CONSUMER pressure for Australian sheep producers to abandon the mulesing procedure has infiltrated the red meat industry.
The surgical practice was identified as the number one threat facing the sheep industry by a crisis management company employed by the Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
“I don’t want to get into an argument about whether it is right or wrong to mules sheep,” MLA managing director Richard Norton said.
“I come at it from the point of view that I am responsible for marketing your product.
“The challenge for you, as an industry, is to understand that you are very exposed at this point in time around the (mulesing) issue.”
The comments were made during this year’s Best Wool Best Lamb conference in Bendigo, and while the controversial issue of mulesing failed to officially make the agenda, guest speakers were forced to address the issue by the 400-strong audience during question time.
Mr Norton said an “antagonist”, employed by the SCA and MLA, identified mulesing as a crisis facing the entire sheep industry.
“The first slide he put up was a lamb in a cradle that had just been mulesed, the second slide was a photo of five lambs standing in a corner that had just been mulesed,” he said.
“I don’t think you have to be a genius to understand - how people against eating animals, against eating red meat, and those trying to attack (the industry) from a vegan point of view - what those images would do to your markets.”
The pressure on sheep producers to abandon the surgical procedure was evident at the conference with audience members firing further questions at Poimena Analysis' Chris Wilcox.
“When I talk to mills around the world, even in China, they say they’re getting increasing demand for wool from sheep that are non-mulesed.” Mr Wilcox said.
“Not for the Chinese domestic market (but) for the export market, where about half of the wool that goes into China is exported into the United States and European Union in particular.”
Nearly 10pc of the national clip offered at auction is declared non-mulesed, up from 5pc in 2010.
Despite 28pc of the wool offered at auction from sheep administered with pain relief during surgery, Mr Wilcox said brand and processors were uneducated about the use of pain relief.
“They don’t know anything about pain relief - they want non-mulesed,” he said.
“These mills are turning to South Africa, Argentina, and New Zealand – keep in mind that only 6pc of NZ’s total clip is Merino and Australia is 70pc of the world’s merino clip.
“If they want non-mulesed wool they have to find it somewhere and unfortunately here in Australia that is difficult to do.”
While Mr Wilcox is chief executive of the National Council Wool Selling Brokers of Australia, his comments were his personal views.
Elizabeth Nolan’s Economic Value of Wool Attributes Phase 2 is one of the only researches conducted into premiums paid for non-mulesed, according to Mr Wilcox, which was prepared for Australian Wool Innovation and released in November 2014.
The report found a premium of about 1-1.5pc for non-mulesed and ceased mulesed wool for the two-year period to 2013, along with 0.4pc premium for wool declared as pain relief.
“While the overall market suggests a couple of cents, there are some key markets programs that get significantly higher value,” Mr Wilcox said.
“These demands are coming from the retail side – retail and brands know about non-mulesed and mulesing, they don’t know anything about pain relief. It will be a significant education program.”