AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation should host more international brands and retailers to showcase the industry’s mulesing-based production system, according to New South Wales wool grower Chick Olsson.
Declaring his vested interest as one of the creators of the mulesing pain relief drug Tri-Solfen, Mr Olsson nevertheless believes it is not too late to defend wool production from sheep mulesed with pain relief.
Mr Olsson said he had confidence in the brand engagement strategy of AWI’s marketing arm, The Woolmark Company, in the United States.
In a recent edition of the AWI podcast The Yarn, Woolmark’s head of Americas Michelle Lee said an AWI-hosted visit to Australia of Gap and Lululemon brand representatives in 2019 was “very eye opening” and provided a good perspective of the Australian wool grower.
“It showed how passionate the wool growers are about what they do and their sheep and how much work actually goes in providing their brands with the wool.
“Before they came to Australia they were thinking about the whole animal welfare issue – they had a certain understanding about what animal welfare issues our growers face, but I think they didn’t realise the difference pain relief options that were offered and the amount of research and effort that goes into preventing flystrike and how much the growers care for their flock and how important it is for them,” she said.
“Those brand visits (meant) they got a better understanding of the animal welfare issue.
“They are continuing to expand wool throughout the different categories for example Lululemon in the past season they did have 30, 000 units in wool and this is going from not having any wool at all,” Ms Lee said.
“As they focus on issues of sustainability and quality they continue to look to us and continue to work with us.”
Both companies have policies aimed at transitioning to the sourcing only non-mulesed wool, but Mr Olsson said AWI should be bringing out every customer who has a concern about “the animal rights propaganda” about welfare in the Australian wool industry. He also believed that AWI should “at some stage” be declaring to its growers what type of wool the brands and retailers are demanding – non-mulesed or wool from mulesed sheep.
He said the animal rights body PETA has “10 free years bashing us with no defence” against the suggestion that Australian wool was “cruelly produced.”
He said AWI under former chairman Wal Merriman did not extend an invitation to any brand or retailer that had problems with Australia’s sheep welfare practices “to show up how much nonsense the animal rights groups had been spreading.”
“We have to be absolutely honest and there is nothing to hide here anyway.
“There is a tremendous welfare story happening here and when they visit as the Germans did, it completely changed their opinion on sourcing wool.”
Mr Olsson said the use of pain relief with mulesing is “a wonderful story, but it has to be told properly.”
“I think we have never told it, more than anything else.”
Mr Olsson believes that declaring a non-mulesed wool sourcing policy was “a safe option” for many brands, because there had been no alternative up till now.
“Our case is not being positively pushed and no-one can argue with surgery with pain relief.
“For the last 10 years, under previous (AWI) leadership, there has been a complete burying of their heads that this issue will go away, ‘you are best not to talk about it,’” he said.
“And what they (AWI) have done is give animal rights groups tremendous free kicks.”
Mr Olsson said wool from mulesed sheep treated with pain relief is still selling.
“We’ve all got to be united now; there should be no more division between non-mulesed and pain relief wool – it should be just about wool.
“People using this issue to promote their own bare-breeched breeds is wrong.
“If there is a market for it, great, but we’ve got to stop this division.”
He disagreed that marketing based simply on wool was generic, because of the sustainability advantages of wool, which must be highlighted to consumers.