LEADING animal welfare bodies have welcomed changes to Australia’s National Wool Declaration that distinguish wool from sheep treated with liquid nitrogen or freeze branding from ‘non-mulesed’ lines.
Before the latest review, wool growers had been able to include wool from sheep which had liquid nitrogen applied to the breech area as non mulesed, by ticking a ‘NM’ box.
This categorisation reflected the fact that mulesing is defined under the Australian standards as being done with surgical shears, which are not used in the freeze branding (liquid nitrogen) application process.
The NWD changes have also been supported by Australia’s peak wool broker and exporter bodies.
From 1 January 2022, on the revised NWD, the mob status definition options for growers will be:
NM: No sheep in this mob have been mulesed.
LA: Sheep in this mob have been treated with liquid nitrogen with a registered analgesic product.
LN: Sheep in this mob have been treated with liquid nitrogen, without a registered analgesic product used.
AA: Sheep in this mob have been mulesed with a registered analgesic &/or anaesthetic product used.
M: Sheep in this mob have been mulesed without a registered analgesic &/or anaesthetic product used.
RSPCA Australia’s senior scientific officer (farm animals), Melina Tensen, said the NWD changes were good news for wool growers and wool buyers seeking transparency in the supply chain.
“Sheep freeze branding uses liquid nitrogen to remove skin around the lamb’s breech area (backside) and, in doing so, leaves an area of bare, stretched skin that is less susceptible to flystrike.
“Recent research in lambs subjected to sheep freeze branding or mulesing with pain relief, found lambs show similar behavioural pain responses regardless of the procedure,” she said.
“This review has made the NWD more transparent, allowing wool buyers to make fully informed choices – particularly if they are seeking to buy wool from sheep who haven’t been mulesed or subjected to another painful procedure to manage flystrike risk.
“The fact remains that sheep freeze branding and mulesing are painful procedures and breeding plainer bodied, flystrike-resistant sheep offers the only long-term solution to protecting sheep from flystrike.”
Program Manager for animal welfare at Humane Society International Australia, Georgie Dolphin, welcomed the changes and said the revised NWD will ensure wool from freeze-mulesed sheep is kept distinctly separate from the non-mulesed category.
“The use of the controversial freeze-mulesing procedure as an alternative to mulesing with shears is replacing one painful procedure with another, and neither protect the whole sheep from flystrike.
“To class freeze branding as non-mulesed would have been be a disservice to wool growers who have already taken the initiative by using better genetics to breed plain-bodied flystrike resistant sheep as a long-term and profitable solution,” she said.
“As the demand for more transparency escalates, driven by consumers, wool brokers, buyers and retailers, this outcome is even more significant.
“Humane Society International is in discussions with many brands and several are proactively revising their animal welfare policies to support the genetic solution to flystrike, so this welcomed development will be invaluable to numerous stakeholders.”
FOUR PAWS wool campaigner Rebecca Picallo Gil said the Australian Wool Exchange has taken a step towards more transparency by separately declaring freeze-branded wool from non-mulesed wool under the latest NWD review.
“This shows an understanding that brands do not want mulesed wool, freeze-branded or otherwise, and is a necessary step demanded by the global market.
“It will help recuperate trust in the AWEX/NWD and the Australian wool industry, at a time where an increasing number of brands are actively taking concrete measures to exclude mulesed wool from Australia,” she said.
Sheep freeze branding creator and promoter Dr John Steinfort could not be contacted for comment on the NWD changes.
Click here to see more details on the NWD changes.