Italian wool textile sector seeks urgent action on mulesing and animal welfare

Terry Sim, April 8, 2016

IWTO Congress 2016

ITALY’S wool textile industry has had discussion on a call for urgent action from the International Wool Textile Organisation on sheep welfare standards and mulesing deferred until November.

A delegation from the leading textile federation Sistema Moda Italia – representing the entire Italian supply chain from topmakers to spinners, weavers and retailers – has asked IWTO to release a worldwide standard for animal welfare and not mere guidelines.

The SMI motion put to the IWTO Heads of Delegation council meeting at the 85th IWTO Congress in Sydney last Sunday also strongly suggested inclusion of the use of anaesthetic pain relief before and after sheep are mulesed.

“In other words, what we are recommending is to treat our animals in exactly the same way as a human being who should undergo any kind of surgery.

“If we do just that, what could we be blamed for then?” the delegation motion said.

Delegation spokesman Claudio Lacchio said he had seen sheep dying of flystrike and recognised that mulesing in certain areas was “a must”. But if it was demonstrated that sheep could be treated exactly same as a human being – with pre-operation and post-op pain relief — “anybody can say whatever they like,” he said.

“Mulesing is a must in certain areas, but we must give a credible answer to the consumer, not to animal rights organisations, that we do things correctly.”

The Italian delegation sought approval and implementation of a sheep welfare standard by all the wool-producing IWTO country members and relevant certification bodies, possibly before the next IWTO Biella Round Table in November.

“This is our request, which also has the added advantage of avoiding undue interferences by other “private” bodies, companies and organizations which are currently creating significant confusion on the market.”

The indirect reference to the position of private organisations trying to impose animal welfare standards on the industry was followed by the delegation’s contention that the IWTO is the only entity which could and actually should release a worldwide animal welfare standard for the industry.

Fears that other bodies will take lead on sheep animal welfare

The IWTO should not let anybody else take the lead on the issue of animal welfare standards, Mr Lacchio said.

“We are asking IWTO and AWI indirectly to recognise there is a problem on the table and a big one.

“Not to say, ‘No, we are wonderful, everything is fine, you won’t be touched’.”

Mr Lacchio said the problem of animal welfare and mulesing in Australia is still far from solved after several years. After the delegation tabled their motion, Mr Lacchio said a prominent Australian industry person asked him why he was attacking the Australian industry.

“He said ‘Why are you raising a problem which is not there? — I said ‘first of all the problem is there’ and he said to me if you insist on that, there is an option for the growers, to go on cattle,” he said.

“So what if they want to go on cattle, they go on cattle — but you don’t tell me that if I talk about mulesing people will go on cattle – you solve the problem.”

Mr Lacchio said the delegation was very disappointed that it was seen as “raising troubles for the sake of raising troubles” in Australia.

“We want the people here (in Australia) to tell the truth – that there is a problem and we are going to solve the problem by doing this, not that the problem is not there.”

Mr Lacchio said SMI members were getting messages, enquiries and requests every day that the clients – retailers and big brands – are worried and don’t want to use wool of a particular origin or wool generally, if it is not guaranteed to be mulesing-free.

“We think this issue is not acknowledged, especially in Australia,” he said.

“There is a little bit of confusion, you’ve got to understand that at retailer level they don’t really care about if there is pain relief or not — they refer to mulesing in general terms.

“Pain relief does mean something, but they accept wool that is non-mulesed.”

Company requested that wool not be sourced from Australia

To support their motion, the Italians presented a redacted yarn order from a northern European client specifying that the required yarn must not be from Australian wool. The delegation wanted Australian growers to know there are wool customers who now did not want to buy Australian wool. Clients were increasingly asking for non-mulesed certificates as a prerequisite, Mr Lacchio said.

“Our feeling is that in Australia in particular the big organisations who should take care of this, they think the problem is solved and we think the problem is not solved at all.”

Mr Lacchio said IWTO should take the lead and set standards for animal welfare including mulesing in particular, but has only released guidelines. SMI understood that it could not impose standards in countries or on growers.

“But we fear the lead on this could be taken by other organisations.”

The Italian delegation’s motion to the IWTO said Italian and European processors are disappointed by a never-ending list of undelivered promises, unmet deadlines, mistaken assumptions and inadequate conclusions on the issue of mulesing.

“We don’t feel backed and protected in our efforts to try and promote wool, and European brands are considered to be quite influential in deciding which kind of raw material is used in the (fashion) collections,” the motion said.

The delegation said it seemed the whole approach and implementation of Australia’s action plan on mulesing needed to be reconsidered and that the money invested could probably have been spent more wisely.

“(There is) no real sense in continuing to talk about mulesing or not mulesing, we all know it is necessary in some areas not to let the animals die, we are of course aware of this fact…and no sense in continuing to discuss with people who would criticize and ban wool regardless.”

“Today the issue is mulesing, tomorrow it will easily be something else, today Australia is under the spotlight, while tomorrow it will easily be another country,” the motion said.

“Let’s change the approach, let’s be proactive, let’s sell the story that wool has got nothing to hide regarding animal welfare.”

