Industry support growing for National Wool Declaration to be a ‘condition of sale’

Terry Sim, August 3, 2016

VFF logoVICTORIAN farmers have called for the AWEX National Wool Declaration to be a condition of sale, for bale lines from non-mulesed sheep to be sold first at auctions and for mulesing to be phased out.

In its submission to the annual NWD review by the Australian Wool Exchange’s Industry Services Advisory Committee, the Victorian Farmers Federation proposed several changes to the NWD, which is mainly used by growers to declare the mulesing, chemical use and black or coloured fibre risk status of their wool clip.

The VFF’s submission also said its Livestock Group acknowledged the welfare of the animal is paramount and that it harboured serious concern about the international reputation of Australia’s wool producers, if long term solutions to wholly phase out mulesing were not adopted.

“The VFF Livestock Group calls on the Australian Wool Exchange to prompt a long-term phase out of mulesing,” the submission said.

The VFF submission said an NWD ‘condition of sale’ requirement — similar to National Vendor Declaration use in livestock transactions — would ensure full reporting of the Australian wool industry’s mulesing status and allow absolute correlation between the related premiums and discounts within the industry.

The VFF has also called for the implementation of a scheduled wool broker sale catalogue, with wool sold in order, in the following categories – firstly wool from non-mulesed sheep (NM); from sheep mulesed with pain relief (PR) and lastly non-declared clips (ND). This would segment wool clips and further create clear market signals that are easily identifiable within the sale catalogue, the VFF submission said.

The NWD is a valuable tool to display to the supply chain that the Australian industry is working towards creating market signals to ensure those producing non-mulesed wool are appropriately compensated by the market, the VFF said. The federation also wants the ISAC to consider removing the Ceased Mulesing category (CM) from the NWD, because “the CM status is now redundant and is adding to confusion amongst growers and other supply-chain partners”.

VFF NWD position follows NSW Farmers mandate motion

NSW Farmers' Wool Committee chair Ed Storey

NSW Farmers’ Wool Committee chair Ed Storey

The VFF’s NWD position follows motions at the recent NSW Farmers conference to make the NWD mandatory when selling wool and to strongly encourage the use of pain relief when mulesing.

WoolProducers senior vice-president and former NSW Farmers Wool Committee chairman Ed Storey said it would not be easy to make NWD use mandatory in every state, but NSW Farmers would discuss the issue with AWEX.

“We want to be very clear, NSW Farmers want all wool growers to fill the NWD when they sell wool, because we need to be proud to declare what we are producing.

“It’s a document that facilitates choices in the marketplace particularly around mulesing and pain relief that gives the trade – the purchasers and exporters – maximum choice to purchase the wool that suits their requirements.

“It gives growers the opportunity to articulate the choices they are making on their farm,” he said.

Mr Storey said the latest NWD data showed that the number of first-offer bales declared had increased to just over 55 percent, although the NM/CM/PR adoption rate is about 35pc – 9pc NM, 3pc CM and 23pc PR.

“But we need that (NWD uptake) to get up to 90pc-plus.

“We want to ensure that Australian growers have as much competition on their wool as they can.”

Mr Storey said Australia was the biggest supplier of non-mulesed wool in the world, but NSW Farmers believed a lot of growers who weren’t mulesing or were using pain relief when mulesing, were not filling out the declaration.

“We think if we can get more people filling out the NWD that will put more non-mulesed and pain relief wool on the market.”

Mr Storey said NSW Farmers would initiate an education campaign to advise growers of the good outcomes from pain relief when mulesing, including increased buyer competition for that wool.

NSW Farmers would initially pursue increasing NWD use with AWEX, broker and exporter support, he said. The state farming organisation would also lobby other SFOs to support its NWD initiative.

“I think many of them are on board.”

Legislating mandatory NWD use would be slow

Mr Storey said exporters are very keen for everyone to use the NWD, “but the slow process to do that is through government legislation”.

“A quicker way is through an education campaign and working with AWEX and the brokers to get people filling it out.

“But we wanted the word mandate in there, we’ve got to use this document,” he said.

“At the end of the day, growers have to take responsibility for our own industry.

“We want to facilitate maximum competition on people’s wool and we want to be in a position in the industry where we are determining our own fate,” he said.

