Mulesing Position Statement

 

Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, is fundamentally opposed to the practice of surgical mulesing to prevent fly strike in sheep. Fly strike undoubtedly poses a significant threat to the welfare of sheep by predisposing them to severe pain, disease and mortality. As veterinarians we must commit to developing solutions that decrease these risks without producing further suffering. It is our view that mulesing is an unjustifiably inhumane solution to this serious welfare issue in Australian sheep farming. While mulesing remains an accepted practice by industry, the incentive to pursue alternatives to their greatest advantage is minimised. 

 

Mulesed lambs demonstrate acute pain responses lasting up to 48 hours and display long-term side effects indicative of intense pain for up to three weeks after the procedure. These include decreased socialisation; weight loss; and behavioural changes such as prolonged standing, hunched postures and reduced feeding and lying frequencies. Wounds can remain unhealed for up to 30 days, and ironically, fresh mulesing wounds render lambs more susceptible to fly strike. 

 

Mulesing, as a highly invasive surgical procedure, must not be considered an acceptable animal husbandry practice, but rather, as an act of veterinary science under legislation. As such, mulesing must only be performed by a veterinarian, as a last resort where no alternatives are available, and with effective pre-operative anaesthesia, pre- and post-operative anaelgesia, and appropriate nursing after care. The current industry practice of permitting farmers and contractors to perform this procedure is unacceptable, regardless of any accreditation schemes under the new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep.

 

Sentient calls on the Australian wool industry to reinstate its commitment to phasing out the practice of mulesing after having reneged on its 2010 promise. In light of this history, it is imperative that industry remains publicly accountable to any commitment towards this goal. A phase out period of four years (by 2017) is deemed appropriate to allow the implementation of the only viable, sustainable solution for controlling fly strike, which is breeding Merino sheep with characteristics that are suitable for the Australian environment and adhering to preventative husbandry practices in the meantime. 

 

Such a program would select for sheep that are both fly strike resistant and have suitable conformations, such as reduced breech wrinkling,,  low dag score wool cover and wool colour. Selection should be made from both within-flock with across-flock animals.

 

Proper animal husbandry practices alone can prevent fly strike, offering protection to all body areas, not just the breech area. These practices include strategic timing of shearing and crutching to promote wool desiccation after wet weather and/or contamination by excreta;,  insecticide use (preferably via hand jetting); internal parasite control and effective grazing management to minimise scouring and high dag scores as well as fly (Lucilia cuprina) levels; and at least weekly, close flock inspection, with increased monitoring when blowfly activity increases. Tail docking does not appear to reduce the incidence of fly strike and should not be undertaken as a husbandry procedure. 

 

Sentient supports the development of alternative, non-invasive procedures (such as vaccinations or topical applications) to be used during the phase-out period, and calls on the government to give priority to ongoing investment into such research. These strategies should be implemented as part of an integrative farm management scheme. Sentient acknowledges that some producers will continue to use mulesing during the phase out period but this must include appropriate pre-operative administration of topical anaesthetics,  and administration of long-acting anaelgesics under veterinary supervision.

 

Whilst procedures such as intradermal formulations or clips represent improvements over traditional mulesing practices, these procedures still induce significant pain and stress responses in sheep and therefore are not acceptable alternatives to mulesing. 

 

Sentient also encourages the use of labeling systems within Australia, such as that introduced by The Merino Company, which certify and trace non-mulesed merino wool.

 

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