ANIMAL rights activists have been likened to mothers-in-laws and profitability lauded as an important plank in the wool industry’s social licence defence, during a Victorian farm tour last weekend.
Australian Wool Innovation corporate communications manager Marius Cuming told superfine growers on an Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association farm tour that AWI was often criticised when the industry was attacked by animal rights bodies.
“People say – ‘Why aren’t you fighting for us, why aren’t you out there?
“And I always use the mother-in-law theory – I love my mother-in-law, she’s wonderful, but I don’t fight with her.
“You will never, ever, ever, win a fight with your mother-in-law, and if you think you’ve won it, you’ve still lost it, haven’t you? he said.
“I said that the other day to a mother-in-law in New Norcia (Western Australia) and she got it, because she has a mother-in-law.”
“So what are we doing in response to this? Well, what I’m going to talk briefly about today – selling wool,” he said.
“Every time we sell a woollen garment, these activists lose.
“Remember that they want this industry gone, they say ‘that animals are not ours to play with, they’re not ours for an industry, they are for animal rights, not for animal welfare,” Mr Cuming said.
“So selling the product is a very, very important thing to do; in fact, it is the most important thing to do.”
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Don’t talk about mulesing
Mr Cuming said growers were not going to sell any more wool talking about mulesing.
“We’ve got to start looking at the donut and stop looking at the hole – the mother-in-law theory, everyone gets that.
“In around 10 years, we’ve gone from a horrible image in Times Square to a (PETA) billboard in Horsham,” he said.
“Now I like Horsham, but how much media did they get out of that billboard? A lot.”
“Every time a woollen garment is sold, the animal rights activists lose.”
Profitability is the way to keep social license strong
In Wool Week across Australia this week, Mr Cuming said AWI had partnered with the country’s biggest retail group Westfield and 30 retail stores to sell wool, with a campaign focussing on family and provenance involving model Stephanie Field with her mother, Angela, of Benangaroo Station, New South Wales.
“Selling wool through Wool Week, not just in Australia, but wherever we have Woolmark offices around the world, is our chief defence — we beat them with a credit card.
“And as Michael Lempriere said all those years ago, no-one actually sells any wool in this industry until someone hands over a credit card and buys a garment,” he said.
“So having a profitable industry is a great way to keep a social licence strong – to have people that are happy about the industry, that are making money, that are getting the next generation through.
“And of course, making money, it does actually make us feel a little bit better about being in this industry, does it not? And it (the wool market) is heading the right way.”
Educating children to retain social license
Mr Cuming said another front in the battle to retain the wool industry’s social licence was education.
“The children that are coming through schools need to know what wool is really about, because the people who want to end this industry are already in the classroom; so we have to be there as well.
“So we are working very hard to fill the content for different educational platforms.”
He said 16,000 children around Australia registered for the Wool4School program last year.
“And they are all thinking about wool, they’re all feeling wool and thinking about how it would fit into a garment that they are designing.”
Wool4school has been launched in Hong Kong and will start in the United Kingdom later this year.
AWI also provided free educational wool kits for teachers in Australian primary and secondary schools who want to talk about “Australia’s national fibre”, Mr Cuming said.
He said the 2017 National Merino Challenge will start in Melbourne in a couple of weeks, on May 27 and 28. AWI had many programs for young people to get involved in if they wanted to be wool growers. AWI was also working with universities in China to train the next generation of textile specialists, he said.
Mr Cuming said AWI was also strengthening the wool industry’s social licence through research, development and extension. This included flystrike research, wild dog control, shearer training, the LifetIme Ewe Management program and development of mulesing pain relief options.
He said he felt offended and annoyed when activists attacked the community’s trust in the wool industry and its social license.
“The best way to describe what social licence is to show what it looks like when it is under pressure, when it’s on the line.
“And when you hit the back of buses in capital cities you know you are in trouble.”
Every wool grower should be a welfare activist
Mr Cuming said every farmer in Australia should be an animal welfare activist.
“We all want the best for our animals.”
But what we also need to differentiate from that is animal rights activists and we know who they are.”
Mr Cuming said “social licence through provenance” is a buzz-word at the moment.
“The world is wanting to know where their food is coming from, wanting to know where their fibre is coming from.
“This is a great opportunity for us because no-one has a better story to tell than we do – this industry has the best story to tell,” he said.
“I have to say I am just so proud to talk about it and do it as well and we all need to more of it.”
He said AWI was promoting wool’s story of sustainability, renewability, biodegradability and provenance through advocates, such as actors Naomi Watts and Isabel Lucas, footballers Nat Fyfe, Tom Hawkins, Bernie Vince and Hamish McLachlan and the Woolmark Prize winners.
The wool industry was also strengthening its social license through the use of wool in active wear, he said.
Mr Cuming said he loved showing growers an Adidas running top designed by British designer Stella McCartney, the daughter of vegetarian parents; former Beetle Paul McCartney and the late Linda McCartney, a musician, photographer and animal rights activist.
“I love it because her father is the most famous vegan in the world.”