Farmers said Tuesday they are investigating alternatives to slicing flesh from live sheep to prevent them from becoming infested with flies, after animal advocates urged a boycott of Australian wool to protest the "grossly inhumane" practice.
CANBERRA, Australia − Farmers said Tuesday they are investigating alternatives to slicing flesh from live sheep to prevent them from becoming infested with flies, after animal advocates urged a boycott of Australian wool to protest the "grossly inhumane" practice.
Sheep ranchers have for weeks been under attack from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, for carrying out "mulesing" on sheep.
The process -- performed without anesthetic -- involves cutting away wool and skin from the animal's hindquarters to prevent them from becoming infested with blowflies.
A new research program into the genetic makeup of blowflies "could lead to the development of more effective and environmentally friendly insecticide treatments or even sheep vaccines" that protect against the insects, said Len Stephens, chief executive of the industry group Australian Wool Initiative.
Ranchers on Monday pledged to find an alternative to mulesing by 2010.
The research into blowfly genes is being led by scientists at the Center for Environmental Stress and Adaptation Research in Melbourne and at the Massey University in New Zealand.
The center's deputy director, Phil Batterham, said a genetic approach could offer a new and more powerful way to control agricultural pests.
"We know almost nothing about the sophisticated defense systems that pest insects such as the blowfly use in breaking insecticides down and developing resistance," he said in a statement. "Mapping and investigating the blowfly genome will help farmers take a more sophisticated approach to blowfly control."
PETA's Asia-Pacific director, Jason Baker, welcomed the move to phase out mulesing, but said it was only a small step.
"Millions of sheep will experience the agony of mulesing between now and 2010 unless consumers and retailers apply pressure for an immediate switch to humane flystrike control methods," he said in a statement.
PETA is urging consumers to boycott clothes made with Australian wool while what it calls "grossly inhumane" mulesing continues.
Farmers say sheep suffer more from fly infestations than from mulesing.
Source: Associated Press