In a recent Australian Community Media (ACM) opinion piece, Josh Lamb from Endeavour Wool Exports and current President of the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors (ACWEP), commented on animal welfare in the wool industry and how we are perceived by our customers. Tim Marwedel, Managing Director of The Schneider Group also gave a similar presentation to a recent webinar hosted by Pooginook Merinos. I would like to address some of these issues.
There is a general perception from these supply-chain partners that our industry’s story has not been told effectively, which is hard to disagree with. However, WoolProducers Australia (WoolProducers) has shown considerable leadership and collaboration over the past 18 months to try to address this issue by developing and launching the Trust in Australian Wool campaign (TIAW). This campaign is about the robust, world leading animal health and welfare systems we have in Australia, coupled with sustainability, biosecurity and traceability frameworks that we have in place. The TIAW campaign brought all those components together to try to be more effective in telling our story.
WoolProducers has oversight of programmes that growers invest in (often in partnership with our state and federal governments) to prevent exotic disease incursions, to manage endemic diseases, to get early detection of conditions through abattoir monitoring and then provide tools for producers to address these issues. WoolProducers is continually preparing our industry for an EAD outbreak that we hope never comes, through industry training and other preparedness activities.
The industry R&D and marketing companies, AWI and MLA, do research and development to continually improve health and welfare such as Lifetime Ewe Management and investing in the development of Buccalgesic paste and Numnuts.
TIAW also collated many of the systems that underpin the standards and quality of our wool to give buyers confidence to bid, such as those run by AWEX and AWTA. We articulated that there are state based POCTA laws that producers are subject to. There and many more are in addition to what producers do every day on their farms, be it worm monitoring, blood testing or pre-emptively vaccinating to prevent disease impacting on their health and welfare.
Many of the programmes mentioned above are run by Animal Health Australia. WoolProducers are the wool industry members of this body which is a partnership of industry and state and federal governments. We provide oversight and strategic direction on many of the programmes and this leadership provides real value for the industry in enhancing market access, driving policies to reduce disease risk and improve health and welfare of the national flock over time. All great health and welfare outcomes for our flock that we want to tell customers about.
In the ACM article, Mr Lamb also said one thing we could do to help would be to make “pain relief mandatory for some animal husbandry tasks “. WoolProducers thinks he is 100% correct. In 2018 WoolProducers endorsed policy to have mandatory pain relief for mulesing. We strongly support this still, but the debate is moving on. In some countries castration and tail docking are coming under pressure from animal rights groups. In Australia, we are seeing increased use of pain relief for these procedures in the form of Metacam 20, Buccalgesic, Numnuts as well as the well-known Tri-solfen.
What do we as an industry want to do about this? We were alerted to this issue by the AWI European office during the Wool 2030 Strategy development and by various groups on the excellent Schneider Wool Connect virtual conference in October 2020.
Given Australian producers are well versed in using anaesthetic and analgesia (AA) products at lamb marking, it presents as a real opportunity to be proactive on this issue. Hoping it will go away and saying nothing is not a strategy. We should determine our own future and not wait for others to determine it for us. Prof Bruce Allworth made this point in his informative presentation to the recent MerinoLink conference in Wagga saying that the market will be the first to set the direction and industry need to be aware of where this is heading.
WoolProducers’ Animal Health and Welfare Advisory Committee is considering these and many other issues at the moment, as another example of us providing leadership in this area. We have coordinated, in addition to our SFO and Independent Directors, representatives from ASWGA, AWGA, SRS Genetics Ltd and the Australian Sheep Vets Association (providing technical advice) to take a collaborative, consensus building approach to these key policy areas. We have recently invited some further relevant participants and hope they join us for our next meeting.
Recent comments from the trade have also stated that we must reduce our reliance on mulesing. We know certain markets do not want mulesed wool. Bodies such as AWI need to be as transparent about international market signals to allow individual growers to make informed decisions about their business. On this matter there is good news to tell. AWEX’s NWD statistics tell a story of an increasing percentage of the clip is declared non-mulesed. AA statistics are high and increasing, good news under a voluntary scheme, this demonstrates what we already know, which is that producers care for their animals.
As I advised the Wool Connect conference in October, when asked about increasing non-mulesed wool from Australia, I said the first priority is the welfare of the sheep, as we have a significant fly strike risk in Australia not faced by many other wool growing nations, and then in the long run the market will determine the future.
WoolProducers are also providing this leadership in other places such as the world first Sheep Sustainability Framework, developed with Sheep Producers Australia with strong technical and financial support from AWI an MLA. It shows what can be done when industry pulls together and collaborates for industry good.
Finally, Mr Lamb also commented that “we have to deliver a clear and transparent story that Australia is leading on the animal welfare front” WoolProducers is doing that. TIAW is a platform from which we can (and already have in recent weeks with overseas markets) continue to tell this world leading story. But we, as an industry need to be better at it.
WoolProducers Australia contacts: Jo Hall, CEO
02 6110 2067
About WoolProducers’ Australia WoolProducers plays a critical role in working closely with companies and entities funded by woolgrower funds including compulsory levies or fees for service.
Its mission is to develop constructive and profitable outcomes for woolgrowers nationally.
The agency is responsible for appointing a director to each of the Australian Wool Exchange and the Australia Wool Testing Authority, promoting good corporate governance and ensuring that the interests of growers are met.
WoolProducers maintains a working relationship with Australian Wool Innovation as the voice of woolgrower shareholders. It aims to contribute to AWI’s programs for the benefit of growers, promoting responsible use of levy funds and ensuring good corporate governance.