Sheep producers urged to consider lamb pain relief implications

Terry Sim, October 7, 2022

Dr Graham Lean

SHEEP producers need to consider the production benefits, consumer preference and market access implications of using pain relief at lamb marking, according to a Hamilton veterinary consultant.

Survey results outlined in the Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework’s first On-Farm Insights Report released this week showed that 56 percent of the 2003 producers surveyed don’t use pain management for tail docking and 75pc don’t provide pain relief for castration.

Agrivet Business Consulting principal Dr Graham Lean said he was surprised at the survey results as the majority of his clients are using pain relief.

He said most farmers he knows in western Victoria are using pain relief products and he was confident the majority of his clients were using pain relief at lamb marking.

Dr Lean said research has shown it is profitable to give pain relief at lamb marking and it is most important to address chronic pain.

“CSIRO trials published earlier last year showed a 1.6 percent improvement in lamb survival between marking and weaning, using Meloxicam in the form of Buccalgesic, with no significant difference between ewes and wethers, Merinos or crossbred.”

“Thus, if a lamb is worth $150, then the farmer can stand to triple his return on investment by addressing chronic pain relief through the use of Meloxicam.”

Dr Lean said there were also longer-term consequences with customers wanting meat that is produced pain-free and demanding verification that pain relief is used.

“There is definitely consumer demand for pain relief and that will likely affect their ability to sell their product in the near future.

A “Those are very strong reasons to do it, as well as complying with the five freedoms,” he said.

“Consumers want to know, when a piece of meat lands on their plate, where it’s from, where it’s been and what’s been done to it.”

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration recently supported broadening access to the lamb and calf pain relief products lidocaine and oral transmucosal Meloxicam by rejecting Australian Veterinary Association appeals that opposed rescheduling of the drugs from S4 to S5 status on the Poisons Standard.

The TGA decisions support the distribution of NumNut’s NumOcaine and Ilium Buccalgesic OTM from Troy Laboratories through resellers without a veterinary oversight requirement.

Dr Lean said these changes raise issues around Australia accessing the lucrative European lamb market after the United Kingdom’s departure through Brexit from the European Union.

“Now that the Brits are not a part of the EU, we have a chance to get into that market.

“I think there will be a push by the Europeans to have non-tariff trade barriers around animal welfare and veterinary supervision of on farm husbandry procedures,” he said.

He said Europeans have a poor opinion of the lack of vet oversight in lamb marking in Australia.

“We are going to have deregulated S4 drug access for farmers and if we think the Europeans are going to be happy with that, we’ve got another thing coming.”

Dr Lean believed EU markets would require Australian producers to verify what drugs are used with livestock to gain market access, which is already done by vets supplying pain relief chemicals.

“Our trading partners are going to demand more verification not less.

“We are going the opposite way to what our customers really want.”


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