Wool industry heavyweight Wal Merriman has denied attempting to oust Meat and Livestock Australia’s chief from the meat industry’s top position.
MLA managing director Richard Norton said Mr Merriman, Australian Wool Innovation chairman, phoned MLA chair Michele Allan last week asking for the board of directors to address Mr Norton’s public comments made about mulesing.
According to Mr Norton, Mr Merriman’s calls to Dr Allan were an attempt to have him removed from his post.
“It was clear pressure put on my position as managing director,” Mr Norton said.
“I have known Mr Merriman for 20 years. If he has had an issue in the past he has always phoned me directly.”
Mr Merriman rejected any tensions between the two levy groups.
“I haven’t asked for Richard Norton’s resignation - absolutely not,” he said.
In response to questions from Fairfax Media about whether AWI approached MLA about the mulesing comments, Mr Merriman said “everybody has done that”. “MLA can do what MLA does,” he said.
Mr Norton recently entered the debate to call for a sheepmeat industry-led strategic direction on mulesing.
He made his comments in front of a crowd of 400 people at the recent Best Wool Best Lamb conference in Bendigo, describing the sheep industry as “very exposed” concerning mulesing.
During this event, Mr Norton said a crisis management company employed by the Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) and MLA identified the surgical mulesing practice as the number one threat facing the sheep industry.
Mr Norton said AWI had failed to understand consumers.
“This is not a strategy for the industry,” he said.
I’m debating how we tell our story – we need to demonstrate the animal is not in pain and then we can sell the fact it gives a lifetime of animal health outcomes for sheep.
“I will be talking to the MLA board and the SCA for a strategy to ensure the industry is protected and our story is effectively communicated.
“The strategy will be around what the sheepmeat industry wants and we will develop strategies that are effective in communicating this to consumers.”
Mr Norton said he was not debating the necessity of the mulesing practice, but was developing an industry-led strategy.
“Everyone that defends mulesing says there will be worse outcomes for the animal, which I’m not disputing,” he said.
“I’m debating how we tell our story – we need to demonstrate the animal is not in pain and then we can sell the fact it gives a lifetime of animal health outcomes for the sheep.
“But without pain relief, we really are up against it.”
During the Australian Sheep and Wool Show Annual breeders' dinner on Saturday, Victoria Downs principal Will Roberts, Morven, Queensland, said society needed to “get a grip”.
“We all need a bit of a reality check here,” Mr Roberts said. “If you took a photo or a video of someone giving birth to a child, or of a caesarean section, I wonder what that would do to sex in the world?
“Where we live, it (mulesing) is one of the best things we do from an animal welfare perspective and society needs to get a grip and get an understanding if we don’t do what we do.”
In response to Mr Roberts, Mr Norton asked “why are we ashamed of what we do?”
“I am asking the industry to let me market your product in an open and transparent manner,” he said.
“We need to prove a good animal welfare outcome is a surgical procedure, done by professionals, with pain relief, with peer reviewed R&D proving there is no pain to the animal.
“As much as there have been a lot of phone calls that have been quite confronting, I have also had many emails from wool producers supporting an industry strategy, research-based solutions and effective communications.”