AUSTRALIAN superfine wool grower leader Danny Picker has renewed support for Merino flock owners to decide individual best practice animal welfare for their flocks, even above the demands of the market.
In a media release yesterday, he also called for the industry to promote its “positive” stories to the world and to support the new Australian Wool Innovation board.
Mr Picker is national president of the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association and a member of Australian Wool Innovation’s Wool Industry Consultative Panel.
Many ASWGA members market their wool primarily to European brands and processors who are now mostly moving to using only wool from non-mulesed sheep.
The ASWGA release comes as processors call for increased non-mulesed wool production and peak grower body WoolProducers Australia seeks to mandate pain relief for mulesing, which has also been proposed in New South Wales legislation and in changes to animal cruelty regulations in Victoria.
In the release, Mr Picker claims that “ASWGA is the only
organisation in Australia that always focuses on their customers’ needs and keeps close contact with industry leaders throughout the pipeline, maintaining a great reputation, and leading the Australian wool industry in animal welfare practices.”
He said the association’s goal “is to positively promote best animal welfare practices for each individual farmer’s flock and their environment, and support grower’s rights to decide best practice in relation to animal welfare on their own farm, in an open, honest and transparent fashion.”
However, Mr Picker said this meant supporting growers’ rights to decide how their sheep would be treated, even over and above the animal welfare requirements of markets.
“It’s a large consuming world and some growers cannot produce to the world’s requirements.
“We’ve got to respect growers’ rights.”
He said growers’ rights on animal welfare have been “pushed” by retailers and consumers, and it is up to the individual growers to decide how they run their flocks, including whether they don’t mules, or mules with pain relief, or not.
“It is up to each individual farmers to do what he wants to do.
Mr Picker conceded there was a risk that customers ultimately might not buy wool from growers choosing animal welfare practices they did not appreciate.
But Mr Picker said this was “definitely” a risk worth taking.
“Because each and every grower has the right to decide to do what he wants to do on his own farm.”
When asked if he thought this right extended beyond what might be seen as being in the best welfare interests of sheep, Mr Picker said he believed that “every farmer is doing the best they can possibly do for animal welfare.”
Mr Picker said 60 percent of ASWGA members have declared in surveys that they do not mules their sheep and “all use pain relief.”
“They are monitored by our surveys.”
“They’ve acted with the welfare for their animals in their own environments.”
But Mr Picker said ASWGA still had a “few members” who mules and who have not declared whether they use pain relief, with industry best practice yet to be defined by the industry or regulated.
He supported all growers declaring the welfare status of their clips on the National Wool Declaration, but didn’t believe there was a need for the industry to form a best practice policy, or industry strategy, on pain relief.
“I think that is out of the question, I think we need to start talking about the future – I think we spend too much time in the negativity.
“The world market is going to decide who will buy the wool and what wool they want to buy.”
No ASWGA support for mandating pain relief
Mr Picker said he didn’t oppose pain relief for mulesing, but he would not support mandating the practice.
“I do support pain relief, but we cannot mandate it.
“A mandatory decision (on pain relief) can only be put into position by government policy.”
He would not answer when asked if it was preferable for the Australian industry’s sheep welfare reputation if all growers committed to implement pain relief for mulesing.
‘Negative’ media affecting farmer’s incomes – Picker
Mr Picker today also called for more “positive media” coverage of the industry.
“Negativity in the media and on social media platforms ultimately hurts all wool growers and affects farmers’ incomes at sale.
“Instead of focusing negatively on issues such as animal welfare, we need to promote the positives for our animals in the long term,” he said in the release.
“Australian wool growers are dedicated and compassionate and we should be proud to tell our positive stories to the world.
“Best practice, support for industry leaders and positive media towards our industry will ensure a prosperous future for all wool growers in Australia.”
Mr Picker said recently negative stories, many aimed at Australian Wool Innovation, have surfaced on social media and in the press.
“Such negativity is detrimental to the Australian wool industry as a whole.
“As an association we have assisted AWI as part of their working group, in implementing the recommendations following the review of the wool industry, and it is our responsibility to support the newly-elected board going forward,” he said.
“Best practice, support for industry leaders and positive media towards our industry will ensure a prosperous future for all wool growers in Australia.
Mr Picker concluded his release with a call for all superfine wool growers to join ASWGA for the benefit of the Australian wool industry.
Click here to read the full ASWGA media release.