Rural Press | The Land | 11 July, 2014 | Dannika Bonser
Emma Morvell has run Central Shearing out of Ballarat for the past 11 years.
“They have painted a five minute video of people doing the wrong thing when they could have posted hours of people acting humanly, kindly and doing the right thing,” she posted on the group’s Facebook page.
“I would personally like to invite PETA to visit a professionally run team of Australian shearers and see if they hold the same views afterwards.”
PETA is calling on shoppers worldwide to boycott the wool industry by not choosing woollen garments at the checkout.
“Sheep are gentle prey animals who are petrified of even being held down, yet these sheep were punched in the face, kicked, and stomped on and had their heads slammed into the floor by unsupervised, impatient shearers, causing them great distress, injury, and even death,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said.
Ms Morvell said there were few shearers in the industry who practised the behaviour seen in the video, and “they are the one or two shearers that are shearing who shouldn’t be”.
“I think it’s an uneducated opinion.
“The fact that it took PETA over twelve months to put together this footage, which was not all taken in Australia and did not exclusively feature Australian shearers must say something. This is not a common or supported practice and many of our staff and local agricultural community are angered to be generalised in such a manner.”
Ms Morvell also raised questions about the authenticity of the footage, and whether or not it had all been shot in Australia.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce also questioned the authenticity of the footage on ABC radio on Friday.
“One of the questions I ask is with the up-close shot of the man hitting the sheep, which is obviously exceptional and cruel and in many instances would be immediate dismissal, where exactly was the camera?” he said.
“Did the person know that they were filmed? Were they actually part of process? There are lots of questions that need to be asked.”
PETA have refused to disclose where the footage was taken for fear of the safety of the undercover activists who secured work on a shearing team in order to get the footage.
Groups including Wool Producers Australia and Australian Wool Innovation have also questioned why the footage was up to 12 months old before being released.
PETA insists the activists doing the filming did not intervene at the time of the violence in order for them to continue to cache incidents on film.
In her time running Central Contracting, Ms Morvell said there had been occasions where unethical behaviour occurred, but the shearer didn’t see the day out.
“We’ve dealt with that behaviour before, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for it,” she said.
In the coming year, all shearers on Central Contracting teams would be drug-tested on a random basis, as part of an initiative by the company to ensure professionalism on the teams, she said.
Yarrawalla sheep producer Chris Wallace-Smith said that in over 40 years of involvement in shearing, rarely had he seen a shearer cause serious harm to a sheep, however he also highlighted drugs as a growing problem.
“In all that time I have never seen a sheep knocked unconscious, and if there was an altercation the shearer would be asked to leave on the spot,” he said.
While he said occasionally sheep were cut when being shorn, it was better for the shearer to stitch them up, before a treatment to keep flies and bacteria away was applied in the yards.
“But if you have a shearer that’s cutting animals quite a bit that’s also grounds for dismissal,” he said.
The spread of drugs such as crystal methamphetamine (ice) in regional areas had infiltrated the profession, he said.
“In the last five years we have noticed it as a growing problem within the younger shearers,” he said.
“Something needs to be done about that. I’ve seen it first hand in my shed, and have had to ask a shearer to leave.”
Mr Wallace-Smith had recently dismissed a shearer suspected to be using drugs he noticed a change in behaviour.
“You can either smell it on them, or there’s a behavioural change… you see it when it comes how they treat the animals. They become more aggressive. We’ve had to tell a contractor not to send that shearer back for that,” he said.
The Shearing Contractors Association of Australia has “applauded” the PETA investigation into Australian shearing operations and has taken immediate steps to remind its members of its ‘zero tolerance’ policy to animal cruelty.