Lamb Production

WPA director resigns over sheep mulesing pain relief plans

Terry Sim, July 3, 2019

NSW Farmers wool committee chairman Andrew Wood.

PEAK wool grower body WoolProducers Australia has lost its NSW Farmers board member over the national body’s policy to mandate pain relief for the surgical mulesing of sheep.

NSW Farmers wool committee chairman Andrew Wood was a WoolProducers Australia board member until he resigned last week due to a conflict of interest on the issue of mandating pain relief for surgical mulesing.

NSW Farmers strongly encourages the use of pain relief when mulesing and enhancement of animal welfare outcomes. It has also lobbied for the National Wool Declaration to be a mandatory requirement of sale, in order to drive uptake.

WPA’s website says Mr Wood and his wife Lou farm on a 2600 acre property outside of Armidale, New South Wales. Their operation includes a self-replacing Merino flock of 3000 ewes.

His resignation has prompted intervention and support from the NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association, which is promoting a NSW Farmers survey about mulesing and pain relief.

The latest conflict over the pain relief issue arose after a WPA health and welfare committee meeting in November last year decided to change WPA’s policy that growers must use pain relief for mulesing to seeking mandatory application of pain relief for mulesing, but not the banning of the flystrike preventative surgical operation.

The change became WPA policy with the majority support of the industry representatives at the WPA meeting, including those from Merino breeder bodies and NSW Farmers. However, Mr Wood who replaced current WPA president Ed Storey on the committee, has protested that the policy is against NSW Farmers’ stance on the issue.

WPA has since moved to enshrine mandatory pain relief for mulesing federally, initially via the audited voluntary National Wool Declaration integrity program, which is used by growers to declare whether they mules their sheep, use pain relief or have ceased mulesing.

We do not support a policy of mandatory pain relief – McLaren

NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association vice president Hamish McLaren said in an email distributed to members yesterday that Mr Wood asked him to send the email including a link to a mulesing views survey that closes on Friday this week.

Mr McLaren said Mr Wood had resigned from the WoolProducers Australia board “because of his conflicted position regarding the WoolProducers Australia policy position on mandating pain relief for the practice of mulesing.”

“Andrew, NSW Farmers, and NSW Stud Breeders think people should have choice in what is best for their animals.

“We all support and encourage animal best practice, which includes pain relief, but we do not support a policy of mandatory pain relief,” Mr McLaren said.

“Andrew has asked me to flick you all this reminder if you haven’t seen it yet, and encourage you all to take the mulesing views survey (link below) that closes THIS FRIDAY.

“If you are a member of NSW Farmers’ please take this survey below. If you are not a member then you could let them know your views via the email: [email protected],” Mr McLaren wrote.

“Our Association thinks it is very important that we let everyone know that we don’t need to regulate anything else in this country. Be careful of the last few questions in this survey.

“What would be the difference between an “industry-led initiative” and “government regulation?” the stud breeder asks,” Mr McLaren continues.

“Over time it means the same bloody thing.

“It is dangerous signing up to any initiative, unless you know what is involved,” he wrote.

“We all do what is best for our animals, but these regulations (both the NWD and PR) will only cost more time and more money. OUR time and OUR money!!!”

The NSW Farmers mulesing views survey asks growers about their mulesing and pain relief practices and how they use the NWD, including whether they support mandating pain relief for mulesing. The survey also asks if growers think a compulsory NWD would be an effective method of enhancing transparency of on-farm practices; whether mandating pain relief for mulesing is an effective strategy to retain the practice and if they are concerned about mulesing being banned.

Retaining mulesing is fundamental to NSW Farmers’ policy

A NSW Farmers spokesman said the association’s current policy strongly encourages the use of pain relief during mulesing.

“Retaining mulesing as an effective flystrike control method is fundamental to our policy.

“As a farmer-driven organisation, our policy comes from the grass roots and our members are the only ones that decide whether policy change is required.

The spokesman said the discussion about mandating pain relief is one of the reasons NSW Farmers is consulting with its members about their views “and they will make any decisions about any changes”.

WPA chief executive officer Jo Hall confirmed that Mr Wood resigned last week, but was not prepared to comment further. Mr Wood had not returned Sheep Central’s calls before this story was published.


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  1. Trevor Ryan, July 6, 2019

    NSW Farmers and AWI need to take a good look at the comments below. This is a strong reflection of how the public feel about this issue. The lack of regard for our customers astounds me and will hurt the industry in the long run.

