AUSTRALIA’S wool industry has lost an opportunity to promote unequivocal transparency by allowing wool from freeze-branded sheep to be described as ‘non-mulesed’, according to Italian processors Reda and Vitale Barberis Canonico.
After three rounds of consultation over recent months, the Australian Wool Exchange board last month unanimously agreed to maintain the National Wool Declaration’s current definitions for non-mulesed and mulesed wool.
The decision meant that wool from sheep which have had their breeches modified with the freeze branding or liquid nitrogen process will continue to be defined as ‘non-mulesed’ on the NWD — until a further review — despite the opposition of non-mulesed wool growers, animal welfare bodies and some brands and processors.
It should be about transparency, integrity and traceability – Reda
However, exporter New England Wool and its Italian shareholders, Reda and Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC), today said they are dismayed by the outcomes from the long and extensive NWD review.
They are also concerned for the ramifications of these decisions on the Australian wool industry.
“It should all be about transparency, integrity and traceability,” Reda chief of operations Francesco Botto Poala said.
“These three pillars, if strong and constantly maintained, will allow brands and consumers to make informed decisions, and give them complete faith in the supply chain from which they purchase their goods.
“Australia cannot afford to jeopardise these credentials,” Mr Botto Poala said.
“There seems to be an element of inaction in these outcomes on what could have been a wonderful opportunity for the Australian wool industry to show leadership and forward thinking.”
He noted that a members’ update issued by AWEX at the completion of the NWD review stressed that “a highlight of the review of the NWD was the significant number of submissions from overseas and downstream stakeholders.”
“The decision should be taken looking to the final consumer.
“The outcomes, or may I suggest, lack of outcomes make me feel that the views of the customers of Australian wool were largely overlooked,” Mr Botto Poala said.
In announcing the NWD’s finalisation, AWEX also said it is seeking further information on liquid nitrogen or freeze branding process from AgVet Innovations on the animal welfare trials being undertaken, before an informed decision can be made.
Call to place freeze branding “in a holding pattern”
Reda and VBC felt the lack of information on the process should have been a strong argument to “place liquid nitrogen in a separate holding pattern”.
On behalf of NEW’s Italian shareholders, NEW managing director Andrew Blanch said AWEX should be the gatekeeper of the NWD scheme.
“The onus should be on the applying entity to provide AWEX with all the independent science and trial work results before being assigned an appropriate classification and code.
“Due diligence involving the customers of Australian wool should also be a major part of any application and assessment.”
“This is not about making a judgement of one practice over another,” Mr Botto Poala said.
“The most important outcome should have always been to be totally transparent….we believe the attitude is completely wrong.”
VBC chief executive officer Alessandro Barberis Canonico highlighted the issue he now faced when selling a non-mulesed wool fabric to his customers.
“There is a very real global perception by customers, brands and consumers that non-mulesing (NM) means that the animal is not touched at all and there is no manipulation of the breech,” he said.
“Allowing all alternative methods to mulesing into the NM/CM bracket causes us the most concern.
“In some way we, VBC, become co-guilty if we cannot clearly understand what we are purchasing and including in our fabrics,” he said.
“You could say that AWEX have moved the issue into our hands.”
“It is a huge shame that this perfect opportunity for the Australian wool industry to seriously promote unequivocal transparency has been lost,” Mr Barberis Canonico said.
Mr Blanch said it is now imperative that NEW safeguard the integrity of its shareholders, first and foremost.
“We will be seeking the complete truth behind the wool we compete upon and purchase – a task that should never have been necessary if the truth had been made freely available.
“The Australian wool industry will be judged ultimately on transparency and integrity,” he said.
“These decisions from the NWD review I fear will negatively affect how all customers view the Australian market and will no doubt influence their future buying considerations.”