Sheepmeat Council of Australia declares prime lambs should not be mulesed

Terry Sim, September 27, 2017

SCA chief executive officer Dr Kat Giles.

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

MLA managing director Richard Norton

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.


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  1. David Rendell, September 29, 2017

    Good on the SCA for showing leadership. In regard to the detractors of SCA’s view on mulesing terminal lambs, who insist on the right to make their own welfare decisions, I agree with the earlier comment on this thread that it is flat earth-like. This goes against the well-established principle that you must listen to your customers, both existing and new. They do not like mulesing and secondly, self-auditing doesn’t work. The AWI board’s cavalier approach to conflict of interest demonstrates that.

  2. Jim Gordon, September 29, 2017

    Tony, thank you for reminding me that the world isn’t flat. For the record, I think mulesing is a barbaric practice and I would like to ban the practice tomorrow. I applaud Dr Kat Giles and SCA for their attitude.
    My problem is this honey pot of money in all these organisations that is being spent in areas that I don’t necessarily agree with. If I had a choice who I gave my levies too, then I would take great interest in the areas of expenditure, and then I would have more influence on their direction.

  3. James Jackson, September 29, 2017

    I would like to clarify my comments. I don’t mules second cross lambs or the wether portion of the first cross lambs. However, there are animals (mainly Merinos) that may be marketed as lambs that are mulesed because they may also be kept and be exposed to fly strike. In my operation, it would be of little benefit to mulese animals that are guaranteed to be marketed before they are exposed to a fly strike risk.
    I bought the point up re the mulesing definition because there is not international harmony in the definition. While South Africans and New Zealand producers are taking some skin from the tail to stop contamination and declaring they are not mulesing, this does not happen in Australia. Subsequently, I believe, in Australia the tail length of unmulesed sheep appears to be shorter. This is a welfare issue. Has the Australian definition of mulesing perversely created another problem. The prime lamb industry has a problem with tail length with many tails shorter than the ideal three joints. Is it barbaric to lop the tail off at anything under three joints?
    My argument is that if the definition of mulesing was restricted to breech skin, as it is around the planet, we may see the tails of prime lambs and wrinkle-free Merinos kept longer, because producers could do some minor modification of skin on the tail. This could also help keep E. coli counts down on carcasses, as long unmodified tails tend to contaminate carcasses in the abattoir when skins are pulled.
    I would remind those involved in the debate there is a lot of peer-reviewed research supporting the positive welfare credentials of mulesing. However, consumers are always right and we have a responsibility to have transparency in what we do. Transparent supply chains and market-based mechanisms to sort these issues out are the way to go. If all us flat-earthers can’t find someone to buy our product we will have to embrace the sphere or fall off the edge.

  4. Jane Gardner, September 29, 2017

    SCA are just stating the obvious. Prime lambs shouldn’t be mulesed; the SCA isn’t proposing to ban it. If I read it right, they are saying if you have to mules your ewes for animal welfare reasons, then pain relief is the way to go. Pretty logical stuff and it shows we care for our animals. Good work SCA.

  5. Simon Wells, September 28, 2017

    Farmers need to be far more sensitive to their sheep and the buyers of their sheep.

  6. Simon Wells, September 28, 2017

    About time. Hip! Hip! Hooray! The sooner this barbaric practice ceases, the sooner we wool growers can hold our heads high.

  7. Johnny Gardner, September 28, 2017

    Great work SCA! This shows true leadership and risk mitigation to ensure a strong future for our industry.

  8. Tony Wiseman, September 28, 2017

    Well done Sheepmeat Council, ignore people like Chick Olsson, James Jackson and Jim Gordon; they still think the world is flat!

    The Sheepmeat Council has moved to protect our industry. No prime lamb should be mulesed and pain relief would result in more live lambs. How can Gordon say this is political? The council didn’t say ban mulesing. It’s time for the industry to grow up.

