Will reason prevail on mulesing?

Flystrike is too big a problem to tolerate bullying or finger wagging by know-it-alls

DO reason, common sense and the weight of evidence win in the end? Not always, but at least in the case of mulesing they might be making a comeback.

Back in 2004 the radical animal rights group PETA launched a campaign against the sheep industry based on its opposition to mulesing. Targeting major clothing retailers in Europe and the US, it threatened to initiate a worldwide boycott of Australian wool unless the practice was stopped.

The industry’s response was little short of blind panic. Driven by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), it agreed to phase-out of mulesing by 2010 on the assumption that acceptable alternatives could be developed by this time. AWI also took court action against PETA, later settled when PETA agreed to cease its activities until the end of 2010.

It turned out that developing alternatives to mulesing was more difficult than anticipated. The 2010 deadline came and went with nothing available. Trials involving clips and chemicals proved disappointing. As far as I know SkinTraction is the only product still in contention, and it has many limitations.

AWI’s willingness to agree to phase out mulesing was not welcomed by all sheep producers, but alternative voices struggled to be heard. The board of AWI at the time, led by Ian McLachlan, was adamant that it was the only option.

Some were of the view, as I was, that alternatives needed to be every bit as good at controlling flystrike as mulesing, and cost no more, or sheep producers would continue mulesing but lock the gates or load the shotgun to keep out nosy parkers.

Flystrike is too big a problem to tolerate bullying or finger wagging by know-it-alls doing the bidding of extremists.

Times have obviously changed at AWI. The dissenters are now in the majority and the current board is in no mood to appease PETA, while staff no longer mutter about banning mulesing. While the official objective remains removing the need for it, expectations as to how long this might take are more realistic.

The need for patience was reinforced recently by a report by Mackinnon Project that found mulesing remains a better option for long term breech strike prevention, clearly ahead of both clips and long-acting insecticides, with benefits that are predictable and lifelong. A replacement might be found through either genetics or technology, but it might also take decades.

Radical animal rights groups, no fans of science, have little sympathy for this situation and signalled they will again seek to confront the sheep industry over mulesing. The industry’s response may be crucial in determining its future.

My hope is that, instead of attempting to reason with or try to mollify the radicals, or even bring in the lawyers, AWI will undertake a campaign to convince clothing retailers, and indeed anyone interested, that failure to use mulesing would condemn millions of sheep to a slow, agonising death from flystrike.

Reason, common sense and the weight of evidence are on their side. The harm caused by mulesing, which nobody disputes, is substantially less than the harm caused by flystrike. It’s a trade-off that most people could easily understand. And if they cannot, then photos of flystrike every bit as gruesome as those of mulesing will help persuade them.

Indeed, such a campaign has the potential to portray the anti-mulesing activists as inhumane ideologues, something that would be of benefit to a lot more than just the sheep industry.

  • David Leyonhjelm has been an agribusiness consultant for 25 years. He may be contacted at reclaimfreedom@gmail.com
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    David Leyonhjelm

    David Leyonhjelm

    has worked in agribusiness for 30 years and is a Senator for NSW representing the Liberal Democrats.
    Date: Newest first | Oldest first


    Jen from the bush
    18/02/2013 5:10:04 AM

    I couldn't understand why photos of horrific flystrike weren't published in all shows and in all papers and overseas right from the start. So start doing it NOW!
    18/02/2013 6:56:30 AM

    Some teenage girls get pregnant - would you advocate ovariectomising them all to stop it? People make up their own mind about any given "trade-off" which you so flippantly think they "could easily understand".
    18/02/2013 7:28:17 AM

    Not a mention of the voluntary 75% uptake of a commercially available pain relief product. Nor the great work of many breeders to remove wrinkle using genetics. Dear Mr Leyonhjelm why are you doing this?
    18/02/2013 7:42:50 AM

    Why not put up a video of mulesing so that people can decide for themselves if this is ethical? And the study recently released by the AVA found that non-mulesed sheep had a LOWER incidence of flystrike than those mulesed. Time for Australian farmers to stop putting animal welfare at the bottom of their list and stop mulesing. Plenty of the more ethical wool producers have managed this successfully.So the excuses really don't cut it.
    18/02/2013 8:18:17 AM

    Does Mr Leyonhjelm not realise that at the end of the day it is the end consumer who really decides? Why give reason for PETA to continue their belligerent anti wool campaign in Europe and the US resulting in consumers opting for synthetics or cotton garments. Why go back and revisit an issue that was badly handled by industry only to cop another serve? Progress has been made and growers have largely accepted the need to produce wool in a manner more acceptable to the end consumer.
    Rural Jane
    18/02/2013 9:00:17 AM

    Maverick ... Are you serious? Why should Merino Breeders have to allow the Inferior gentics of SRS sheep into their breeding program? We have spent so much money and time over the years perfecting our flock to be told we need to add SRS genetics. Not likely! The uptake of pain relief is a benefit to farmers as lambs bounce back better from mulesing. To suggest flystrike is more common in mulesed sheep is a joke. The figures must be based on Merino and Cross Breed sheep. Most Cross Breeds arent mules and dont get fly stike as they either dont live long enough or arent a wooly breed! Geez!
    18/02/2013 10:29:55 AM

    Yes I am serious. But who mentioned SRS, Ms Jane? The point is, without pain relief & genetic selection, wool would be still in crisis.
    nathan e
    18/02/2013 11:45:22 AM

    One thing for sure is that while AWI is in charge of mulesing, there will never be a alternative.
    18/02/2013 12:12:17 PM

    No mention either about taking twice as long to crutch (or dag) an unmulesed sheep or the complaints from shearers unless they have been crutched just before they start. No doubt David finds pushing a pen much easier than a handpiece but has trouble finding something better to write about.
    Rural Jane
    18/02/2013 2:33:34 PM

    A manner more acceptable to the end customer Rob? The end customer surely must know the WHOLE story regarding mulesing. Currently they only see what PETA and those terrorists at Animals Australia portray. I think if you'd had to see a flyblown sheep put down your mind might change slightly!
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    Agribuzz with David LeyonhjelmCommentary, news and analysis with agribusiness consultant David Leyonhjelm. Email David at reclaimfreedom@gmail.com


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