Stock Handling & Animal Welfare

It’s not too late for mulesing with pain relief – Olsson

Terry Sim, October 2, 2020

Australian Wool Growers Association director Chick Olsson.

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.


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  1. Doug Wright, October 11, 2020

    Why breed Merino sheep that need to be mulesed and jetted when it is possible to breed productive sheep not needing these practices?
    It seems that some want mulesing to continue so that they can gain a revenue stream from chemical sales.
    It is time the industry moved forward to meet the demand of the modern consumer.

  2. Jim Gordon, October 4, 2020

    Mr Olsson, please — your opening sentence … AWI does not need to spend any more money on hosting brands and/or the retailers. Why are we trying to bend the trade to our way of life? We need to bend the wool producer to their way of life — Marketing 101.
    One only needs to pick up the phone and ask the trade what they want and then pass that information onto the wool producer. It’s not rocket science.
    You continually want to defend mulesing with pain relief. Why? The pain relief story is too complicated. The trade would like non-mulesed wool, end of story. It would make their lives so much simpler. We need two categories, mulesed and non-mulesed wool. Everyone in the world can understand that. It’s to late for the pain relief story.
    I have the utmost respect for my fellow wool producers and I agree with McCullough. You can’t tell the wool producer what to do. However, you can tell him exactly what is desired by the trade and the welfare groups, with no self-interest or bias. Then the wool producer can make an informed decision on their way forward.

  3. Peter Small, October 3, 2020

    It is a highly desirable objective, Chick Olsson, to develop dialogue with your customer. However, they are the customer and the respectful thing to do is to listen to what they require of us, the producer, rather than flogging out of date spin to them.

    The Northern Hemisphere trade came to the IWTO meeting in Sydney in 2017 with a proposal that if Australia was prepared to make pain relief mandatory that would give the trade the ” comfort” they required.
    However, our overseas customers were denied the opportunity of even putting that proposition forward for discussion. The world has moved on, I am afraid, and those who harbour the belief that the market will continue to accept mulesing are delusional.

  4. Don Mudford, October 3, 2020

    Mr Olsson throws a shot across the bow at breeders expressing their benefits of using a genetic solution to mulesing, while he promotes his chemicals for mulesing. Come on Chick, stop trying to stifle your competitors. We all know the lambs are stiff and sore for weeks after mulesing and the skin is pulled tight around the vulva, causing more pain each time the ewe’s gives birth. Next time processors are shown how pain relief works, also show them lambs that don’t require mulesing and are not mulesed. Let’s be united Mr Olsson.

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