  2. Brent Chalker, July 5, 2019

    Unfortunately, some producers are using mulesing as a crutch to prop up outdated genetics.

  3. Sally Mason, July 5, 2019

    These events just show how disconnected many sheep breeders are from their end customer. As a wool breeder, I am disgusted and disheartened by both NSW Farmers and AWI on their tortoise approach to an animal welfare issue that should have been resolved over a decade ago. No wonder the activists are rearing their ugly heads when simple changes can be made to your sheep operation to either cease mulesing altogether or implement mandatory pain relief methods. Too many moleskins and navy jumpers proverbially pumping their own trumpets without any foresight for future growth and development into the sheep industry. They should be hanging their heads in shame making these comments and should take some time to learn and be educated about effective change management across the board, where a wonderful product can be grown and manufactured under ethical standards. I simply am shaking my head in total disbelief and just wonder how the media spin doctors in AWI and NSW Farmers are going to handle this upcoming media debacle.

  4. Mae Faulder, July 5, 2019

    As a UK farmer who has kept sheep, I fully understand the problems incurred in controlling fly strike. I; however, do not understand why the use of insect growth-inhibitor applications are not used for this purpose. However, that said, I do appreciate that these products cost money, whereas mulesing only requires a sharp knife.
    The actual procedure, in my opinion, is a mutilation for convenience. The pain suffered at and after the procedure and the potential risk of infection and fly strike on the open wound must be high. That said, should sheep farmers decide to continue to carry out this barbaric procedure, surely the least they can do is use local to provide pain relief, albeit in the short-term.

  5. Rob Salmon, July 4, 2019

    Once again, looking at this issue from a production point of view rather than the final customer; how can a consumer in Europe, the US, Japan or wherever have confidence in Australian wool when the issue of mulesing cannot be resolved? It is ridiculous that after 20 years of debate and navel-gazing this has not been settled.

  6. Chris A, July 4, 2019

    “We do what is best for OUR animals…” No you don’t. Because if you did, then watch PETA’s disturbing video about “Crying lambs flesh and tails cut and burned.” Don’t ever tell me you feel it’s best to subject a lamb to unnecessary agony while burning the tail off right smack up to the anus, eliciting never-before heard bloody screams from lambs. They may normally suffer in silence, but for them to scream, something is wrong. It’s one thing to dock a tail, maybe halfway up, where there’s no feeling. Rubber rings do the job so much better. And it’s perfectly asinine to cut up and leave their backside open and bloody. If raw blood doesn’t attract flies I don’t know what will.
    It’s asinine in the first place to import a non-native breed of sheep, such as the Merino, into the ill-suited climate of Australia. It would be much more appropriate to farm hair sheep in the crappy climates. Thank you NSW for making more accountability for sheep welfare, which unfortunately our friend Mr Wood seems to not like. Full names required in future for reader comments please Chris A, as per our long-standing comments policy: Editor

  7. Martin Oppenheimer, July 4, 2019

    Unfortunately the stud breeders and NSW Farmers have been sucked in to support current AWI directors as they begin their 2019 election campaign. First stop is agri-political activity to wedge representative grower groups, which they do not want to work together. The real problem is how can we defend an industry if it wants to support those who choose to not use pain relief?

  8. Tom Gardner, July 3, 2019

    You have got to be joking. These guys are nutty. They can’t argue that they need to keep mulesing because they care for their animals, yet won’t mandate pain relief. It’s a no-brainer, but this resignation just proves how completely disconnected they are from the consumer by highlighting the issue itself. Does the wool industry and it’s supposed leaders understand anything about its’ brand?

  9. Jim McKenzie, July 3, 2019

    As primary producers what we do on farm is scrutinised by other producers and the general public. It is plainly obvious that as an industry if we do not become proactive and take animal welfare seriously, and use pain relief for surgical mulesing, you will not have the option of mulesing, as it will likely be taken out of producers’ hands and Government will regulate to ban the practice. So this is a proactive way of keeping surgical mulesing. I have not mulesed a sheep since 2007 and would be happy to see the practice banned. If you want to keep mulesing, then use pain relief.

  10. Andrew Farran, July 3, 2019

    If wool growers want, as they say,’the best for their animals’, they should commit to mandatory pain relief when mulesing.
    Otherwise, an informal commitment can be an empty gesture.

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