IWTO sheep welfare guideline launch in September

The proposed launch of IWTO’s sheep welfare guidelines in September at Dumfries House, Scotland, was not too long, “as long as they address the problem sooner rather than later”, Mr Lacchio said.

“We don’t want to create any political hiccup at the moment, we’ve guaranteed the discussion will take place at Biella in November.

“But at the same time we think that the process has been very slow, a lot of money has been spent and could have been spent more wisely.”

Chinese IWTO delegation member Madame Yang Xiaoxiong told the IWTO Congress in Sydney this week that Chinese consumers understood mulesing was a necessary practice in wool growing, but Mr Lacchio said mulesing is an issue after 14 years.

The Italian delegation is also seeking support for their motion from other countries within the IWTO.

“We do hope all the players and the countries involved will support this initiative, urging IWTO to take a strong stance, so as to go beyond an old, defensive and unsatisfactory approach and to embrace instead a positive, constructive and effective attitude towards animal welfare.”

Sheep Central will next publish IWTO president Peter Ackroyd’s position on many of the issues detailed in this article.


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  1. Peter Small, April 10, 2016

    Andrew, sadly little has changed from your previous experience. One positive innovation was the sponsoring of 21 young professionals by various industry organisations. However, there was only one young wool grower as such, although there were several who had come from properties and are now working in some other sector. Yes, IWTO is a wonderful opportunity for wool growers to interact with other segments of the trade and learn more about the people and the pipeline that takes our wool to the retail shelves around the world. The disappointing thing to me was that the industry leaders whose attendance was probably funded by long-suffering growers, made little effort to engage with our visitors. To make visitors feel welcome to our country is the first step in developing rewarding relationships!
    An opportunity lost.

  2. Andrew Farran, April 10, 2016

    Thanks for the comment Peter! Normally I too would have attended IWTO in Sydney as I have done here and there most years. But as I have been recovering from back surgery these past weeks it was. conference too far.
    IWTO should be the woolgrowers’ connect with downstream users, right to the retail point. But it is not in practice viewed as a woolgrowers forum or even a significant part of it. Some years ago I advocated at IWTO in Biella for a more prominent place in the program for woolgrowers. This was accepted in principal but failed in practice because of the lack of woolgrower backup. And being principally an overseas body regular attendance can be expensive.
    On the other hand, one might expect AWI to take leadership on this at IWTO, but last known by me they have declined, stating it’s not their business. That was at the Paris Congress several years ago where their passivity was badly received by attending buyers and users. I don’t believe AWI’s position has changed since, although it is supporting research for alternatives to mulesing which so far has been very marginal in its outcome.
    But the question arises as to where and how wool growers get their information on these matters and where and how opinion is formed. And the answer must be for the most part, over the fence. The fact remains that the need is not matched by a solution and overseas sensitivities are dismissed largely as coffee house chatter.

  3. Peter Small, April 10, 2016

    As one of the very few wool growers who attended the IWTO meeting in Sydney last week I would like to endorse Andrew Farran’s sensible and rational response above. However, after years of procrastination, Australia has now run out of time. The IWTO overseas delegations have returned home very angry that the Italian’s resolution on mulesing was hijacked behind closed doors by Australia. This highlights the Australian wool industry’s capacity to play politics, but ineptness at resolving problems!
    The reality is that we have now lost control of the debate. Wool growers need the help of IWTO and their international membership to resolve, what I assure my fellow wool growers is a diabolical problem.
    Where mulesing is essential, pain relief, at the cost of $1 per head ought to be immediately embraced voluntarily by all Australian wool growers, together with appropriate declarations. The best use of AWI and Wool Producers Australia resources would be to mount an educational road show to convince growers of the imperative to comply and the risks of failure. Failure could see conditions applied upon us by others that may well be draconian. Our industry after years of political intrusion, with a wool clip the smallest clip since 1925, is now on the brink of being rewarded for what it is, a luxury fibre. The mulesing issue must be resolved and real leadership is desperately needed now!

  4. Andrew Farran, April 9, 2016

    There is nothing new in all this. What is being sought is a culture change which takes time to effect; indeed, a long time in this industry. The risk of fly strike in sheep varies enormously from region to region. Those where it is low can be persuaded to dispense with mulesing. Those where the risk is higher have no demonstrated alternative and do not wish their sheep to suffer.
    Where there can be agreement is in regard to the use of pain killer applications which are readily available and are not expensive. While nothing can be mandatory without the force of law, there is limited support for legislation in this area. It is a matter of persuasion and advocating the obvious in this regard. IWTO may lead a campaign to strengthen animal welfare standards which are already widely prescribed and accepted. If it were to go beyond what is practical at the farm level, it would further separate sheep and wool growers from its deliberations. I should think that unlikely if common sense prevailed.

  5. Glenn Phillip Nix, April 8, 2016

    Sheep treated to human hospital standards — they really want more beef because they won’t have any wool growers. No mention of paying for these doctors and nurses. I assume they want it at the same price. It seems if you pander to idiots you become an idiot.

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