VFF calls for end to AWI-MLA rift, and renewed flystrike and mulesing research

Terry Sim, November 22, 2017

VFF Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance

A VICTORIAN Farmers Federation call for sheep industry co-operation on breech flystrike research is seeking to end the rift between Australian Wool Innovation and Meat & Livestock Australia on the issue.

The VFF has called for both bodies to collaborate on “unprecedented investment” on breech flystrike research, including mulesing, despite their recent public differences on mulesing policy and research progress.

VFF Livestock Group president Leonard Vallance said the VFF had noted MLA managing director Richard Norton’s comments that the sheep meat industry was exposed to the issue of mulesing.

“So our thoughts are based around if you are going make comments and lecture the industry perhaps you should put some money next to it.

“We are just kicking the ball around a bit, getting the discussion happening,” he said.

“We all know that mulesing has got a limited life; in the consumers’ eyes it is not a good look.

“We all know why mulesing is there, but the consumer wants the industry to find a better alternative than what we currently do,” Mr Vallance said.

“Mulesing is an excellent tool given what we’ve got to work with, but in the future, is there a quicker, more permanent solution to the problem of the blow fly?”

The VFF said breech strike and associated management practices, such as mulesing, present the single biggest threat to the Australian wool and sheep meat producers. However, the current level of investment is disproportionately small in comparison to the threat, while income from the wool levy is at an all-time high, the federation said.

Politics and personalities must be put aside in pursuit of the best outcomes for sheep farmers and their flocks, the VFF said.

“The two industry research and development corporations must come together to work on this issue and deliver for their levy payers,” Mr Vallance said.

“How hard would it be for them to have a Memorandum of Understanding to resolve the issue of the blow fly?

“Get over your grandstanding from your dung hills and get on with it, do something for the industry.”

MLA needs to lead with investment

In a media release today, the VFF said AWI states flystrike costs wool growers $173 million each year, with breech strike having the largest impact. However, despite this significant risk, AWI has invested only $3 million per year since 2005 to address the critical issue, the federation said.

The VFF said MLA has publicly criticised the wool industry’s response to the breech flystrike and mulesing issue, but as a major player needs to lead with investment not rhetoric.

“We want MLA to invest significantly on targeted, blue sky research,” Mr Vallance said.

“We can’t see why $10 million invested by each of MLA and AWI per year over five years isn’t appropriate.

“Let’s look at all the possibilities,” he said.

“What we can put on the sheep, in the sheep, how we can discourage the blowflies – we need to invest in our future.

“AWI have done some good work, but the prioritisation of research needs to be radical. Given the animal welfare and the economic impact at stake, we can’t just refine old ways of working. We need to look for new solutions.” Mr Vallance said.

AWI needs to release flystrike and mulesing data

MLA managing director Richard Norton

The VFF call has prompted Mr Norton to declare that before MLA was to make any investment in breech flystrike and mulesing research, he suspected AWI would need to disclose to industry all the data on projects in the area for the last decade.

“Release all the work that you’ve done, where the money has gone and what it has achieved,” Mr Norton said.

“MLA, unlike AWI, works closely with its peak industry council, the Sheepmeat Council (now Sheep Producers Australia), on decisions of investment.

“Any decision MLA makes above our current investment in this area is not a decision MLA makes in isolation – it makes it with its peak industry council, because MLA is a service provider to industry,” Mr Norton said.

Mr Norton said even with doubling of wool prices, the lamb and sheep industry is still bigger than the wool industry and worth just under $4 billion annually.

“The sheep meat industry has come out and said no prime lamb should be mulesed and should use genetics and management to enable prime lamb mothers not to be mulesed.”

With SCA support, MLA has called for research into the economics and practicalities of ceasing mulesing in prime lamb production systems.

Mr Norton also said when mutton sheep are sold in Australia, the MLA levy receives about 16 cents per animal in a levy, generating about $1.7 million this year, compared to AWI’s 2016-17 levy income of more than $60 million.

“So there is a discrepancy in the income streams that an organisation like the VFF has failed to realise.”

Letter exchange highlights MLA-AWI stand-off

AWI chairman Wal Merriman at Senate Estimates last month.

AWI chairman Wal Merriman, in a September 5 letter to MLA chair Michele Allan, expressed disappointment with Mr Norton’s comments on AWI’s ‘lack of progress’ in finding a mulesing alternative, despite investing $34 million in the last 10 years. Mr Merriman outlined AWI’s positions on Ovine Johne’s Disease and mulesing research, productivity gains, genetic evaluation and oversight, ending by stating that AWI staff “remain committed to co-funded work with MLA and stood ready to undertake further collaborations”.

However, Mr Norton said MLA chair Michele Allan replied to Mr Merriman’s letter on October 16, requesting access to AWI mulesing research and Merino Lifetime Productivity Project data, but no response had been received. Ms Allan also said she would “welcome the opportunity to discuss other opportunities for enhance collaboration in projects of shared interest to the sheep meat and wool industries.” Mr Norton said AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough has also not responded to a November 10 letter proposing development of terms enabling data from the MLP project to be included in the MERINOSELECT database.

The VFF said genetics is a long-term solution to breech flystrike, but current industry culture requires a seemingly insurmountable change to implement it effectively. Pain relief measures are an improvement in practice, and enhance animal welfare, but they are only a partial short-term solution, and consumer objections to surgery are not fully assuaged.

Sheep Central also asked AWI for a response to the VFF call for AWI-MLA collaboration.


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  1. Trish Brown, November 23, 2017

    Here’s a fact that sheep farmers seem unaware of; that is, apart from the levies they pay to MLA for each animal sold, tax payer money amounting between $40-$50 million dollars each year for the past decade is given to MLA from the Federal Government on the condition it is to be used for research and development.
    I think it would be a good idea if many farmers out there read MLA”s annual report (which is online) and follow the money trail, and start asking questions as to what MLA does with all the money they receive every year, because this government contribution is matched dollar-for-dollar to the levy money that farmers pay on their sale animals. Wake up farmers and do your homework.

  2. Susan Finnigan, November 23, 2017

    It’s great that wool can be produced using different systems to suit our clients. Let us support each other to promote our fabulous product.

  3. susan finnigan, November 22, 2017

    I would be happy if my levies were spent finding an alternative to mulesing. We don’t do it anymore and were very pleased to stop. However, selection of bare breech, chemical management of fly/dag and keeping shearers happy is an issue and not a solution. We grow quality wool and sell to select buyers who request unmulesed wool, ethnically grown in a sustainable system — please help us provide it.

  4. James Jackson, November 22, 2017

    Just an update on this year’s mulesing. Lambs were done onto good tucker with ewes with a big bag of milk and healed in as little as four days — 95 percent of the mob healed in 10 days.
    Sheep have a lifetime of low-risk to breech strike ahead of them without washing them in chemical every week. Best practice animal welfare on my place.

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