- Australian competition and consumer commission (Chairman Rod Sims)Chairman Rod Sims
- Minister for agriculture and water resourcesHon Barnaby Joyce MP
Ban mulesing immediately and mandate declarations
Consumers and animal lovers have a right to know whether sources of produce are ethical or if any aspect of production is unacceptable and should be changed.
Blowfly strike in sheep is a major economic and animal welfare problem in Australia. On average 3.2% of sheep suffer flystrike in high-risk years (involving warm damp weather).
The blowfly lays eggs in moist places on some GENETICALLY SUSCEPTIBLE sheep and the maggots hatch and eat the flesh of their host, causing pain, distress, illness and sometimes death if the problem is not noticed or treated.
Sheep suffer extreme pain and discomfort in silence. Their pain is measured by hormone levels of cortisol and beta endorphin plus behaviour changes and body weight.
Blowflies are attracted to moist skin irritations on sheep, including scours (diarrhea), wounds (from shearing, castration, tail docking, mulesing etc), lumpy wool (from dermatitis) or fleece rot (from bacteria on damp skin) caused by rain, urine or inflammation. Very wrinkly sheep are most at risk of fly strike since their wrinkles retain moisture. Skin wrinkles of sheep are graded on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being fairly smooth skin and 5 being extremely wrinkly skin. Most Australian Merino sheep still have very wrinkly skin so most are at risk of fly strike. (95% USA Merinos are now smooth skinned from selective breeding)
Sheep can suffer blowfly strike anywhere on their bodies, including poll (horns: which is the most common strike area for rams), belly, pizzle (male urine area), main part of the body (which suffers the most severe strike since it often goes unnoticed, which is ‘covert’ strike and up to 14 times more frequent than ‘overt’ strike), or breech (tail and wide buttocks area including tops of legs: which is the most common overt strike area for ewes). The primary cause of breech strike is worm infestation scouring, which attracts flies to the breech area. The amount of scouring sticking to a sheep is graded on a 'dag' scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the maximum soiled breech area most at risk of breech strike. Reducing worm infestation scouring reduces breech strike by over 90% (Morley et al).
Susceptibility or resistance of sheep to fly strike is an inherited trait (proven in 1920's research). Some sheep are NATURALLY GENETICALLY RESISTANT to fly strike while others are genetically susceptible. There are traits indicating susceptibility or resistance, including dag and wrinkle score, dense bright white fleeces vs urine staining, odor (detectable by dogs) and micro-organisms etc. Since susceptibility or resistance to fly strike are inherited traits, the only long term solution to the problem of fly strike lies in sheep genetics. In 1937 Belschner claimed flystrike problems could be bred out of Australian sheep flocks and he has been proven right.
For over a decade, a few ethical Australian sheep farmers have overcome breech strike by regularly crutching (shaving breech) and worming all their sheep. They noted which sheep displayed indicators of genetic susceptibility or resistance to fly strike and removed susceptible sheep while selectively breeding from the naturally resistant sheep, resulting in breech-strike resistant stock. CSIRO enjoyed the same results from their 2005 to 2010 tests. The resistant genetics are commercially available.
Sadly the majority of Australian sheep farmers, for the sake of short-term reduced effort and cost, copy John Mules, who in 1929, took one of his ewes which had suffered multiple breech strikes (genetically susceptible) and using a similar instrument to garden shears, sliced all the skin off her breech and noted the major damage he inflicted later resulted in a dry, wool-free, scarred area less attractive to flies. Mr. Mule’s method was approved and promoted in Australia in the 1930's and is still performed with manual hand shears or a sharp knife. Many farmers also skin the stub of docked tail as part of mulesing, but some have ceased since it causes cancer resulting in costly stock loss. Dr Auty referred to mulesing as 'partial flaying', while ANZFAS considers mulesing ‘a crude and barbaric substitute for good husbandry’ (which ethical farmers have proven). Dr Meischke noted many years ago that mulesing actually makes identification of naturally flystrike resistant sheep more difficult.
Depending on the age of the lamb or sheep, the pain of mulesing is equal to, or greater than, the pain of severe fly strike (Shutt, Fell et al). Sheep are 100% guaranteed to suffer severe pain during mulesing. No single sheep, even if susceptible, is 100% guaranteed to suffer any flystrike or severe flystrike. Mulesing does not stop fly strike on other parts of the body. Regularly wormed sheep are less than 10% at risk of breech strike. Some sheep die a few days after being mulesed. As correctly claimed by Dr Meischke et al, some sheep are naturally resistant so it's a painful & unnecessary practice.
Sheep have good memories and show aversion to the person who mulesed them, making them harder to handle by the people involved, so some farmers use mulesing contractors who are required to be qualified, but many unqualified farmers still perform mulesing themselves to the further distress of the sheep. Some people who mules now use a local anesthetic called trisulfan, which is antiseptic and grants temporary pain relief up to a few hours, but then the mulesing agony sets in and sheep take many weeks to heal. Sadly most Australian sheep are mulesed without trisulfan and last year Wool growers objected to a call for compulsory pain relief during mulesing. Wool Producers Australia suggested paying farmers a premium to use it.
Through court action, in 2004 the Australian Wool Industry (AWI) agreed to phase out mulesing and fast track genetically resistant sheep by 2010, but many sheep growers ignored the deadline and claim mulesing will be necessary and continued for at least another decade! They claim to care about sheep welfare but actions speak louder than words. Many farmers returned to mulesing as a cost effective practice, when their profits didn’t increase for avoiding mulesing or didn’t decrease for mulesing. There was no financial incentive to change. 2015 saw premiums offered for good quality non-mulesed wool. At that time there were fewer than 10% non-mulesed sheep. The chairman of the Australian Wool Growers Association said of the previous deadline ‘there is no legislation in the pipeline so that’s not going to happen’
We petitioners, call on the government for legislation to ban mulesing immediately.
Since 2008 there has been a voluntary option for sheep farmers to disclose whether their sheep are mulesed and whether any pain relief is used. The ethical farmers who avoid flystrike without mulesing are eager to disclose that while those who mules with pain relief may sometimes disclose that while the majority who mules without pain relief choose to not disclose anything. The Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) director believes declarations should not be made compulsory. Consumers are free to disagree.
We petitioners demand mandatory declarations
The fact is that sheep farming is a commercial industry and commercial industries are dictated by consumer requirements. It is vital that farmers must disclose whether sheep are mulesed or not so consumers can make informed choices when buying products.
The previous ‘all or nothing’ blanket approach to mulesing favoured ‘all’. It is time for ‘nothing’!
- Chairman Rod Sims
Australian competition and consumer commission (Chairman Rod Sims)
- Hon Barnaby Joyce MP
Minister for agriculture and water resources
Ban mulesing immediately and mandate declarations
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