THE Australian Wool Exchange risked legal action by disgruntled progressive wool growers if it persisted in defining freeze branding as a ‘non-mulesed’ procedure, according to New South Wales wool grower Chick Olsson.
The Australian Wool Growers Association has released its submission to the final round of National Wool Declaration consultation by AWEX on whether to have two non-mulesed categories on the NWD.
Mr Olsson is an AWGA director and developer of the mulesing pain relief product Tri-Solfen.
To finalise an NWD review by AWEX’s Industry Services Advisory Committee (ISAC), feedback is being sought before 31 January 2020 on two new mulesing status categories to replace the current non-mulesed or NM category. These are:
NM1: No sheep in this mob has been mulesed, and an alternative method to mulesing has not been used.
NM2: No sheep in this mob has been mulesed, and an alternative method to mulesing, such as freeze branding, clips or intradermal injections (SkinTraction), has been used.
Mr Olsson said AWGA wanted to protect sheep breeders who had made genetic gains developing sheep that didn’t require mulesing.
“If they go out there with NM2 and it affects non-mulesed wool premiums, they could be open for a court case – a class action.
“If the price of non-mulesed wool drops because of this one decision then they are clearly open to legal challenge,” he said.
“If I have just spent a million dollars in improving my genetics to remove wrinkles to develop a non-mulesed flock without touching my sheep breeches and someone can claim the same thing by some surgery, what is the point of my efforts?
“What gives AWEX the right to be the arbitrator?”
Fellow AWGA director and non-mulesed sheep Merino breeder Martin Oppenheimer said the current market appreciation of non-mulesed wool was the “lifeblood” and future of its producers.
“If there is anything to do with the NWD that denigrates non-mulesed wools or creates confusion for non-mulesed wools — which is probably the fastest growing segment of the Australian wool market at the moment – then there are going to be serious repercussions.
“AWEX has to act in the best interests of the whole industry,” he said.
“Customers continually ask for non-mulesed wool, they are happy with the NWD and the non-mulesed category as it is at the moment,” he said.
“But any alternative method needs to be described as accurately as possible.
“I don’t what action non-mulesed growers will take if there is an adverse result, but I truly believe that AWEX will get it right.”
He is confident AWEX will introduce another category for alternative breech modification methods.
“That will satisfy most customers of Australian wool.”
Non-mulesed Merino sheep breeder Mark Murphy said he wouldn’t be surprised at the possibility of legal action.
“I’m not going to put my neck out and say yay or nay, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
“It’s touching on a pretty raw nerve – I’m amazed that they were oblivious to that.”
Need for alternative breech modification definitions
The AWGA submission from chief executive officer Sam Stephens declares there is a need to identify alternative methods of breech modification on the NWD.
“The NM status must not be changed and should be reported as NM
“All other alternative methods must be described with a different symbol/acronym other than NM,” Mr Stephens has submitted.
“The NM symbol must not be tarnished or damaged in any such form.
“The market growth and work that producers across Australia have achieved must not be jeopardised.”
Mr Stephens said any additional methods of breech modification, if and when they are registered, should fall under the category of a different symbol and “not NM2.” These categories could be either BM – Breech Modification, or AM – Alternative Methods.
“By applying the above it will ensure the Non-Mulesed category will continue to provide a clear and concise signal and maintain the value of NM status recognized by the market and consumer.”
Mr Olsson said he recognised he had a significant vested interest in the mulesing issue, but said AWEX also had an interest in the issue as the owner of the SustainaWOOL integrity scheme.
“They are a competitor with all of us now.”
Address Australia’s mulesing definition issue
Mr Olsson said the Australian industry also needed to reassess the country’s definition of mulesing and align it with world standards.
Under the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep, mulesing is the removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears.
However, Mr Olsson believes although sheep freeze branding is not done with shears, it is still a form of breech modification involving the loss of skin.
“It’s still surgery,” he said.
“Unless we start basing what we are doing on the truth, this issue is just going to explode again.”
He believes Australia’s definition for mulesing should be consistent with countries which regard mulesing as any form of breech modification.
“All our customers are wanting this.
“Non-mulesed simply means the animal’s breech has not been modified in any shape or form – that’s our position.”
Mr Oppenheimer said the key point in Australia’s mulesing definition, rather than the use of shears, was the removal of skin.
“The NWD if it is going to work, if it is going to be effective and gain traction as far as adoption across the industry, it has to continue to be relevant and accurate in its descriptions.”