  9. Jim Gordon, September 28, 2017

    Chick Olsson, I agree with your statement one hundred percent and I quote it in case anybody missed it — “Ag political bodies have no right to tell me what to do at any level.” Yet here we have every sheep producer in Australia paying a two percent levy to an organisation without any control of how that money is spent. The sheep producer needs a choice of different organisations so there can be real accountability and that would give him or her the complete satisfaction that the integrity of that organisation is at one hundred percent. Is it possible to set up an organisation in this country that has no politics, no self-interest groups and just gets on with the job of educating sheep producers so we can give the consumer a better experience with sheep meat and wool garments?

  10. Gordon Davis, September 28, 2017

    Wool industry comments – ‘Get over it ‘- ‘consumers don’t like chemicals’.
    Wool has had decades to find solutions accepted by consumers of fibre and food. Does anyone think the wool industry is just like live export ‘nothing to see here?”

    Don’t blame the sheep meat industry for protecting the prime lamb industry.

    The growth of lamb is because it is a food grown in an ethical manner.

    Why has the wool industry not moved to mandatory pain relief as a way of demonstrating it cares for the animal?

    Chick, you run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds. Pick a position to help yourself and the industry – mandate pain relief.

  11. James Jackson, September 28, 2017

    For those who think the answer is breeding wrinkle-free sheep with bare perianal areas think again. While tail modification is not considered mulesing in South Africa and New Zealand, it is considered mulesing under the Australian definition. I am seeing a lot of sheep with bare and wrinkle-free perinatal areas, but having the tail at 1 or 0 joint because the tail cannot be stripped of wool-bearing skin and still be considered mules free. Perversely, the push to phase out mulesing has created an issue with tail length.
    I would encourage those setting policy and defining procedures to think about what they are doing. The world is a bit more complicated than some would have you believe.

  12. Joyce McConnell, September 27, 2017

    Chemicals are the only way to control flies other than mulesing. I hate using chemicals especially when there is a good alternative. The intake of chemicals is far worse remedy. We as human beings should do what is best practice; which is to mules our lambs. Get over it.

  13. James Jackson, September 27, 2017

    I mules sheep that may go as prime lambs or may be kept as wool cutters or breeders. I believe it is prudent and best practice to mules early, so if the environmental and market conditions preclude marketing them as prime lambs, they are not exposed to welfare issues later on.
    Unfortunately the push to end mulesing has created another problem, with some producers using long term chemical applications to prevent fly strike. There are a lot of animals of merit in the gene pool that either have to be mulesed or suppressively treated with chemical.
    Richard Norton should get a handle on some of the issues around mulesing before he goes on trade trips. I was in China recently and that market is very sensitive to chemicals in the food, but is not particularly concerned about mulesing.
    When Richard Norton is talking to the Europeans regarding mulesing, is he talking about the Australian definition of mulesing or the South African or New Zealand definition? A challenge to the readers…what’s the difference?
    There are plenty of producers who don’t mules and if a market is sensitive to this issue you can source animals that aren’t mulesed. There appears to be some people in the meat and wool supply chains who don’t want to pay more for a particular product and would prefer a regulated production environment to operate. These same players are the first to whine if some regulation impedes their business flexibility.
    Richard Norton is correct; markets are becoming increasingly demanding over some issues. Unfortunately different markets have different issues. The critical issue is how we respond. Banning or phasing out an excellent tool like mulesing is not an appropriate response.
    I encourage those not mulesing to find a grid that rewards them for that product. I would also especially urge those not mulesing to comply with the export slaughter intervals for chemicals they apply to their sheep.

  14. Chick Olsson, September 27, 2017

    Ag political bodies have no right to tell me what to do at any level.

  15. Jane Overnewton, September 27, 2017

    Haven’t mulesed for 12 years and have seen this coming for years; now just to get the guys in Jurassic Park to think differently. Customers dictate the market, not the producers.

  16. Kirstie Anderson, September 27, 2017

    Congratulations SCA. Fantastic to see an organisation listening to consumers. Without demand there is no point producing a product. I’m sure those savvy, forward-thinking lamb producers will have no problems. They led the way with breeding values and will no doubt do so again with mules-free bare breeches. Well done.

  17. Chick Olsson, September 27, 2017

    The Sheepmeat Council of Australia should mind its own business and stop interfering with people who are making objective welfare decisions for the protection of their livestock. SCA has no mandate, nor does it represent any decent livestock producer I know of.

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