Terry Sim, Sheep Central - September 16, 2019
Opposition is mounting this week to a proposed change “by stealth” of the definition of sheep mulesing in Victoria.
Under the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep, mulesing is the removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears.
However, the proposed Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – Draft Regulations 2019, define mulesing as “mules means to remove skin from one or both of the breech and tail of a sheep.”
Submissions to the draft POCTA regulations close on September 23, but until last week the inclusion of the changed definition, which is supported by the RSPCA and other animal rights groups, had escaped the notice of the Victorian Farmers Federation, who helped draft the legislation.
Peak wool grower body WoolProducers Australia, the Victorian Farmers Federation and Victorian veterinarian John Steinfort, developer of the mulesing alternative, sheep freeze branding, all oppose any change to the current mulesing definition.
VFF livestock president Leonard Vallance said the federation was consulted about the definition change and he would be discussing it with Agriculture Victoria and Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes. Mr Vallance said he wasn’t aware of the inclusion of the changed mulesing definition — “we just left it as surgical mulesing.” He would not support Victoria having a different mulesing definition to the rest of Australia and recognised the risk to research and development in this area.
“No, I wouldn’t, mulesing is mulesing and that’s the surgical removal of skin from the breech of a sheep with shears.
“That’s the accepted definition and that’s where it should be,’ he said.
“The important thing here is that the language is correct.”
Mulesing definition change ‘by stealth’ is atrocious – wool grower
Victorian ultrafine wool grower Sherrie Cordie alerted Sheep Central and the VFF to the proposed definition change and wanted to know “who has pushed to get this changed?”
She has not mulesed her 4000-sheep flock for about 10 years and is using clips as a mulesing alternative.
The proposed POCTA regulations have been supported by the VFF and WoolProducers Australia because they stipulate a person must not mules a sheep unless using a pain relief product registered for use on sheep by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. However, Ms Cordie said apart from its mention in the proposed regulations’ definitions (page 4), there is no highlighting of the mulesing definition change in the overview or associated survey.
“Nowhere is it highlighted that the mulesing definition has been changed, unless you read all the regulations you wouldn’t know.
“It is changing the definition by stealth, it’s atrocious,” she said.
“I believe that wool producers should be urgently alerted to this anomaly and encouraged to have their say on the Engage Victoria website if they believe that the definition should be consistent.”
Ms Cordie believed the proposed definition change would mean clips and sheep freeze branding would be “dead in the water.”
“It would kill John Steinfort’s process and any other future research and development, it is just gone.
“Obviously the long-term solution is plainer breech sheep, but that is a decade away – what happens in between?”
She said sheep with wrinkly breeches are cut up to 20 times more than a breech modified (mulesed, clipped, liquid nitrogen or freeze branding) animal during this process.
“If this change is not made it will effectively encourage farmers to continue their mulesing practices (with pain relief) and not explore any more welfare-considerate options.”
Ms Cordie said the Australian Welfare Standards and Guidelines for sheep were developed (2016) to act as a guide for the development of new, nationally consistent policies to improve animal welfare arrangements in all Australian states and territories and provide guidance for all people responsible for sheep.
“This will not be the case if Victoria has a separate definition.”
WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the body will be making a submission into the POCTA Regulations process “and will strongly oppose any change to the mulesing definition as national consistency is essential”.
She said the current definition is recognised under the Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines and the National Wool Declaration and has been in place for years.
“Any change would effectively be a changing of the goal posts which must not be allowed to occur.”
Definition change would wipe out mulesing alternatives
Mr Steinfort said the current mulesing definition should continue to apply in all Australian states and the proposed change in Victoria was a serious concern.
“This definition they are proposing at the moment would wipe out any potential alternatives and current alternatives that are in the industry that are proven in our own trials.”
He said University of Melbourne trials have proven that the impact on animals of sheep freeze branding was measured to be “nil or very little impact” and in lieu of a defined industry pathway for sheep breeders to cease mulesing, the use of freeze branding was a transitional pathway.
Mr Steinfort said he would be meeting with his local Member of Parliament to discuss making a submission to the Department Of Jobs, Precincts And Regions’ POCTA Regulations consultation process to oppose the definition change.
“The way these draft regulations were drawn up, it is either genetic non-mulesed or mulesed with pain relief, there is nothing in between.
“It boxes everybody into a corner.”
Mr Steinfort said Country Road and other Australian clothing brands have put a timeline on ceasing to use mulesed wool.
“So these draft regulations are just putting everyone into a box – so think of the reliance on the chemicals for flystrike and all the crutching and shearing with potential injury to the animal that is going to go on because of excess breech skin.”
RSPCA Australia has previously told Sheep Central it does not support any breech modification on sheep in the absence of a breeding program aimed at achieving a flystrike-resistant flock. The welfare body also believes that there is an “absolute need to conduct pain research” into the current liquid nitrogen or sheep freeze branding process, and this should be peer reviewed and published in a reputable journal.
RSPCA Australia also supports reviewing Australia’s definition of mulesing to bring it in line with the New Zealand, where the process has been banned. Under New Zealand’s Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2018, a person must not, by any method, remove the breech, tail skin folds, or tail skin wrinkles of a sheep.
Sheep Central has contacted Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes for comment.
Click here to read the proposed POCTA Regulations.
Click here for more details and to make a submission on the Engage Victoria website.