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Sheep meat body states mulesing policy, with pain relief as best practice

by Terry Sim, 06 July 2017

Sheepmeat Council of Australia CEO Dr Kat Giles

AUSTRALIA’S peak sheep meat body has re-iterated its “established” policy that mulesing be phased out as soon as practical, after its producers were recently told they were “very exposed” on the issue.

At the recent 2017 BestWool BestLamb Conference in Bendigo, Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton said the sheep meat industry had a challenge to understand it was “very exposed” around mulesing.

Mr Norton made the comment as a marketer of Australian sheep meat in response to a question from one of the 400 sheep producers, consultants and researchers attending the annual BestWool BestLamb Conference. He suggested global retailers would stop buying Australian red meat if they saw images of mulesed sheep and he considered it a “sleeper issue”. He later told Sheep Central that mulesing was hard to defend to global consumers and the industry should be concerned that many first cross, composite or Merino ewes used for prime lamb production were mulesed, albeit to prevent flystrike.

Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive officer Dr Kat Giles said mulesing to control blowfly strike is not a new topic for consumers.

“It is established Sheepmeat Council of Australia policy that sheep producers phase out mulesing as soon as practical.

“It’s also the Sheepmeat Council of Australia’s policy to promote best practice including the use of pain relief for all invasive procedures,” she said.

“While there is no universally accepted alternative to surgical mulesing, the Sheepmeat Council of Australia encourages producers to manage breech strike to the highest standard of animal welfare.”

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After Mr Norton’s comments, Sheep Central emailed the SCA a series of questions about what the council had done or intended to do to respond the risk that mulesing posed to the marketing of Australian sheep meat. The council was asked if it believed pain relief for mulesing will be accepted by consumers as a defence and if it had a strategy to mitigate the risk that consumers might associate mulesing with prime lamb and mutton production in Australia. The SCA was also asked if it believed that continuing to mules sheep was improving sheep health and well-being.

The Australian Sheep Industry Strategic Plan 2020 has an imperative for “continuous improvement of sheep health and well-being”. The key activity under this imperative is to “Monitor and actively respond to community perceptions and concerns about sheep industry practices across the entire supply chain”. The plan lists MLA, SCA and the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council as sharing the responsibility for implementing this key activity.

SCA is working on continuous improvement of sheep health and well-being

Dr Giles said the community – domestic and international – has high expectations around the welfare of the animals in the Australian industry’s care and there is growing consumer interest in the provenance of the food they purchase.

“The Sheepmeat Council of Australia understands that and we recognise our industry’s responsibilities to the community and the consumers of Australian sheep meat and lamb.

“Our commitments are clearly set out in the Sheep Industry Strategic Plan 2020 which is publicly available,” she said.

“Together with MLA, and other industry partners, the SCA is working on the continuous improvement of sheep health and well-being throughout the value chain.

“Through MLA we’re also continuously monitoring domestic and international customer perceptions to understand each of our markets’ needs and requirements. Using all this information, together with MLA’s regional producer research and development consultation, investments and priorities are set and published every year in MLA’s Annual Investment Plan,” Dr Giles said.

“This work is done in conjunction with a regular risk assessment of the industry by the SCA board.

Dr Giles said the SCA has worked, and will continue to work, with MLA to invest in practices that improve sheep well-being, mulesing or otherwise, including:

  • Promoting best practice, particularly the use of pain relief
  • Direct levy investment into research and development of products, techniques and infrastructure that replace and/or refine current practices and prioritise investments with a well-being outcome focus
  • Pest and disease control programs,
  • Development of systems to measure, report and respond to animal health and welfare outcomes,
  • Monitoring and prosecution of acts of cruelty against animals through the relevant Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (POCTA) legislation in each jurisdiction
  • Harmonised standards that have outcomes focused on improving well-being
  • Registration and availability of products which improve animal well-being.

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