AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation stance on mulesing’s importance in wool marketing has been queried after chairman Jock Laurie’s comments in the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association’s 2023-2024 annual.
In the ASWGA interview, Mr Laurie said when he took the position he “needed to move the heat from the animal welfare conversation,” while claiming “we” (AWI) had positioned AWI to supply market signals to wool growers.”
Mr Laurie said AWI had regular conversations with people from Europe who strongly believe in the need to move to non-mulesed wool production.
Mr Laurie said the Europeans present one side of the non-mulesed wool debate.
“The other side is the 82% of wool sold to China.
“We are getting no indication from the Chinese that they want non-mules,” he said.
“We receive reports every six weeks and, to date, it is consistently reported there is no change in the position.”
Half the wool going to China goes on to other markets
However, Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors president Josh Lamb said although it is correct that 80-85 percent of Australian wool exports go to China, “it’s incorrect that Chinese customers don’t buy non-mulesed (NM) wool, though it’s in the minority.”
Earlier in the article, Mr Laurie said 48pc of the 82pc of wool going to China is consumed in its domestic market.
“He mentioned AWI figures show that 52pc of wool that is imported into China is then re-exported as semi processed or finished product,” Mr Lamb said.
“Where does he think this wool goes?
“Europe and America are the main destinations, textile markets that are also at the forefront of animal welfare and sustainability policy,” the exporter said.
Are non-mulesed wool premiums the answer?
Mr Laurie said AWI does “not disagree with the Europeans, but it is difficult to convince wool growers to go non-mules, especially in more remote areas because of the extra costs involved if there is no premium for many wool types.
The AWI leader said if the Europeans want more non-mulesed wool they should pay a premium.
“Perhaps we need to promote the need for a premium more.”
Mr Lamb said paying more for non-mulesed wool is “not the answer.”
“Maintaining market access is more important.
“Trust me when I say as a wool buyer for over 30 years, we love nothing more than buying a bale,” he said.
“To do that we start with the highest possible price we can pay when inspecting a sample, we then work back from there to find its worth.
“There are no premiums in the auction room, only discounts.”
Would the Australian industry be ready for the banning of mulesing?
In the ASWGA interview, Mr Laurie seems to accept that big clothing brands might walk away from wool over the mulesing issue, while deflecting responsibility for this from AWI.
“Yes, it is possible big brands will just walk away from wool.
“Some of them may already be doing that,” he said in the interview.
“I would like to see farmer groups getting in there to move the matter forward, but I don’t see that leadership at the moment.”
Mr Lamb said no business or organisation should ever accept that customers will walk away from Australian wool.
“Isn’t it a key function of AWI and Woolmark to increase buyers of Australian wool?”
Should non-mulesed wool be a policy or marketing issue for AWI?
In the ASWGA interview, Mr Laurie said non-mulesed wool has been “a difficult issue for AWI.”
He said AWI is a research, development and marketing organisation that collects levies.
“Under the Statutory Funding Agreement (with the Federal Government), it does not deal in policy areas.”
However, Mr Lamb believed non-mulesed wool production required an Australian policy and marketing position.
“No doubt from a marketing point of view the global perception of Australian sheep welfare practice is negative, unfairly in my opinion.
“It does require a policy viewpoint also; that could be as simple as AWI saying it will give mulesing and non-mulesing equal billing,” he said.
“Currently, they only seem to support mulesing, when in the Australian industry we consider mulesing and non-mulesing best welfare practice.”
Mr Lamb said Mr Laurie’s statement on animal welfare in the newsletter was very confusing.
The exporter leader said the two critical risks with mulesing were losing customers of Australian wool and “most importantly, we run the risk every day that a state, federal or overseas government makes a decision to ban mulesing or products produced from it as part of a broader policy.”
“Are we prepared as an industry to deal with that scenario?” Mr Lamb asked.
“Mr Laurie is in a position to show real leadership on various issues that affect all parts of our great industry, but mostly we read him saying in the ASWGA interview what AWI can’t or won’t comment on or do.”