A concerted push is underway to introduce mandatory pain relief during mulesing right across the country.
The sheep industry's two peak national bodies, WoolProducers Australia and Sheep Producers Australia (SPA), are leading the charge along with the Victorian Farmers Federation and NSW Farmers.
State and territory governments are responsible for animal welfare laws and their enforcement.
Victoria is poised to become the first state government to mandate the use of pain relief while the NSW Parliament may soon be dealing with legislation from the Animal Justice Party seeking to abolish mulesing by 2022.
For many years radical animal activists have sought to commercially damage the Australian sheep industry in a bid to force producers to stop mulesing.
The industry has responded by consistently arguing the short-term pain caused by mulesing around the breech provides sheep with lifetime flystrike protection.
Meanwhile, the majority of sheep producers - more than 80pc according to recent surveys - have now adopted pain relief at mulesing.
But around 70pc of producers are still mulesing despite some producers successfully using genetics and management changes in their flocks to cease the practice.
Key bodies like WoolProducers and NSW Farmers believe mulesing is still essential for the best animal welfare outcomes in the sheep industry.
In a recent statement NSW Farmers' president James Jackson said mulesing was critical to the Australia sheep industry without an effective alternative for all farmers.
"Our members are concerned by movements in the market to demand non-mulesed wool. This step to support industry driving the mandating of pain relief highlights the need to actively defend the practice.
"Industry must drive this initiative and explain to the market the positive welfare outcomes that mulesing with pain relief delivers.
"It is time that industry started to deliver farmers with a solution to this vexed issue. This is an issue that industry must drive and we are committed to this."
His views were largely echoed by Ed Storey, president of WoolProducers, and Chris Mirams, chairman of SPA.
However, while SPA has endorsed the move to mandatory pain relief, Mr Mirams wants faster action to get rid of the practice altogether.
Mr Storey, a Yass district Merino breeder, said WoolProducers wanted pain relief at mulesing mandated and said the industry already had an instrument - the National Wool Declaration (NWD) - to administer and underpin the integrity of any such move.
"Australian producers know the benefit of muelsing for lifetime welfare and prevention of flystrike," Mr Storey said.
"The real benefit is in maintaining mulesing with pain relief as accepted best-practice welfare in the vast majority of production systems in Australia.
"At the moment mulesing is a best-practice welfare solution (to breech flystrike), we are very firm that needs to be done with pain relief.
"And we know most producers use pain relief, so for the vast majority of farmers there will be no change in practice."
But many farmers were "a bit hesitant with their paperwork" and weren't disclosing the use of pain relief at mulesing on their NWDs when selling wool.
Mandatory pain relief would resolve that issue and provide high-level assurances on compliance with the regulation through the NWD statements.
"The welfare of our sheep is always an issue for our customers. They want a visible supply chain, what we need to tell them is the truth and the truth is that the health and welfare over the lifetime of our sheep is our highest priority," Mr Storey said.
He said the Australian livestock industry's health and welfare systems were "miles ahead" of any production system around the world and mandatory pain relief would enable them to get out and tell that story in a "productive and positive light".
Mr Mirams, chairman of SPA and an Albury-based ag consultant, said his organisation supported the move to make pain relief mandatory for mulesing.
"We recognise mulesing is an issue that is not going to go away.
"We are producing a premium product for a premium price and with that comes very high expectations (from customers) and understanding those expectations and meeting them is terribly important and mulesing is one of those.
"I think SPA sees a greater degree of urgency than some other stakeholders in making faster progress in moving the flock away from its reliance on mulesing.
"We think AWI and MLA have got some fantastic resources to help farmers make that change, we recognise it's not a simple change and a fair bit of work is involved.
"I think the industry has always recognised the solution is genetic as well as some management changes.
"I guess it's the speed at which we transition (out of mulesing), whether it's in the 'never ever' or whether it's in the near future. It's up to the industry to control how fast we progress.
"SPA is urging some urgency rather than the 'never ever'," he said.
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