It's time for Merino industry to end the mulesing 'pain'

Merino industry must end the mulesing 'pain' to plan for the future

Opinion
CHANGING TIMES: Back in the 1980s Merino sheep generally weren't mulesed until they were weaners. Now they are mulesed as lambs because the practice causes less stress.

CHANGING TIMES: Back in the 1980s Merino sheep generally weren't mulesed until they were weaners. Now they are mulesed as lambs because the practice causes less stress.

Aa

The future of mulesing has become the most divisive issue in the Merino industry.

Aa

OPINION

Mulesing has saved hundreds of millions of sheep since its introduction in the 1930s, but the practice is literally tearing the industry apart.

The future of mulesing has been the big issue during the bitter campaign to fill three empty seats on the board of Australian Wool Innovation.

It's been a big issue for the past 20 years but any meaningful response by the industry to damaging criticism of the practice has been painfully slow and divisive.

The AWI election result will be known next Friday morning and some vocal woolgrowers are hoping to see the backs of two long-serving directors, Wally Merriman (NSW) and David Webster (WA).

The pair are seen by them as members of the AWI's "old guard" who have been dragging the chain on building a strategy to minimise the damage mulesing is doing to Merino wool's public image while plotting a course to ending the practice.

Compulsory use of pain relief would be a good starting point.

Way back in 2004 the industry agreed to cease mulesing by the end of 2010, but that plan was scuttled as D-Day approached.

The industry wasn't ready to walk away from a practice that produced excellent animal welfare outcomes.

Many in the industry still hold that view, but mulesing is an increasingly difficult "sell" to high-end consumers in the likes of Paris, Milan and New York who are far removed from the realities and horrors of flystrike.

For animal activists who want to shut down livestock farming, mulesing is the "gift" that keeps on giving.

And social media provides them with the communication platforms to constantly peddle their propaganda.

Only last week, Kmart and Target announced they would stop selling products containing mulesed wool by 2023.

This comes after David Jones and the Country Road Group, including Witchery and Politix, recently committed to phasing out mulesed wool.

The wool industry can't ignore the problem and must develop a sensible, believable and united response to ongoing criticism of the practice.

Unless a miraculous alternative to surgical mulesing is suddenly found, the industry will have to tackle the issue through science, whether that's by breeding high-performance Merino sheep that don't need mulesing, or the development of biological and genetic weapons that destroy or deter blowflies.

Meanwhile, wool is missing out on wonderful opportunities to tell its story to global consumers who are becoming increasingly worried about climate change and the destruction of the world's environment.

Merino wool is a sustainable, luxurious fibre produced from sheep which spend most of their lives grazing on natural grassland landscapes.

Who gets elected to the AWI board is solely a matter for shareholders.

But this election must mark the end of infighting at AWI and the emergence of a more outward-looking company ready to engage openly with levy payers and consumers.

The story It's time for Merino industry to end the mulesing 'pain' first appeared on Farm Online.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by