AUSTRALIA’S leading sheep meat producer body has declared that prime lambs should not be mulesed, and genetics and management changes should be made to enable prime lamb mothers not to be mulesed.
The statement was made by Sheepmeat Council of Australia chief executive officer Dr Kat Giles after the release of AuctionsPlus data that showed that among sheep and lambs sold online in 2016-17, 67 percent of ewes, 68pc of hoggets and 31pc of lambs were mulesed.
The data also showed that 11pc of new season lambs were mulesed, but 83pc of the mulesed lambs sold on the AuctionsPlus platform in 2016-17 were Merinos.
Dr Giles said that SCA recognised that mulesing presents a risk to the industry, “and therefore advocates that producers phase out mulesing as soon as practical and to promote best practice, including the use of pain relief.”
“SCA continues to work closely with MLA to understand consumer and community attitudes and trends which allows industry to conduct regular risk assessments on animal health, welfare and other issues,” she said.
“In prime lamb production systems, prime lambs should not be mulesed and producers are encouraged to introduce genetics and management changes to enable prime lamb mothers not to be mulesed.”
MLA leader welcomes SCA position
The SCA statement to Sheep Central — 13 years after the Australian sheep industry made a commitment to phase out mulesing by 2010 — was welcomed by Meat & Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton while speaking at the PGA Conference in Perth this afternoon.
Mr Norton received significant criticism from sheep meat and wool producers, including from Australian Wool Innovation chairman Wal Merriman, for stating that Australia’s sheep meat sector was exposed on the issue of mulesing, when he answered a question at the BestWool BestLamb Conference in Bendigo in June.
Commenting that perhaps some people might regard him as a “crisis” on the issue of mulesing, Mr Norton told the PGA conference that the discussion had evolved to “what is the strategy and what have we done?”
Mr Norton said after he was recently remind during EU trade talks in Brussels that the Australian sheep industry has missed its 2010 mulesing deadline, he made no apologies for asking for a position he could give to global customers.
“To the somewhat credit of Sheepmeat Council, it happened today.
“There position is that in prime lamb production systems, prime lambs should never be mulesed and producers are encouraged to introduce genetics and management change to enable prime lamb mothers not to be mulesed,” he said.
“Thank you, if it took what I did, which was answer a question, and I did cop a few emails, thank you, and a few people rang up and thought that I should be sacked for mentioning it; if that’s the position that you want me to tell the global customers, then thank you very much.
“But industry was lagging on this issue and it needed to be addressed and that’s I suppose the position we come to in terms of telling the world what we do.
“Because if we don’t tell the world what we do, they will tell us what to do on our farms.”
Mr Norton said he has not said that mulesing is good or bad.
“I have said why be so ashamed of it; if it has lifetime outcomes in terms of animal welfare and it is done by professionals with pain relief?”
But he said at the moment not all sheep and lambs that are mulesed are mulesed with pain relief.
“All I want to do is to be able to tell our customers that prime lamb, which adds so much value to farmgate returns is not mulesed and mitigate the risk before the risk happens.”
SCA call for research into ceasing mulesing
Dr Giles said current SCA policy is that producers phase out mulesing as soon as practical and to promote best practice, including the use of pain relief for all invasive procedures.
She said the SCA is working with MLA to understand the extent of mulesing within the Australian sheep meat industry and consumer and customer insights and preferences to inform a policy position on the issue of mulesing for the sheep meat industry.
“Any data received will be used to assist in the development an Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework, covering economic resilience, animal welfare, environmental stewardship, people and the community.
“The data is also used to inform MLA investment in a broad suite of animal health and welfare research and development,” she said.
“With SCA support, MLA has called for research into the economics and practicalities of ceasing mulesing in prime lamb production systems,” Dr Giles said.
AuctionsPlus chief executive officer Anna Speer said the online trading platform was requested by MLA to run some reports to look at the mulesing statistics for sheep and lambs offered in 2016-17.
She believed MLA requested the data to assist in the development of a strategy for the protection of the lamb industry against practices which will impact consumer perception.
“We strongly support anyone in our industry that is proactively looking to improve and protect the sector and welcome any requests for data that could be of assistance.
“We also feel it is important to have a conversation about practises that could impact our sector rather than stick our heads in the sand,” Ms Speer said.
AuctionsPlus mulesing statistics for FY 2016-17
Ewes sold – 1,153,622 – non-mulesed 33pc, mulesed 67pc.
Of Merino ewes offered, 83.6pc were mulesed and 74pc of Merino wethers were mulesed.
Hoggets sold – 104,820 – non-mulesed 32pc, mulesed 68pc.
Lambs sold – 1,155,631 – non-mulesed 69pc or 794,829, mulesed 31pc or 360,802.
Of the non-mulesed lambs, 25pc are Merinos and 75pc are crossbreds, and 83pc of the mulesed lambs are Merinos.
Sucker or new season lambs sold – 332, 274 – non-mulesed 89pc
AuctionsPlus chief executive officer Anna Speer said the company was requested by MLA to run some reports to look at mulesing statistics.
“I believe MLA’s request for the data would be to assist in the development of a strategy for the protection of the lamb industry against practices which will impact consumer perception.
“We strongly support anyone in our industry that is proactively looking to improve and protect the sector and welcome any requests for data that could be of assistance,” she said.
“We also feel it is important to have a conversation about practises that could impact our sector rather than stick our heads in the sand.”
Click here for a graph showing the numbers of AuctionsPlus sheep and lambs mulesed in 2016-17. Please note that the breed category of “other” encompasses all breeds aside from Merino/Merino – as well as traditional first and second cross terminal breeds, this also includes composite types bred to be plain bodied and also shedding breeds, which are highly unlikely to be mulesed. Suckers as a stock category on AuctionsPlus refers to lambs that are weaned at time of delivery; lambs are weaned prior to assessment. More than 95pc of suckers sold on AuctionsPlus are purchased by restockers/backgrounders/feeders.