NEW South Wales wool growers who mules sheep without pain relief are being sought to test current animal cruelty legislation, following the failure of a bill aimed at regulating mulesing in the state.
The NSW Parliament Legislative Council committee inquiring into the Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Act Amendment (Restrictions on Stock Animal Procedures) Bill 2019 has recommended that it should not proceed in its current form.
The bill proposed by Animal Justice Party and committee member Mark Pearson sought to mandate pain relief for mulesing and other sheep procedures in the state and ban the surgical breech modification practice after 1 January 2022.
After hearing submissions from wool growers, government agencies, animal welfare bodies and farmer bodies, the committee tabled its report yesterday. In the report, committee chairman Mark Banasiak said the bill raises fundamental questions about what is in the best interests of sheep and other animals involved in stock procedures.
“While there were widely differing views expressed in this inquiry as to how the best interests of the animals are served, it was clear that welfare concerns are front of mind for both industry and animal welfare groups.
“Based on the evidence, the committee concluded that banning mulesing from 1 January 2022 and making the use pain relief mandatory in certain stock procedures, as the bill proposes, is not the right way forward.”
Mr Banasiak also noted that the NSW Legislative Council has already voted on the bill, where it was defeated on the second reading, before being sent to the committee for inquiry.
“Whilst this inquiry has given the committee an opportunity to further examine issues at the heart of the bill and to hear from stakeholders about their views, nothing about the bill has changed since the House voted it down.
“For this reason, the committee has recommended that the bill not proceed in its current form.”
Peak wool grower body WoolProducers Australia welcomed the committee’s decision not to progress the proposed bill.
“We were strongly opposed to the amendments as it demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of the issues that it pertained to, as clearly evidenced in the Committee’s report and ultimate decision not to progress with it further,” WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall said.
Risk of prosecution under existing act heightened
Mr Pearson filed a sole dissenting statement to the committee’s recommendation, in which he said that a regulatory regime was important to set minimum standards to ensure that all members of a vulnerable group are protected and that poor practices are sanctioned.
“Whilst the committee may be resistant to mandating pain relief, individual farmers who fail to use pain relief may be at risk from a prosecution under S.24(1)(a) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979,” he said.
Mr Pearson had previously made the point that the current POCTA Act in NSW allowed the mulesing of lambs, but without causing “unnecessary pain.” In his statement, he said the Animal Defenders Office also believed that where pain relief has become affordable and available, a court may view a farmer’s failure to administer pain relief as causing ‘unnecessary’ pain, because the pain could easily have been avoided by the use of pain relief.
“The defeat of this bill will not remove the risk of farmers being charged with animal cruelty for inflicting unnecessary pain on an animal when undertaking the listed procedures without pain relief.”
Mr Pearson told Sheep Central this week that NSW sheep producers who mules sheep without pain relief were being sought to be prosecuted under the POCTA Act.
“Definitely, I know it is happening at the moment, that there is intelligence being sought as to which wool growers are not using analgesia during this mulesing period and once there is enough evidence to sustain the likelihood of a prosecution being successful there will be a test case.”
He expected a test case to be brought in New South Wales this year.
“I’m not really into punitive mechanisms, but at the end of the day, if people are just being belligerent and blind to the obvious and they are willing to cause that harm and acute pain and distress to an animal because of that mentality they need to be dealt with by the law.”
Mr Pearson said pain relief for mulesing was already mandatory in Victoria, but he expected other states would monitor any test case under the current NSW POCTA legislation.
“I think the very fact that a case will be on foot that will cause legislative change here to make it a specific offence not to use pain relief perhaps.
“But also the other states and territories will look at the issue, realising that it is now seriously getting traction, and a court will finally determine as to whether the practice of mulesing without pain relief is a breach of law and unacceptable, and the court will rule.”
Mr Pearson said if a wool grower is prosecuted – “no matter how high up in the echelons of the wool industry they are” — for causing unnecessary pain by not using pain relief for mulesing, every lamb mulesed lamb will constitute an offence.
“If there are 300 lambs mulesed without pain relief that is 300 counts of cruelty.”
A survey of 609 NSW Farmers members last year showed indicated that just over 66 percent of the survey respondents mulesed their sheep and 34pc didn’t, and 90.5pc said they administered pain relief mostly (3.9pc) or always (86.15pc).
Watch the horizon in the next six months – Pearson
Mr Pearson said he expected the NSW Government to support recommendation of the committee, but despite indicating earlier he would not oppose some amendments to the bill, the MLC was undecided on his next move.
“I am going to wait and see, watch the horizon, because I think there is going to be more activity in terms of retailers and the animal rights groups over the next six months or so.
