AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation has been withholding a key survey report on market mulesed/non-mulesed wool sentiments from the nation’s peak grower body, WoolProducers Australia.
Despite AWI chairman Jock Laurie recently claiming the levy and government-funded research, development and marketing body had positioned itself to supply market signals to growers, only a two-page survey summary and overview has been released to AWI’s Wool Industry Consultative Panel.
The survey canvassed the views of 198 wholesale and retail wool users in 27 countries and claims to be the first of its kind to offer a comprehensive and accurate view of the attitudes wholesale and retail users of wool to sustainability issues.
According to an executive summary released by AWI, key findings in the survey included that environmental sustainability was important to most aspects of wholesale and retail businesses, with recycling and renewing the main considerations.
Animal welfare and mulesing are mid-tier priorities, according to the survey, with animal welfare standards (46 percent) and using non-mulesed wool (45pc) comparatively less of a priority, although still a consideration for almost half the sample.
The survey conducted by Pragmatic Research and Advisory Services found that price, look and feel and care are the main challenges, animal welfare and mulesing are lower-level concerns.
“Price (8.2) and product look, feel and care requirements (7.0) are the main challenges for selling wool products.
“Attitudes around mulesed wool (6.8) and animal welfare standards (6.1) were seen as relatively less of a challenge,” the report said.
“Diversity of views around animal welfare and mulesing, highest concern in Europe. The perceived priority and challenges of these two issues varies across markets, reflecting the different cultural and economic environments.
“Although they are most pertinent for European wholesale and retail users of wool (especially in Germany), where the well-established animal rights movement has led to a number of anti-mulesing protests. By contrast, most Asian markets (and Australia) were generally less concerned by the impact of animal welfare standards and the use of mulesed wool on their businesses.”
AWI’s refusal to release the report, despite requests by WoolProducers since 12 October, and recent comments by Mr Laurie that farmer groups were not showing leadership on the non-mulesed wool issue, has frustrated WPA, which has listed its actions on animal welfare in a media release today.
WoolProducers said it regularly engages with downstream supply chain partners, gaining insights in relation to supply chain sentiment. The peak grower body has also requested AWI undertake regular reporting of supply chain sentiment to growers, particularly in relation to animal welfare, but these calls have gone unanswered, it said.
In a recent interview in the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association’s 2023-2024 Annual, Mr Laurie said when he took the position: “I needed to move the heat from the animal welfare conversation.”
“We have positioned AWI to supply market signals to wool growers to let them know the information we are receiving, to supply tools and do research.”
Later in the ASWGA article, Mr Laurie said “it was possible big brands will just walk away from wool” over the mulesing issue.
“Some of them may already be doing that.
“I would like to see farmer groups getting in there to move the matter forward, but I do not see that leadership at the moment.”
The 2021 Independent Review of Performance of AWI recommended that the AWI board commission an independent report to measure current, and predict future trends, in international sentiment towards mulesed wool.
The ROP recommended the report “should be published in whole or in part on Wool.com for all levy payers to access (where appropriate)” and that it cover:
- An understanding of the current sentiment of consumers towards mulesed wool in Australia’s current and predicted major wool markets and model future movements in trends.
- Modelling on the financial and economic impact of these trends on wool price and wool production.
- Use of report to inform AWI RD&E expenditure and assist in communications with both woolgrowers and the supply chain.
WPA general manager Adam Dawes said WoolProducers has been requesting the full mulesed wool survey report from AWI since 12 October.
“One can only speculate as to why more comprehensive information has not been provided as per the recommendations of the ROP.
“Growers don’t need to be told what to do, what they do need is clear, transparent and timely market feedback, and we don’t have that.”
Mr Dawes said there is a very clear linkage between R&D and policy development.
“WoolProducers will continue to provide leadership on animal welfare on behalf of the Australian wool industry, it is up to the AWI board to determine if they wish to collaborate on this topic to deliver a strategic and efficient approach to address sensitive and emerging issues.
“It would be a disservice to Australian wool growers if Mr Laurie and the AWI board were to continue to hold the same sentiments in relation to a lack of leadership on animal welfare into the future,” he said.
“Talk is cheap in the age of social media, misinformation presents a very real threat to our sector through the erosion of our social license to operate.
“It is essential that we tell our story, that is why WoolProducers have initiated initiatives such as the Sheep Sustainability Framework and the Trust In Australian Wool campaign, the later of which AWI has chosen not to collaborate in relation to distribution or promotion in any way whatsoever.”
Mr Dawes said it is known that there are variable premiums for non-mulesed and certified wool, and that these premiums alone don’t appear to be enough to drive universal practice change.
“In recent months, WoolProducers has learnt that there is now demand for non-mulesed lanolin, and some major global processors will be transition to 100 percent non-mulesed wool from 2025.
“It’s essential that growers receive this messaging so that they can invest in the sustainability of their business by ensuring that their businesses continues evolve to meet emerging customer needs.”
WoolProducers president Steve Harrison said Mr Laurie’s comments are disappointing and completely unfounded, but not surprising.
“Actions speak louder than words; if Mr Laurie took the time to genuinely understand and collaborate with WoolProducers the industry would be a lot better off.
“WoolProducers has progressive policy in relation to animal welfare, this includes calling for mandatory pain relief when undertaking mulesing and acknowledging the contemporary five domains model for animal welfare,” he said.
“As both a wool grower and a stud breeder I need to understand what my customers want today, tomorrow and in 5 and 10 years’ time.
“We all know that AWI can’t tell growers what to do; however given that 60pc of their spending (or 75pc of the levies that they receive from growers) goes to marketing, some regular and clear market feedback, including sentiment and future demand modelling is the very least that we should expect.”
Extensive WoolProducers animal welfare work
WoolProducers Australia said its recent sheep welfare, health and biosecurity work included:
- Submissions to domestic and international animal welfare regulation review processes that impact Australian wool growers and their wool.
- Engagement in a multitude of animal welfare working groups and forums to represent the interests of Australian wool growers, including:
o AWI Animal Welfare Forum (a requirement of the AWI Best Practice Consultation Guide)
o IWTO Wool Sheep Welfare Working Group.
o Textile Exchange Animal Welfare Working Group.
o Briefing federal and state governments, including the Animal Welfare Task Group.
o Briefing trading partner governments, industry partners and NGOs on animal welfare matters.
- Advocating for improved access to pain relief, including, Numnuts and Buccalgesic (Butec) and supporting the registration of a forthcoming Virbac meloxicam + clostridial vaccine as a Schedule 6 product.
- Representing the interests of Australian wool growers throughout industry review processes, including the National Wool Declaration, National Vendor Declaration and Sheep Health Declaration review processes.
- Development of the Pain Relief Decision Support for Lamb Marking guide in response to increased pain relief product availability.
Anonymous participants identified in the report – AWI
Mr Laurie did not respond to questions on why the full survey report had not been released. However an AWI spokesman said the survey methodology and process was signed off by the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry.
“Participants of the survey did so anonymously.
“As it currently stands the report would identify some of those who took part,” the spokesman said.
“WPA has been informed about that and when the revised report can be supplied to them and all WICP members it will be.”
When it was suggested that the report identifying some participants is contradictory to anonymous survey participation, an AWI spokesman said: “It wouldn’t be hard to work out participants based on their location.”