pearson’s request, and he said mandating pain relief for mulesing in the state now required a specific amendment to the NSW POCTA Act.
“I will introduce a bill to bring an amendment making it a specific offence to mules — and I may include castration of lambs under a certain age – without the use of appropriate pain relief.
“I would introduce it in the August or September sitting,” Mr Pearson said.
“I will definitely introduce that, but I am also wanting to flag to the industry that the fact that analgesia will be mandatory is not an excuse to continue a practice that can be prevented and stopped if a wool grower decides to assertively breed out the wrinkles out of their flock.”
He believed it was possible to breed out wrinkles in a sheep flock in 18 months to two years to render them equally resistant to flystrike as if they had been mulesed.
“My pitch to the industry is yes, why wouldn’t we support mandatory pain relief for procedures, but I will also introduce a bill where a date will be set for the practice of mulesing to be stopped and maybe other mutilations that can be prevented, will become unlawful.”
The Victorian Farmers Federation Livestock Group supports mandatory pain relief for mulesing and the body is in discussions with the State Government to include this in legislation, as part of the state’s Animal Welfare Action Plan process.
VFF Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said sheep producers need to realise that the community is not going to tolerate mulesing without pain relief. He said it would only take a two-line change in Victorian legislation to mandate pain relief for mulesing sheep.
“I’ve seen what is going to go out for consultation and it is just to do with mulesing and analgesic use – I think they’ve done a very simple adjustment.
“The minister will be speaking at our conference next week and the plan was to have it out for consultation in early August I think.”
Consumer pressure on animal welfare is socialism – Wood
Australian peak wool grower body WoolProducers Australia late last year adopted a policy of mandating pain relief, which prompted the resignation of board member and NSW Farmers Wool Committee chairman Andrew Wood, who cited a conflict of interest with NSW Farmers’ policy to strongly encourage pain relief use, but not to mandate it.
Mr Wood told Sheep Central the NSW Farmers mulesing survey results were unexpected and acknowledged they were counter to the NSW Farmers’ view that farmers should be able to choose whether to use pain relief or not when mulesing.
“The idea of mandating it is against our philosophical position, what I read into the survey results is that the big issue is flystrike control.
“They are prepared to tolerate some regulation to have the ability to mules, because it is absolutely essential.”
Mr Wood said it will be interesting to see how NSW Farmers voted on the issue at its annual conference next week. But he said the survey vote in favour of mandatory pain relief did not mean NSW Farmers would necessarily need to change its policy.
“It doesn’t say that at all, you’ve got to realise that there are 16,000 wool levy payers in NSW.”
Mr Wood said there needs to be a survey of all wool growers in NSW and nationally, rather than it be settled by “a trial by social media.” The Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders and the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association is also planning to survey members.
“I think it is very dangerous when policy is made on the run or without the consultation of all members and levy payers – we can’t go off half-cocked, we need to consult extensively,” Mr Wood said.
He said wool producers in many areas still need to be able to mules to avoid flystrike, but he believed consumers telling farmers what they could do on their farms and enforcing regulation of animal welfare practices – as in Europe — was “a form of socialism, in my view.”
“It is the definition of socialism.
“The consumers is always right and non-mulesed wool is now what they want, so why do we want to mandate pain relief if we need to be non-mulesed?,” he asked.
Mr Wood refused to answer whether mandating pain relief might help extend the period in which mulesing could continue to be used on Australian farms.
“That’s the not the view of the NSW Farmers wool committee at the moment.”
Despite the NSW Farmers survey results mostly supporting mandating pain relief, Mr Wood maintained the push to enshrine it in law is coming from Victoria.
The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep (page 22) already state that sheep less than 24 hours old or more than 12 months old must not be mulesed, and sheep 6-12 months old must not be mulesed without appropriate pain relief.
The national standards and guidelines for sheep were agreed by all states and Territory governments in 2016, but only South Australia has mandated them as regulations. Click here for a state-by-state progress report on the regulation of the national standards and guidelines regulation into law.