WoolProducers Australia supports mandatory NWD

Mr Storey said WoolProducers also had a policy to increase NWD use with a view to making it mandatory. This included supporting an education program leading to the mandated use of the NWD.

In its submission to the recent NWD review, WoolProducers recommended introduction of market-based incentives to drive the uptake of NWD, including but not limited to making the NWD a condition of sale through the auction system.

WPA also recommended investigation into the development of ‘perpetual’ declaration for individual properties and into ways to increase the number of actual audits conducted through the NWD Integrity Program. WoolProducers is also seeking the removal of the Ceased Mulesing category from the NWD.

NWD is an important animal welfare statement

Italian wool processor Laurence Modiano

Italian wool processor Laurence Modiano

International wool processor and trader Laurence Modiano regarded the NSW Farmers NWD motion as an extremely positive and progressive move.

“There is an increasing requirement for the supply chain in every industry to provide the consumer with traceability and provenance, which actually could be very beneficial for the wool industry.

“We have so much to be proud of.”

Mr Modiano said the NWD gives the consumer a choice.

“More brands will insist on NM/CM, many will not, but may still fret about cruelty to sheep.

“The move to encourage systematic pain relief will send out the message that Australian farmers care about animal welfare,” he said.

“Making it a legal requirement would completely change the notion that Australia tolerates animal cruelty and I still believe this is where it will end up.

“It is just a matter of time.”

Mr Modiano said many leading brands are paying a non-wool organisation – Textile Exchange — to draw up a Responsible Wool Standard.

“Unless the industry is pro-active in addressing their concerns, they will simply abandon wool, just as they abandoned angora.

“I actually see it as an amazing opportunity to give the market what it wants.”

Mr Modiano said many growers use pain relief or do not mules, but do not let buyers know this.

“With little effort they would improve their chances of receiving a better price for their wool.

“Consumer brands might understand very well why a grower would wish to mules, but they just cannot understand why growers would carry out surgery without pain relief,” he said.

“I am convinced that once the industry has addressed animal welfare concerns, far more doors will be open to wool.”

Mandating NWD use would require legislation

AWEX CEO Mark Grave

AWEX CEO Mark Grave

AWEX chief executive officer Mark Grave said making the NWD mandatory would require legislation, but the NWD had received support from all of the state farming organisations, and WoolProducers Australia.

“I suppose what the NSW Farmers resolution is telling me is that they now see it as critical information for the pipeline.

“I suppose without pre-empting what may come out of the review, we certainly take that on board.”

Mr Grave said in the last 12 months there had been a lot more positive discussion and interaction with brokers, exporters, as well as resolutions, about the NWD.

On whether NWD use could be widened by stronger broker and exporter support, Mr Grave said there had been a broad industry commitment to the use of nylon wool packs since 2000, albeit supported by customs regulations precluding importations of non-nylon packs.

“So for things to be mandatory they certainly need wide industry support and a good rationale as to why it should be mandatory, and we need to follow it through as to what would be required.”

Mr Grave said many submissions had supported improved understanding, clarification and uptake of the NWD.

Brokers support boosting NWD uptake

National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia executive director Chris Wilcox said the body’s members were keen to look at whatever could be done to lift NWD uptake.

“Whether that is (making it) mandatory or not, I’m not sure, because I’m not sure how it could be made mandatory.

“Whatever could be done to lift the uptake rate, we are very keen to see happen.”

Mr Wilcox said NCWSBA had made suggestion to the NWD review for further work by AWEX to increase communication and training.

“We are actually suggesting that ISAC put together a formal two or three-year communications plan.”

Exporters see NWD ‘condition of sale’ as a positive step

Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors president Chris Kelly said exporters are very supportive of the wider use of the NWD by wool growers.

“It can be very frustrating at times trying to get adequate access to wool with an NM, CM or PR declaration while the adoption rate is at its current low level.

“This is particularly so for NM wool whose adoption rate is still only 9pc,” he said.

“The Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors regards the lifting the adoption rate as the most important issue associated with use of the NWD, and has included some suggestions for possible ways of achieving this in its submission to the AWEX NWD Review.”

Mr Kelly said ACWEP has seen data which indicated that the NWD adoption rate underestimates the extent to which Australian wool growers have moved towards non-mulesing or are using a pain relief product at mulesing.”

