Wool Trade

Legal action risk in non-mulesed definition change – Olsson

Terry Sim, January 29, 2020

Australian Wool Growers Association director Chick Olsson.

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.”


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  1. Ian Murray, February 3, 2020

    The definition for mulesing must be changed; removing that shears are involved and referencing any modifications to the breech of a sheep. The work of sheep breeders that have eliminated the need for mulesing must be protected from any confusion with other codes for breech modification. The demands of the consumer are being seen at present, with the premium for non-mulesed wool, and need to be respected.

  2. Chick Olsson, January 31, 2020

    Hi Peter, I think we are all in furious agreement here, give the market what it wants which is , NM = no surgical breech intervention.

    • Andrew Farran, January 31, 2020

      Once again this begs the question. What meaning are you giving to surgical breech intervention?
      Mulesing is specific and defined. Surgical breech intervention could be anything, which it appears is how you want it to be.

  3. Peter Small, January 30, 2020

    That is right, Doug and Chick, give the market what it wants. That is, quality wool that is certified with a grower’s NWD as NM, (not mulesed), i.e hasn’t had skin removed from the breech of a sheep with mulesing shears.
    The trade are not interested in your pedantic argument about genetics, they just want access to quality certified Australian wool. Think about the national interest first.

    • Doug Wright, January 31, 2020

      We agree on what the market wants, now the question is how does the industry?
      To achieve this, it gets back to breeding a plain-bodied sheep that doesn’t need mulesing. The exciting thing is that sheep breeders are doing this with success. By using the genetic solution, in two sheep generations the job can be done. In addition, these sheep do not need chemical use for body strike, another plus for the plain-bodied approach.

  4. Chick Olsson, January 30, 2020

    Fully agree Doug. It makes perfect sense to be straight forward here with our wool products. Our major customers agree with this position, so I am at a loss to understand why we wouldn’t listen to them?

  5. Doug Wright, January 30, 2020

    Create confusion in a market and that is what you will get, confusion. Those behind this mess are doing a good job of creating confusion.
    My view is simple, why breed sheep that need to be mulesed and jetted for fly control when by using genetic solutions the problem is solved and thus give the market non mulesed wool, the wool that the market is wanting?
    If the wool declaration is to be changed then the addition of AM or BM would cover it, as outlined by an earlier writer, to properly inform the market. If in doubt, refer to my opening comment.
    Marketing 101 says, give the market what it wants and do it better than your competitor.

    • Donald Cameron, January 30, 2020

      Those seeking new categories of wool such as, AM – Alternative Methods or BM – Breech Modification, just muddy the waters, confuse buyers and add further damage to the image of Australian wool.

      Mulesed or not mulesed, like pregnant or not pregnant. No alternative pregnancy, no modified pregnancy.

      • Jim Gordon, January 31, 2020

        Mr Cameron, beautiful; I love a clear thinker. Peter Small says it all, and I quote, “That is, quality wool that is certified with a grower’s NWD as NM (not mulesed) ie, hasn’t had skin removed from the breech area of a sheep.” It is that simple. End of story.

  6. Andrew Farran, January 29, 2020

    There seems to be confusion, self-serving and/or protectionism in this discussion. The point is, if you ask the wrong question you will get a meaningless answer.

    The question is, what is mulesing? I believe there is a definition of that, but if there is no agreement on the definition then the question whether a sheep is mulesed or not gets you nowhere.

    Peter Small posits the definition of mulesing as being the “removal of the skin from the breech of the sheep with surgical shears”.

    Now, is that correct? Is that what the fuss about mulesing is all about? If that is the definition and the sheep has not had skin removed from the breech with surgical shears, then it has not been mulesed.
    Editor’s note: 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.

    • Peter Small, January 29, 2020

      Thank you Andrew, as usual bringing clarity to the debate. The definition of mulesing I used was from a statement made by Jo Hall from WoolProducers.
      For too long the parochial wool industry politics about how and who has the best genetics distorts our attention from the real issue –satisfying the demands of our consumers.

  7. Peter Small, January 29, 2020

    As always, wool grower politics and grower self-interest threatens our industry. As I understand it, the definition of mulesing that has been accepted for sometime is “removing the skin from the breech of the sheep with surgical shears”.
    If Mr Olsson has achieved that by investing in genetics, excellent, but what about those who have invested in technology to achieve a result that meets the current definition?
    Growers, unless they can assure supply of greasy wool, particularly certified non-mulesed to the world market, risk seeing their industry disappear like the silk and fur industries with wool becoming just a by-product of the meat industry.
    I would encourage all growers and AWEX to do what ever they can to increase the supply of non-mulesed wool, that meets the current mulesing definition.
    The matter is very serious, especially as closing quotes for the auction market in Australia no longer set the world price. Today, I understand the Australian market sells at a discount to other countries, due to our inability to meet non-mulesed demand and that’s for inferior quality.
    Growers need to understand they are part of the world fashion market. Many brands have already walked away from wool and unless we can increase supply of non-mulesed, more will go.
    It is foolish for growers to gloat over premiums for non-mulesed wool, as that additional price might be just the thing that drives a brand to move to another fibre.

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