A CONTROVERSIAL WoolProducers Australia policy initiative to mandate pain relief for surgical mulesing in Australia has been supported by the nation’s peak sheep producer body.
However, the support of Sheep Producers Australia for the WPA policy has come as another Merino industry body – the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association – backs away.
Sheep Central believes influential Merino breeders lobbying against mandatory pain relief have prompted the ASWGA to renege on its delegate’s initial support given at a WPA health and welfare committee meeting November last year.
The Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders last week also backpedalled on the issue. ASWGA and AASMB leaders have now said they would organise membership polls on the issue to further clarify their positions.
Delegates for the AASMB and the ASWGA voted in favour of WoolProducers Australia adopting a policy to mandate pain relief for mulesing at the WPA health and welfare committee meeting, but the associations’ leaders have subsequently withdrawn their support.
Sheep Producers Australia chairman Chris Mirams said the body supported WPA in its move to mandate pain relief for mulesing. He said mulesing should not be done without pain relief.
“SPA also commends those producers who have invested in the genetics and management changes that have enabled them to cease mulesing.”
He said SPA had discussed with WPA its plan to use the National Wool Declaration to help mandate pain relief. WPA wants the NWD to be a condition of sale at wool auctions.
AASMB president Peter Meyer this week said the association’s delegate to the WPA committee, NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association president Drew Chapman, had voted in favour of the WPA policy initiative, but without the authority of the AASMB council to vote for mandatory pain relief. After subsequent meetings of the state Merino breeder association councils voted 4-2 against mandating mulesing pain relief, Mr Meyer said the AASMB now supports the practice as the choice of each grower.
State stud Merino breeder councils in New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia Merino breeder associations opposed mandating pain relief, while the Victorian and Tasmanian stud bodies supported the WPA policy.
However, Mr Meyer said the AASMB would ask the state associations to survey all their members on the issue, with results hopefully finalised within four weeks. He rejected suggestions that the AASMB had been lobbied to change its position on mandatory pain relief and said he was confident the state surveys would be conducted transparently.
“It has got to be done right, it is no good going off half-cocked on it.”
The fall-out from WPA’s mandatory pain relief policy has also led to the former NSW Farmers delegate on the WPA board Andrew Wood, resigning, citing a conflict of interest with the state farming body’s policy of strongl;y encouraging pain relief for mulesing.
WPA independent director Steve Harrison told Sheep Central he had opposed a WPA policy of mandating pain relief for mulesing at the November meeting, because he was concerned it might next be required for tail docking and castration. He confirmed the AASMB and ASWGA delegates had voted in favour of the WPA policy change.
“Regardless of the studs’ position at our health and welfare table, the decision still had a solid majority.”
He said a key issue going forward was that auditing of the NWD had been kept in industry hands and distanced from government regulation.
ASWGA delegate Helen Cathles would only say that the health and welfare advisory committee comprised WPA board and industry group representatives invited to be “consultative and collaborative”.
“All organisations are invited to put forward their opinions without fear or favour – no-one is hobbled in any way.
“So therefore I think that what the wool-growing industry needs to know is that WoolProducers is doing its utmost to ensure the decisions that its board makes are decisions that come with the advice of all other organisations.”
ASWGA president Danny Picker said ASWGA supported pain relief and non-mulesing, “but it is still up to individual growers as to what they want to do at this stage.” He said “it was not entirely right” that the ASWGA council, in a teleconference before the November WPA committee meeting, had supported Ms Cathles voting in favour of mandating pain relief.
“We didn’t use the word mandatory – I can’t remember Terry, it was just to support pain relief.
“We haven’t really backpedalled, we didn’t have a motion fully moved – it was through a teleconference and it was a little bit misunderstood,” he said.
“We certainly support pain relief, but we have not moved it (mandating) – we may move it on the 9th of August (annual general meeting).”
Mr Picker said all ASWGA was asking all its members in a pre-AGM survey if they use pain relief or if their sheep were not mulesed, but was not asking them whether they supported mandating pain relief as it had not been discussed at council level.
When it was pointed out that the ASWGA council must have discussed mandating pain relief prior to the November WPA health and welfare committee meeting, Mr Picker said he believed the word mandatory “skipped all our councillors in a telephone conference.” He suggested that the councillors didn’t hear the word mandatory mentioned in the discussions.
“This is where I believe we have fallen down – I don’t think the mandatory word was taken, understood or used – it wasn’t written into our minutes.
“This all happened in the last week.”
However, Mr Picker later said “the ASWGA council agreed to give Helen Cathles permission to vote” at the WoolProducers meeting to propose that mandatory pain relief be introduced.
“That was the problem, that we didn’t understand it and that’s where now I’ve got to go back through our minutes again with our council on the 9th of August to totally support this.”
Mr Picker said mandating pain relief was “possibly” important enough to justify surveying the opinions of all ASWGA members. When asked if ASWGA had been lobbied to change its stance on mandatory pain relief, Mr Picker said “my opinion is that every farmer has got the right to make the right decision on their own farms.”
“We need to have more consultation with our members and this is what we will go and do.”
He equated mandating pain relief as previous calls to cease mulesing.
“This is the same thing, it is telling growers what they can and cannot do, and I don’t feel we should tell our growers what they can and cannot do.
“We will be asking all our members for a vote on this issue and we will hopefully have that decision by the 9th of August.”
WPA president Ed Storey said he was very disappointed about the current positions of the AASMB and ASWGA after the health and welfare committee vote “because the industry needs to put mulesing on a firmer footing.”
He said all delegates to the November meeting would have received an agenda detailing the issues to be discussed.
“Implementing this policy will put mulesing on a much firmer footing.
“It will tell the world a great story about the Australian wool industry; that we are being transparent and we absolutely do have the welfare of our animals front and centre on a daily basis,” he said.
“For most wool producers, mulesing with pain relief is how they are going to manage flystrike risk in the foreseeable future.”
WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall has confirmed that the executive summary for the November health and welfare committee meeting on its website was deemed by a majority of the delegates as a correct and a true reflection of the meeting. Key paragraphs in the confirmed executive summary include:
“Breed groups sitting on the H&W Committee supported the argument that increased (pain relief) production costs are redundant.
The Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeders believe there should be a push from WPA and other Merino groups to state governments seeking the use of pain relief when mulesing is made mandatory. The Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association’s position is that pain relief is used when mulesing.”
Click here to read the executive summary for the WPA meeting.