AWEX is maintaining silence on its position on sheep freeze branding as some Merino breeders mount a campaign opposing the procedure’s recognition as a ‘non-mulesed’ classification on the National Wool Declaration.
An email from the Queensland Merino breeders Mark and Vicki Murphy last week said they had heard that the issue of sheep freeze branding and a move to legalise it in the AWEX definition of “non-mulesed” would be discussed at an AWEX board teleconference last Friday.
Growers were urged to contact either AWEX or Wool Producers Australia if they wanted to comment on the issue before the teleconference.
“We strongly object to this being considered as a “non-mulesed” classification in the sale of wool and, therefore, on the National Wool Declaration.
“The industry needs to show clear and concise leadership on the definition of non-mulesing to the world and our customers, manufacturers and retail,” the Murphy email said.
“Any procedure undertaken is not ‘non-mulesed’.
“Auditing of such a practice for ‘Non-Mulesed’ status will be severely compromised and will affect our marketing of the Australian wool clip,” they said.
The Murphy email urged interested people to contact either AWEX or Wool Producers Australia if they wanted to comment.
Sheep freeze branding has been accepted by many Merino wool growers who see it as an alternative to surgical mulesing, but it has had mixed acceptance from some retailers and brands pending pain research. It is also not supported by some animal welfare groups and integrity schemes, such as the Responsible Wool Standard and New Merino, which regard it is a form of breech modification.
Wool from sheep treated with freeze branding and clips is currently categorised as ‘non-mulesed’ on the NWD, because 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.
Mr Murphy did not believe anyone could audit sheep flocks and tell the difference between an animal mulesed with shears or one treated with sheep freeze branding.
“That’s going to muddy the waters big time.
“The consumer will be all over it, there is no way in the world they will allow that to happen and we are the guinea pigs in it all.
“Those of us who have been out there producing sheep that don’t require mulesing are being held to ransom.”
No comment on Friday’s teleconference – Grave
AWEX chief executive officer Mark Grave would not comment on what was discussed at Friday’s teleconference meeting, except to say that the review of the NWD by AWEX’s Industry Services Advisory Committee is not complete.
However, Mr Grave had confirmed in an interview in August that the “pivotal” review – which has received 56 submissions – would consider the categorisation of sheep freeze branding on the NWD.
“(ISAC) Recommendations have been put forward to the board, that’s their job and that’s their role, but the review is not complete as yet,” Mr Grave said today.
He said he does not know when the NWD review will be complete.
“We just want to make sure that the review is thorough and like anyone, you want to make sure that the right decisions are made at the end of it.”
NWD credibility at risk – Oppenheimer
New South Wales Merino breeder Martin Oppenheimer believed if sheep freeze branding is categorised as ‘non-mulesed’ on the NWD “that will be the end of the NWD.”
“Already there is pressure on the whole non-mulesed sector, so it just means that we will all have to fall back on the Responsible Wool Standard or similar integrity program that actually means something.
“The NWD ‘non-mulesed’ certification won’t mean a thing, because if it has unacceptable practices in with acceptable practices – acceptable to some of our key customers.
“I fear that they (AWEX) are going to go to water on it,” he said.
He said if AWEX “gets confused” on its NWD ‘non-mulesed’ definition customers who want no breech modification will increasingly turn to buying wool from New Zealand and other countries that has non-mulesed certification under other systems.
Mr Oppenheimer believed that AWEX should not be making a determination on the status of freeze branding until planned pain profile research is finalised.
Sheep freeze branding no mulesing – WoolProducers
WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said the current definition of mulesing refers to ‘the removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears’.
“WoolProducers, therefore, believes that under the definition freeze branding is not mulesing.”
Ms Hall said the current definition of mulesing has been in existence since 2009 and is included in the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Sheep, which has been endorsed by all state and territory governments.
“Further to that definition, the Standards and Guidelines are explicit in stating that ‘Mulesing does not include nonsurgical approaches that deliver analogous outcomes for the sheep such as clips, intra-dermal injections of chemicals or other future, non-cutting technologies.’
“Given the length of time that this definition has been in place and the acceptance by both industry and government, WoolProducers does not see any need for a change in the mulesing definition.”