ABC's Landline programme which aired yesterday discussed a new technique using liquid nitrogen to help prevent flystrike in merino lambs as a viable alternative to mulesing, one of the most controversial farming practices used in the Australian wool industry. FOUR PAWS and Humane Society International provided a joint statement to the Landline producers late last week stipulating their position, namely that they are against any form of breech mutilation or modification. This includes mulesing (the removal of skin via cutting with shears) and 'steining' (the use of liquid nitrogen). Research* confirms that both methods are severely painful for lambs, with lambs showing signs of distress and discomfort even when some level of pain relief is applied.
"Flystrike mitigation efforts reliant solely on breech modification leave sheep at risk of developing flystrike in other areas. This is especially problematic when sheep are left unattended for extended periods of time, which is often the case within the Australian merino industry,” said Ms Jessica Medcalf, Head of Programs, FOUR PAWS Australia.
FOUR PAWS and Humane Society International encourage the wool industry to commit to an industry wide transition to breed flystrike resistant animals, moving towards the use of 'plain' or 'smooth bodied' bare breech merino sheep.
"While we understand there have been some modifications to the steining practice since the 2018 study there is yet to be any adequate scientific evidence that suggests the new method does not also cause significant pain. As a prey animal sheep have evolved to mask their pain, therefore robust and independent scientific trials would need to be done to prove that steining is any less painful than mulesing with pain relief,” said Ms Georgie Dolphin, Program Manager for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International.
FOUR PAWS and Humane Society International are not advocating for such trials to be carried out, due to concern for the welfare of the lambs involved, and instead are encouraging efforts to remain focused on rolling out the genetic solution and supporting farmers to make that transition.
"The genetic solution has already been incorporated successfully by over 1,000 producers across Australia and we believe its potential has not yet been realised,”said Ms Medcalf.
A drawn out transition away from mulesing using alternatives like steining which also inflicts pain just compromises the welfare of millions of sheep and exposes the Australian wool industry to further reputational risk. Community concern for animal welfare is on the upward trajectory worldwide and we believe consumers will also reject other replacement mutilations given that there is a humane, pain-free alternative available now.
Ms Dolphin concluded, "In the wake of the recent announcements by iconic Australian retailers Country Road Group and David Jones committing to move away from sourcing wool from mulesed sheep, we encourage wool growers to make a start now and transition their flocks to flystrike resistant smooth bodied sheep that don't need to be subjected to any mutilation.”
*Trials with liquid nitrogen have shown physical signs of pain, distress and discomfort lasting for several days. The affected skin is destroyed, reacting in oedema, exudation of tissue fluid, swellings, and changing of skin colour. Lambs show a rise in heart rate, respiratory rate and higher rectal temperature during and after the mutilation, lasting for hours until days. Lambs also show reluctance of having their tails handled. https://www.wool.com/globalassets/start/on-farm-research-and-development/sheep-health-welfare-and-productivity/sheep-health/breech-flystrike/latest-publications/welfare-assessments-of-analgesic-options-in-female-lambs-for-surgical-mulesing-and-its-alternatives.pdf
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