“I’ll take all that into consideration and when the issue heats up again then I will probably move with another bill.”
Mr Pearson believed the failure of the current bill would incite broader and stronger action by animal rights groups against the wool industry.
“Four Paws, Humane Society international and PETA have been watching this bill very closely and I can assure you they are disappointed with the fact that the bill wasn’t recommended to go ahead by the committee, in the main.
“This will cause the animal rights groups to ramp up the campaign.”
Mr Pearson said he has had feedback from wool growers quoting retailers that the bill’s failure would cause further reputational damage to the industry. This feedback included that brands and retailers were no longer interested in wool from sheep mulesed with pain relief and wanted to source non-mulesed wool.
“It will be up to the industry to meet that requirement or fall away.”
AWI ‘probably the main obstacle’ to change
Mr Pearson said wool growers had also told him that Australian Wool Innovation board is “probably the main obstacle” to industry change in mulesing.
“You’ve got this serious obstacle of the old red-neck we’ll-do-it-the-way-we-always-did-it-school.
“AWI at the end of the day could actually be the very thing which brings the wool industry to collapse, because AWI is not properly representing the interests of wool growers and bringing them into the future and driving the move away from mulesing to meet what is becoming blatantly clear is demanded from retailers around the world,” he said.
“AWI should be telling the wool growers that they are getting no signs from retailers that this is no longer an issue.
“On the contrary, ‘therefore we need to strike forward and move away from mulesing and AWI we will help you’,” Mr Pearson said.
He said wool growers are giving AWI levy funds for it to “lead the way, but on the contrary they are obstructing the way.”
Only one accurate label for Australian wool: cruel – PETA
PETA spokesperson spokesperson Emily Rice said it is disappointing and concerning that “the barbaric practice of mulesing” will continue.
“It’s nothing short of a farce that even though it’s been a decade since the Australian wool industry’s own self-imposed deadline to stop hacking off sheep’s backsides lapsed, industry stakeholders claim that introducing a ban in January 2022 would “not provide enough time” to phase it out.
“As fabric buyers around the world learn that even the most basic animal welfare standards apparently still can’t be attained by the industry, there can be only one accurate label for Australian wool: cruel,” she said.
“PETA – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to wear” – opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview.”
PETA Australia spokesperson Aleesha Naxakis said the world’s wool buyers are turned off by Australia’s continued mulesing, “making this another nail in the coffin of the wool industry.”
“PETA Australia will continue to document the severe cruelty towards animals on farms, and expose them to the world.
“An embarrassing amount of time has passed since the industry promised to phase out mulesing and consumers are fed up,” she said.
“Our recommendation to farmers is to move out of this dying industry and transition to a new, more sustainable line of work.
“Australia’s wool reputation is already terrible,” she said.
“It’s not just with mulesing, it’s also the number of sheep that die in the paddock every year, the horrific abuse they endure during transport and shearing, and so many of them, at the end of their miserable lives, are sent off on live-export ships.
“There is nothing to be proud of in the Australian wool industry,” Ms Naxakis said.
“It’s no surprise that when designers, new and established, are looking for ways to innovate their brands they’re not looking at wool.
Ms Naxakis said PETA Australia would never support mulesing nor wool.
“It’s the court of public opinion that is strongest, and they are voting with their pocket books to shun wool and move to vegan fashions like never before.”
NSW Government should acknowledge viable options – FOUR PAWS
FOUR PAWS head of programmes Jessica Medcalf said recommendations to cast aside legislative enhancements, which would set a firm timeframe to phase out mulesing, as well as mandate pain-relief for surgical procedures, would be a great shame for the community of NSW, for animal welfare and for the reputation of Australia’s agricultural industry.
“In a progressive society, it is vital that minimum standards are set to protect vulnerable members of our community, in this case the voiceless animals used in the wool industry, so that poor practices are abolished and we achieve progressive change towards a more humane society.
“FOUR PAWS encourages the government of NSW to review this matter carefully and objectively, while acknowledging the clear evidence that there are in fact viable alternatives to mulesing as quantified in BG Economic’s recent report – Towards a Non-Mulesed Future, evidence which was provided to the committee, by both FOUR PAWS and Humane Society International,” she said.
“With growing concern from brands with regards to mulesing, a rejection of this bill will only bring greater cause for concern from shoppers and therefore brands, in relation to the Australian industry’s commitment to animal welfare.
“Resisting change on this issue, is not only unfortunate for animals, it makes little business sense, in world where demand for more ethical and animal-friendly fashion is on the rise.”
Sheep Central also sought comment from NSW Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall and NSW Farmers president James Jackson.
Click here to read the LC committee’s report and Mr Pearson’s dissenting statement.