Big issue of transparency with the National Wool Declaration

Written by Jonathan and James Lillie

The wool industry is once again shooting itself in the foot by allowing the “cryogenic breech freezing” process to be reported on the National Wool Declaration (NWD) as non-mulesed (NM) wool, losing the opportunity to promote complete transparency in the Australian wool industry.

To be clear Fox & Lillie is not opposed to any progressive and economically viable process in sheep husbandry that adheres to 21st century animal welfare standards , but any new intrusive process must include a clear definition and description to allow the market to make up its own mind about whether any new procedure or process adheres to their company’s policy direction.

Some of the users of wool have made it clear that they wish to acquire wool from sheep which are not mulesed, and they have been paying a premium for this. These users have been relying on the premise that non-mulesed assumes no mulesing and/or procedure to the breech. Aligned with this increasing demand many woolgrowers have worked hard to establish their flocks as non-mulesed, which previously seemed a clear category on the NWD, but now, one which AWEX has opened to scrutiny.

Dirk Stevens from Stevens Farming runs a 10,000 self-replacing merino flock across a number of properties in New South Wales and Victoria and has been non-mulesed since 2004. Dirk said “AWEX’s decision to allow other forms of breech modified wool to be reported as non-mulesed in the NWD meant decades of hard work down the drain, and a cloud now hangs over the industry.”

As stated by AWEX the function of the NWD is to enable woolgrowers to promote their animal welfare practices (i.e. Mulesing Status) and the Dark and Medullated Fibre Risk of their wool to wool exporters, processors and retailers.

Mulesing is clearly defined in the NWD as “The removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears”, so it is perplexing how a completely novel process to remove breech wrinkle from a sheep is allowed to be declared non-mulesed?

Given AWEX has clearly defined mulesing then logically any new intrusive husbandry process should also be clearly defined and given its own NWD definition.

Subterfuge and semantics cannot be part of this process.

AWEX claim it is awaiting the results of pain trials but if this is the case, then how is this procedure now available in our industry for use? And even more relevant, why is that procedure not defined in the NWD?

AWEX’s position on this has been exposed by accreditation platforms which some buyers rely on to audit and authenticate the wool they purchase.

Textile Exchange, a global non-profit organization who developed the widely regarded and adopted accreditation platforms, the Responsible Wool Standard and the Responsible Downs Standard has stated:

“We are concerned that the decision to include freeze mulesing as non-mulesed on the NWD is going to not only lead to confusion and misunderstanding in supply chains but also that it will undermine the hard work and significant progress achieved by Australian woolgrowers that have transitioned to non-mulesing through breeding fly-strike resistant sheep.”

“Based on the unanimous support from all the stakeholders for the most recent revision of the Responsible Wool Standard, the decision was to not allow Steining, Freeze Branding, or Freeze Mulesing to be considered “Non-Mulesed.”

Other well-regarded platforms such as New Merino have also rejected the Cryo breech freezing process being categorized as NM, as well as large, loyal and long-term customers of Australian wool such as Vitale Barberis Canonico and Successori Reda.

Given the previous format of defining the mulesing process on the NWD, simple logic should tell us that any new intrusive husbandry process must include a clear definition and description of the process which will allow the end users of wool to make up their own minds about whether this new procedure or process adheres to their company’s policy direction.

The wool industry needs to advance “in step” with its wool consumers and understand that truth in labelling is paramount to building trust in the wool we are selling.

The wine industry is a good example of how important they believe truth in labelling is, with the “Label integrity program” administered by Wine Australia now legislated under the wine Australia act.

If AWEX does not wish to diminish its position as a trusted independent and transparent service provider for the Australian wool industry it should correct this flawed decision on the NWD.


Please note: this release was sent out to the media and on that basis Jonathan Lillie was interviewed as well. 

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