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by Nigel Carney
Thursday, Mar. 13, 2008 at 1:35 PM
World consumers are turning away in their droves from blood stained Australian wool. Horrific farm practices in Australia are being exposed thanks to the work of animal welfare groups including PETA and more recently the Swedish media. One of the current issues is the barbaric practice of muelsing, ripping the skin off the backside of live sheep to prevent flystrike which diminishes the export value of this woeful trade. At the same time we witness corruption of Australian government officials and a representative of Australian Wool Innovations, Kevin Craig.
2202400895_4c5ca165ae.jpg, image/jpeg, 400x300
The story broke when Swedish current affairs program, Kalla Fakta (Cold Facts), filmed a consultant for the Australian Wool and Sheep Industry Taskforce, Kevin Craig, and an unidentified man - said to be an Australian embassy official - offering a free trip to Australia to an anti-mulesing campaigner. The campaigner, Katarina Lingehag Ekholm, was offered the trip on condition she did not speak out against mulesing on the TV4 program.
Mr Craig , possibly assuming European media is as corruptible as Australian media was caught on film saying:
“That offer has been approved from Australia. The Australian Government knows that we made the offer. And just because the way it works, there’s no way that they will let that happen if you have already gone on TV4, right.”
Wrong call Mr Craig! Some journalists act with pure intent and ethics and cant be bribed by shady characters such as yourself. This is all very reminiscent of that other Australian agricultural marketing arm, the Australian Wheat Board, caught with it pants down selling wheat to Saddam Hussein, while the UN enforced embargo was in place. Also similiar is the ’see no evil hear no evil’ response of the Australian government to the current crisis.
As the scandal spreads across Europe and North America, clothing manufacturers are battening down the hatches and looking for alternative ‘clean’ sources of wool, and at last more and more consumers are learning of the terrible cruelty of muelsing and live sheep exports. As the following letter shows the hard work of these animal welfare activists and journalists will also provide long term benefits for the Australian environment which is unsuited to this form of agriculture. If the Australian government acts with honesty and common sense, an opportunity to finally reform a sector of the economy that simply does not make economic sense. The image at the end of this article is quite horrific and should not be viewed by people who are not ready to view the stark reality of how cruel Australian farm practices are.
Unpublished letter sent to Australian Media:
No sense in ‘Riding on the Sheep’s Back’
The Victorian Farmers Federation is correct in saying animal rights groups are dividing the industry (Lorna Edward’s -Farm groups take sides on mulesing - March 11, 2008). The division of the industry, however, may not be such a bad thing. As with the climate change debate, agricultural activities which align to revised consumer expectations are the future, and outdated farming techniques prone to drama and consumer backlash reflective of our colonial past. The Rudd government expresses the desire to change and address these issues and in reality the mulesing controversy could be seen as the thin edge of the wedge - a reminder that we have been too lazy or too compromised by lobby groups, to implement the promised and required change.
An enquiry into the bribery allegations as suggested by Andrew Bartlett of the Democrats is a step in the right direction. The reputation of Australia was recently tarnished by the improper activities of the AWB, and similarly the reputation of Australian wool growers is now under the spotlight and rightly so. Informed consumer decisions in buyer markets is set to devastate part of the farm sector which is long overdue for an overhaul on so many levels. An enquiry, however, that defers change or creates further distractions would be a waste of taxpayers money. Far more simple and practical solutions can be gleaned from the controversy.
The mulesing debate need not get bogged down in alternatives or the related problem of flystrike which is possibly more devastating than the excruciatingly painful process of mulesing. That farms cannot manage livestock to prevent harm is a core issue yet it quickly expands when we examine the nature of the industry , its effects on animal welfare and the economics underpinning the entire supply chain of that sector. Therefore, Bartlett’s suggested enquiry could be expanded to include the broader issue of the economic benefits and environmental consequences of the farm sector. In fact, the government has been informed already through CSIRO research into the nature of the agricultural sector and its associated costs (Barney Foran- Future Dilemmas 2001). Climate Change and the need to restore bio-diversity brings this issue into the portfolio of Penny Wong. Sheep in summer months consume between 8 to 12 litres of water per day, the agriculture sector accounts for approximately 70 percent of total water consumed in Australia. When we then add land transfer costs and shipping this becomes a key area for attention by the afore mentioned Minister responsible for Climate Change and Water. When the problems (and solutions) have been scientifically tagged already why such delays in implementing required policy when everyone, including Ross Garnaut, supposedly agree upon the urgency for change?
There is a potential win for all sides if the Minister could address the bigger picture which contains the smaller ones and draw up a vision for the agricultural sector that enables employment and economic activity without the ongoing costs which have for so long been ignored. This would then include but not be limited to the plight of animals struggling to survive in dry arid environments. The same sheep which are struggling to survive harsh climatic conditions are consuming precious water and damaging native vegetation which again feeds into water, climate change and long term sustainable agriculture. The subsidies and tax assistance provided to the farm sector need to re-formed to manage and implement a longer-term vision which satisfies the needs and requirements of competing groups. At this point in Australian history we could well ask do we still need to be riding on the sheep’s back? Common sense, CSIRO science and now consumer sentiment replies with a resounding ‘NO’. Its now up to our politicians and farmers to act on known science and implement more sustainable activities that will be embraced by consumers and also reflect the change required to enable long term sustainable agriculture in what was but is clearly no longer ‘the lucky country’, riding precariously on the sheep’s back.
Warning: Image of muelsing at end of original source material but may be disturbing. http://rosettamoon.copley.org.au/?p=102#more-102
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