The New Zealand Merino Company has advised ZQ programme growers that pain relief will soon be required on their properties for tailing or docking lambs.
New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) general manager global supply Matt Hand said adapting to remain in step with consumer and brand values has allowed NZM growers to maintain market position, keep a step ahead of legislation and continue to enable long-term contracts positioning wool at a premium.
“As previously indicated, the next step in ZQ’s story will be the implementation of pain relief for specified painful animal husbandry procedures.
“Pain relief will be required on your property from June 2025,” Hand said in a letter to growers.
He noted that, while not yet legislated in New Zealand, pain relief is recommended as best practice in the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) code of welfare.
“The NZM team has worked hard with brand partners and the wider market to ensure their understanding of key animal husbandry procedures and to gather insights as to key reputational risks that we as an industry need to consider.
“Now is the time to adapt to what the market needs or risk falling behind,” Hand said.
Textile Exchange, which administers the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), introduced pain relief as a mandatory requirement for painful procedures in 2020.
“As the ZQ standards are aligned to RWS, creating further market advantage for your wool, we must follow suit to remain relevant and ensure your wool is optimised.
“While we have been running trials with NZ growers since 2016, it is now time to roll out the requirement for pain relief more widely across NZ.”
This will be staged over the next three seasons, starting with growers supplying via contract into markets that are the most sensitive and that have the greatest exposure to these pressures.
The design of the stepped pathway was led by market pressure, which is expressed most directly through the ZQ contracts, particularly in the fashion, luxury and active outdoor space.
Federated Farmers meat and wool chair Toby Williams has called on NZM to retract the advice until such time that regulations have caught up with available technology and the appropriate consultation has been conducted with the wider sheep industry.
Williams said Federated Farmers are strong advocates for animal welfare, closely following the standards required and best practice guidelines.
“Our concerns with the NZM requirements are they are not currently included in the animal welfare standards for sheep and beef animals and nor are they included in the new standards currently being worked on.
“NZM has got the cart before the horse here.
“We are 100% behind the principle, but currently the technologies do not exist to a level that allows this to occur.”
Guidance from MPI states no pain relief is needed for lambs younger than six months.
Williams said decisions around the use of pain relief need to be led by MPI and need to include all of the sheep industry participants to ensure an appropriate set of guidelines and procedures will ultimately have the desired outcomes for animal welfare.
“With companies coming out with their own rules and regulations there is a serious risk of an ad-hoc approach, not to mention it undermines the whole animal welfare code that our farming systems are built on.
“The issue appears to be a market access one as opposed to an animal welfare one and it should not be up to individual farmers and companies to solve these issues.
“It should be an industry wide discussion to ensure we have a robust and effective set of rules that farmers are able to follow and supply lines for the required technology and product are readily available.
“It is my understanding that available technology and regulations for NZ are possibly up to 10 years away,” Williams said.
Managing director of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA) Helen Beattie said pain relief for tailing is a complicated issue.
“The principle of doing it is great, a step in the right direction, but rolling it out will be just a bit tricky.
“It has to be defined from a non-steroidal to a local anaesthetic or a general anaesthetic.”
Beattie said applying pain relief to a large number of animals such as a mob of hundreds of lambs will require new innovation in the delivery mechanism, equipment used and new faster-acting drugs.
It will be important to understand exactly what is required, given the difference between superficial pain and deep pain.
“There will be limitations, what is proposed will not be comprehensive pain relief.
“The only way to completely eliminate deep pain is epidural or general anaesthesia – completely impractical.
“It does throw down the challenge with how we deal with these painful animal husbandry procedures with pain relief in the future.”