Stock Handling & Animal Welfare

AWEX extends the NWD review submissions deadline to 6 April

Terry Sim, March 24, 2021

Sheep freeze branding developer Dr John Steinfort.

AUSTRALIA’S wool growers could be faced with making submissions to a review of the National Wool Declaration without access to finalised research results on the sheep freeze branding process.

However, some industry leaders do not necessarily see the as an obstacle to the review proceeding and after a submissions deadline announced late last week.

The Australian Wool Exchange has extended the submissions deadline for the review from 24 March to 6 April following feedback from brokers and exporters, and the wide distribution by Sheep Central of preliminary research results from a sheep freeze branding trial by the University of Melbourne.

“Following feedback regarding the timing of the consultation period of the 2021 NWD Review and, more recently, information regarding sheep freeze branding trials, the closing date for submissions has been extended to ensure stakeholders are able to give full consideration to all aspects of the review,” Mr Grave said this week.

Sheep Central last week published Dr Ellen Jongman’s preliminary findings on the sheep freeze branding field trial, including a preliminary results table, after learning the data and Dr Jongman’s conclusions had been on the National Primary Industries Animal Welfare RD&E Strategy website since December last year.

One of Dr Jongman’s conclusions was that freeze branding (with meloxicam pain relief) appears to be more painful than tail docking and castration alone, and similar to mulesing (with meloxicam), on the day of application.

The National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia and the Australian Council of Wool Exports and Private Treat Merchants subsequently asked for the NWD review submissions deadline to be extended.

Dr Jongman and sheep freeze branding developer John Steinfort have since said that the research results analysis had not been finalised, but Dr Steinfort said Dr Jongman had told him “the final preliminary results” will be provided to him before Easter.

However, neither Dr Jongman, sheep freeze branding developer John Steinfort nor AWEX CEO Mark Grave have been able to guarantee that the final research results and report would be available to all wool industry stakeholders before the 6 April deadline.

Dr Jongman told Sheep Central today that she would finalise the research trial’s data analysis and the report by Easter.

“The report will be reviewed internally by a couple of my colleagues as well as by AgVetInnovations.

“Once this is done the report will be released to the public,” she said.

Dr Steinfort did not reply when asked if he would be releasing the university’s final preliminary results to enable the entire industry to comment on their implications to the National Wool Declaration and the defining of sheep freeze branding within it.

Mr Grave did not answer when asked if he believed AWEX stakeholders could give full consideration to all aspects of the review without seeing the finalised ‘preliminary’ sheep freeze branding research results. He also did not state whether he believed all Australian wool industry stakeholders should be able to consider the finalised ‘preliminary’ results from the University of Melbourne’s sheep freeze branding trials before they make a submission to the AWEX NWD review.

Review can proceed without final research results – exporters

ACWEP president, Josh Lamb, said the industry is faced with the situation that the 2021 NWD Review was primarily about the potential use of liquid nitrogen, or sheep freeze branding, for the prevention of flystrike.

“This current review was seen as necessary after the last review in 2020 prematurely classified freeze branding as NM against industry advice.

“There was no independent scientific advice available at the time yet there was a mad rush to have it classified as it turns out incorrectly,” he said.

“The industry has now been advised that the results of the most recent trials are disappointing after several years of looking forward to its possible use.

“Although disappointing, this should not be seen as a barrier to continuing with the review, but it is likely to influence the nature of peoples’ submissions,” he said.

Mr Lamb said it would be ideal for all Australian wool industry stakeholders to be able to consider the finalised ‘preliminary’ research before making a submission to the NWD review.

“That would be ideal and all stakeholders should be encouraged to avail themselves of the available information.

“But, it should not be necessary for future progress, given the growing awareness of the current outcomes,” he said.

“Industry stakeholders are also well versed in the issues associated with mulesing and the prevention of flystrike.

“Getting the NWD right is extremely important for the future of the Australian wool industry no matter where you sit in the chain,” he said.

“Having access to as much information as possible with fluid communication will help industry stakeholders collectively contribute to a successful outcome.”

NCWSBA executive director Chris Wilcox said the publication of the sheep freeze branding research results by Sheep Central was new information to the council. He said the council’s members would need more time to consider the research results and met today to consider its position today.

NWD freeze branding definition on NWD should not be ‘non-mulesed’ – Lillie

Exporter and broker Jonathan Lillie said all wool industry stakeholder should have access to the final research results, “but logically it should have no bearing on their decision to support or not support freeze branding.”

“The purpose of the pain tests was never known or I believe defined.

“Was it to prove that it caused less pain than surgical mulesing, and if it did, was it then going to be accepted by wools customers?” he asked.

“We had canvassed many of our non-mulesed wool users and did not have one who said they would accept freeze branding wool as NM, this situation was made very clear on our submission to the previous NWD review.

“Though I am not in any way opposed to innovation, the freeze branding procedure was clearly another intrusive breech operation designed to achieve a bare breech to minimize fly strike,” he said.

“Additionally it was going to cause pain, after all anyone who has had a mole burnt off with liquid nitrogen knew it would cause pain.

“So logically, freeze branding needed to be defined and categorised on the NWD in order to provide consistency and transparency,” Mr Lillie said.

“Clearly, the freeze branding procedure should never have been given NM status on the NWD using semantics as an excuse, what a ruse.

“Additionally we were astounded that the preliminary results of the pain trials have been known since early December 2020 but were somehow kept under wraps for so many months,” he said.

“Clearly the AWEX board need to take some responsibility for this clearly divisive process and it calls into question their processes.

“How could the industry possibly embrace the new “Trust in Australian wool” campaign with governance such as this?”

WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said any decisions on the NWD should be made with growers having the full knowledge of all available information.


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  1. Donald Cameron, April 20, 2021

    That about sums up the crisis wool growers face. How long until customers on the other side of the planet, with concerns about animal welfare, do not believe anything we say about Australian wool?

  2. Dirk Stevens, April 4, 2021

    Just a bit of good old-fashioned straight talking basic honesty needs to be injected into the jugular of this issue, quick smart, before it’s too late and wool customers on the other side of the planet simply won’t believe anything we say.

    • Jim Gordon, April 5, 2021

      Dirk Stevens, you have hit on the most important subject of all. Your few words have great significance. Take a bow. With out trust and respect, as an industry, we have nothing. Our decision makers are doing everything they can to hang onto breech modifications and to try and cover it up and muddy the waters. It is giving the the trade the shits. They have to deal with the welfare groups and the discerning consumer and we are not helping. COVID outbreaks keep making their business hard as well. We have got to start producing what the trade wants. We have got to make it as easy as possible for retailers to put wool online and or on the shelves, and not discourage them with wool that gives them problems.

  3. Jodie Green, March 25, 2021

    Jonathan Lillie has expressed the situation very well. ‘NM’ (non-mulesed) should only be applied to wool from sheep whose breech is as the animal was born; any other situation should be named for what it is. If industry is so comfortable with the developments they are making, tell the consumer what it is and don’t hide under the name of something that it’s not.

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