“The proposals by WoolProducers Australia, the NSW Farmers Association and the Victorian Farmers Federation to move towards making the provision of an NWD as a condition of sale is a positive step.

“It should encourage wool growers to ensure that all wool offered for sale is declared and lead to an increase in the adoption rate.”

When asked his opinion of the NSW Farmers proposal to mandate NWD use at Hamilton’s Sheepvention expo yesterday, Australian Wool Innovation chairman Wal Merriman said: “It’s nothing to do with me.”


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  1. Peter Small, August 4, 2016

    Congratulations to VFF Livestock, NSW Farmers and WoolProducers, on their respective decisions in respect to making the National Wool Declaration mandatory. Well done! Surely a mature industry like the wool industry, with such widespread support from producers, grower organisations, brokers, buyers and processors, can quickly move, with leadership, to a position of self-regulation without the humbug of legislation suggested by Mark Graves, CEO of AWEX. And let’s move as the VFF has resolved, on making pain relief mandatory also. If our industry can achieve this with self-regulation we are showing the World that wool, Australia’s oldest industry, has regained its position as a great industry with high animal ethic standards.

  2. Robert Macintosh, August 4, 2016

    I am a third-generation wool grower who has spent a lifetime in the industry and ‘lives and breathes’ sheep and wool production.
    Wool is an amazing fibre; it is more durable than any synthetic fibre and it has so many wonderful natural attributes that cannot be reproduced by any man made fibre. Wool growers would like nothing better than to have a natural and economical flystrike prevention solution and if nothing else, this debate about mulesing has helped to expedite more research and development in this area, which is a very good thing. I worry that the whole issue of mulesing and the reason for it is not properly explained and is misunderstood. All emotive issues surrounding livestock need to be understood and when only one side of the issue is presented with graphic images of blood it is easy for the general public to assume that the grazier is inflicting unnecessary pain on the animal. I have seen so many times, major fly waves decimate flocks in an unbelievably short time period. This usually happens when climatic conditions are hot and humid. To see a sheep die from fly strike where there is induced high fever from being eaten alive by thousands of maggots is terrible. What should we all do? Of course mulesing without pain relief is cruel, but it does create the bare skin around the breach that will give excellent lifelong protection to the animal; due to the removal of wrinkles that become contaminated with urine and faecal stain, which in turn attracts the blowfly.
    To say, “just fix the problem by breeding plain bodied, bare breech sheep” is naïve, as genetic changes take a long time to achieve and inevitably you will lose the very traits that you have worked hard to breed into your flock, particularly wool density, fleece weight and fibre diameter. I am not advocating mulesing, simply providing the overlooked and often unstated reasoning for the practice.
    As far as abuse of sheep by wool shed staff goes, there is absolutely no excuse for it. However, I don’t believe that it is a common occurrence and any good shearing contractor should be able to monitor the behaviour of the team and dismiss any staff guilty of cruelty.
    Having had a lot of years of devastating drought, farmers and graziers are trying to recover from years of almost non-existent cashflow and on top of that, now they have to also tackle the huge challenge of restocking their properties, which will incur more debt on top of already rising debt levels. So, my advice is to show some understanding. I don’t believe it does anyone any good to register their protest to undesirable practices in an industry by themselves stopping or advocating that consumers boycott certain products. I believe the industry is evolving and practices are changing for the better. Consumer support and promotion is what is required and a lot more ‘good stories’ need to be told about this beautiful fibre.

  3. Joanne, August 3, 2016

    As someone who once loved to wear clothes made of wool, when my eyes were opened to the callous treatment that is an everyday part of producing wool — including mulesing, ex-wool sheep being sent as live export to horrendous deaths in receiver countries and video footage of appalling abuse of sheep in some Australian shearing sheds such as kicking, stamping on their bodies, kneeling on their necks, cutting, and stitching without anaesthetic — I have never worn wool again and I know other people who are moving away from wool too, because of the suffering sheep experience which they were formerly blind to.
    This industry really needs to change fast. Mulesing should be banned outright, the live export industry ended and shearing sheds (and slaughterhouses) fitted with video monitors to make sure sheep are handled humanely. Otherwise, public trust will continue to fall away.
    A National Wool Declaration is a very good step. To be capable of bringing about real change for animals it needs to encompass all these issues. Sincerely, Joanne. Full names required in future for reader comments please Joanne, as per our long-standing comments policy: Editor.

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