A PROPOSED sheep and wool welfare standard that prohibits mulesing could wreak havoc on the international wool industry and heavily discount wool from mulesed sheep, according to Italian processor Laurence Modiano.
The draft Responsible Wool Standard has been prepared by the American-based Textile Exchange to protect animal welfare and preserve land health, achieve supply chain traceability and enable brands to communicate this to consumers.
“If RWS takes off successfully in its current form, the price of NM/CM wool will soar, possibly to a level at which some of these mass market retailers will simply not be interested in wool any more.
“All wool from mulesed sheep risks becoming heavily discounted,” he said.
“I see a situation where many growers may simply leave wool altogether, with implications for all those who depend on the fibre.”
Mr Modiano said some of the world’s largest and most important textile retail groups have been providing financial support to the Textile Exchange, which has released RWS documents for public consultation up to April 15 2016.
“The danger is that this standard, if adopted in its present form by the majority of textile brands, has the potential to wreak havoc on the wool industry,” he said.
Draft RWS says control flystrike but no mulesing
The draft RWS’ health module states measures should be taken to prevent or control fly strike, yet mulesing is prohibited and farms with ceased mulesing status are accepted. The latest National Wool Declaration figures show that only 12.2pc of Australian wool comes from non-mulesed sheep or from growers who have ceased mulesing. This is projected to rise to about 14pc by 2018/19.
The draft RWS also requires pain relief to be used on shearing injuries when available and a shearer should cease shearing immediately if a sheep suffers a severe cut or injury. Records of injuries must be kept and all shearers and contractors must sign a RWS declaration.
Under the draft standard, the decision to carry out tail-docking and castration shall be based on a welfare risk/benefit analysis rather than as a routine. It states that tail-docking shall be done only if a failure to do so would lead to a welfare problem and prescribes specific acceptable methods for docking and castration.
“In my opinion, this is precisely the kind of danger the wool industry is exposed to unless growers show vision and leadership on the issue of animal welfare,” Mr Modiano said in an email to Australia’s rural media and WoolProducers Australia yesterday.
“Other entities beyond your control will decide matters for you.
“Please trust me. The writing is on the wall.”
RWS acceptance by big retailers will have implications
Mr Modiano strongly advised all wool leaders to meet with the Textile Exchange to explain what is viable and acceptable to growers, “and certainly not to accept what I perceive to be ignorant and ill-conceived meddling with our industry”.
“As it currently stands, well-meaning as it may be intended, this proposal is anathema to wool.”
Mr Modiano believed that if the RWS is adopted in its current form by a few of the big international retail names, it will be very difficult for many, especially in Europe and the USA, to resist either adopting this standard or something very similar.
“If the retailers insist on it, we will have no choice but to source wool from a very tiny supply pool.”
Mr Modiano recently circulated a petition from a group of world wool companies and traders who want mandatory pain-relief for all on-farm sheep surgery in Australia and a campaign to tell consumer brands of the efforts Australia’s wool growers are making to improve animal welfare.
“I believe growers have a right to know that such a wool standard is being discussed.
“I urge your organisations to make a representation to the public consultation before it is too late.
Mr Modiano said a 2014 Textile Exchange webinar on development of a global wool standard referred to three wool supply chains: New Merino in Australia, Merino ZQ in New Zealand and Ovis XXI in South America. In recent months, the Textile Exchange has been conducting pilot audits of the RWS in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, China, the UK and Austria.
IWTO does not support the RWS
International Wool Textile Organisation Secretary General Elisabeth van Delden said in an IWTO membership circular last month that Textile Exchange had been developing a commercial wool sheep welfare standard with the financial support of international retail brands such as H&M, Tesco, Target, C&A and the Kering Group.
“IWTO is not supportive of any kind of commercial standards such as these, as we understand that animal welfare lies with the sovereignty of each member country by having to meet their own national legislations,” Ms van Delden said.
“IWTO has developed the IWTO Wool Sheep Welfare Guidelines together with all its members, which we believe reflect the high welfare standards of the industry.
“Any further commercial standard such as this one is an extra burden to the wool industry,” she said.
“Also, IWTO did not participate in the development of the standard, however IWTO did take the position of an observer in the process of Textile Exchange to stay informed of the work being done.”
She asked the IWTO members to review RWS documents and indicate whether the IWTO should collect responses from members and respond on behalf of the collective or should individual members respond directly.
In a Farmers’ Guide to the RWS, the Textile Exchange (www.TextileExchange.org) says it is a non-profit organization that accelerates sustainability practices in the textile industry.
“We develop and own standards that provide traceability for materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester, and responsibly sourced down.
“There has been increasing interest from brands and industry groups in creating a tool to identify the best practices to respect animal welfare and land protection for wool production,” the exchange said.
“Over the years and recently, wool production has come into focus for brands and consumers as certain animal rights organizations shine a harsh light on poor practices in farming, even if the reality is that these practices are not typical of most farming systems.
“More and more companies are asking questions about where their wool comes from and under what conditions it was produced,” the exchange added.
“Customers are not just asking, but demanding that their supply of wool be free of questionable practices.
“The RWS provides verification of the practices that are happening at the farm level, giving brands a clear solution that will allow them to make claims about their wool sourcing with confidence.”
The Textile Exchange said it was researching standards and best practices around the world to create criteria that ensure the five freedoms of sheep raised for the wool are protected. These are freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.
After the current review period ends on April 15, 2016, the Textile Exchange and its Wool International Working Group will make revisions to the standard and release it for a second review period of 30 days.
Read the draft Responsible Wool Standard here (clicking here will open an Excel spreadsheet file).
Listen to a Textile Exchange global wool standard webinar recording here.
Further details on the draft RWS can be found on http://responsiblewool.org/