Opinion: Humane Society International calls for AWI action on mulesing

Humane Society International’s head of campaigns, Nicola Beynon., December 8, 2017

INTERNATIONAL wool buyers are starting to shun Australian wool on animal welfare grounds because our sheep continue to be mulesed.

This year there have been reports of reputable wool processors turning to other countries over our inability to make progress on the mulesing issue.

Humane Society International has been working with companies like H&M and other global retailers who have made commitments to move away or ban wool from mulesed sheep on welfare grounds.

Marks & Spencer, Next, Target and Tesco and global brands Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Hugo Boss, Kerring, Nike and Timberland have also made commitments to move away from or ban wool from mulesed sheep.

For our organisation, the holy grail of campaigning is to find those ‘win-win’ solutions where animals and industry both get a positive out of it. It leaves us dismayed to know a win-win solution for wool growers and sheep is within reach to end mulesing if it weren’t for vested interests getting in the way.

Those vested interests were laid bare in Senate Estimates on October 24 this year. Under fierce questioning from several senators, Wal Merriman, chairman of Australian Wool Innovation, was forced to admit financial interests in ownership of a wrinkly type of Merino sheep that requires mulesing and the financial interests of other board members in the pain relief given to sheep once the procedure takes place.

Whilst there is a push within industry to ensure sheep are given pain relief if they are subject to mulesing, these calls must not stand in isolation to a broader push to phase-out the practice completely. After all, the pain relief used in mulesing has been shown to be ineffective and it is often applied after the operation has been done. That’s a shocking insight that the public should be aware of.

We’re certain that if consumers are exposed to the real truth of mulesing and the cruelty-free yet profitable solution available to the industry, then you can expect them to be up in arms that it’s still taking place with the full blessing of AWI.

It’s equally astounding that AWI had a deadline of 2010 to end mulesing, but that date came and went and the industry body still has done nothing to keep up with global consumer expectations.

Mr Merriman told senators AWI did not meet what he termed the “supposed” deadline to phase out mulesing because research didn’t support it. He made this claim despite the proven genetic solution which prevents fly strike and the need for mulesing altogether.

Fly strike is a terrible animal welfare problem, but the best solution is not to cut off the rear ends of sheep but the introduction and breeding of smooth bodied sheep which are resistant to all forms of fly strike.

Why wouldn’t industry leaders seize on this solution and put an end to both fly strike and mulesing? Not only do smooth-bodied sheep produce top quality wool, but they produce it in the same or better fleece weights as the wrinkly sheep that are prone to fly strike. Smooth-bodied sheep also do not require chemical treatment to prevent body strike, and are easier to shear as their skin is free of wrinkles.

Industry estimates show that smooth-bodied sheep are producing 7 percent of the country’s wool. This figure can only be expected to grow as buyers and consumers look to purchase their wool free from cruelty.

The Australian Wool Exchange released figures recently showing premiums for non-mulesed wool are on the rise. The good news is that when market dictates something, industry will surely follow. AWI cannot dig in its heels any longer and ignore the push away from mulesing. The Australian wool industry is what’s at stake.

Source: Humane Society International. 


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  1. Nicola Beynon, December 13, 2017

    Hi Tim, you will see in a close read of my opinion piece Humane Society International isn’t actually calling for a national ban on mulesing. We certainly want to see an end to it, but what we’re calling for is leadership and support from AWI and governments to help the industry transition away from wrinkly breeds that need to be mulesed and work through the issues Glenn refers to. We are also talking to the major retailers about adopting policies against mulesing to help incentivise that shift. The surest way for industry to avoid regulation being imposed is to get on the front foot themselves. Otherwise regulation will be necessary and the public will demand it.

  2. Glenn Phillip Nix, December 11, 2017

    Ash and if you did not shear twice yearly what would happen? Not every one has your cold temperatures or altitude. It’s a battle to get shearers once a year as it is. A WA September day of 36 degrees and good luck to those non-mulesed animals not soaked in jetting fluid.

  3. Tim Mort, December 11, 2017


    The last two paragraphs are your most important and what I would’ve liked you to have focused more on. Overburdening regulation is not the answer to this problem, so I refuse to accept your argument for banning the practice of mulesing. In my opinion, the only solution is for the supply chain to place a value on garments that are from non-mulesed sheep, which in turn should place a higher value on non-mulesed wool in the auction room. Once this occurs, you will find that producers will start switching to genetics that don’d need mulesing, or other animal husbandry techniques which minimise the likelihood of fly strike.

  4. Ash Penfold, December 10, 2017

    Arcadia Merinos is a family owned and operated SRS Merino sheep stud located in Harden, NSW. It’s an area considered by some as the heart of the NSW sheep belt. More wool is produced in this region than any other in Australia. Figuratively speaking, even though our smooth, thin-skinned Merinos produce the whitest of wools, they are ‘the black sheep’ dotted amongst the wrinkly, thick-skinned Merinos that dominate the surrounding countryside.
    So, why have we bucked the trend and established our stud in the midst of traditional Merino territory? Ultimately, we believe that the SRS Merino is far superior to its Merino counterparts for the reasons described below. But equally, it is imperative that we offer an alternative to our neighbouring sheep breeders and drive the ethical and sustainable change the Australian wool industry needs to remain competitive in global markets.

    Arcadia Merinos are productive, both in terms of wool and lambs. We produce high volumes of soft, lustrous, white wool. Shearing takes place twice yearly, with sheep averaging 6kg of 18.5 micron wool annually on unimproved native country. We consistently average 130 percent lambs at weaning. These production figures are important drivers of business success; ours and that of our commercial clients. By the same token, the well-being of our animals remains an utmost priority for us. Arcadia Merinos are challenged to thrive based on their own merits and are not continually subject to husbandry practices that serve only to mask inherent weaknesses.
    Arcadia Merinos are not mulesed. They do not need mulesing. Over the years, we have selected those sheep that are genetically disposed towards bare breeches. We believe that this is the only ethical alternative to mulesing. We go further and select bare-faced, plain-bodied sheep for their ability to resist body strike and eliminate wool blindness. Consumers can feel comfortable in both our soft handling wool and our ethical treatment of the sheep that produce it.

  5. Jim Watts, December 9, 2017

    In supplying non-mulesed Australian Merino wool to global markets, it is important to have win-win outcomes for the farmer, the sheep, the manufacturer, the retailer and the consumer.

    If Merino wool producers switch their breeding philosophy from deriving high fleece weight from a large skin surface area formed by wrinkle to a loose, thin skin without wrinkle (the smooth-bodied sheep), then non-mulesed Merino sheep and wool can be bred quickly and in great quantities throughout Australia.

    Sheep with loose, thin skin have a large skin surface area but no skin wrinkle. Hence mulesing is not required. The same sheep have more wool follicles producing longer wool fibres of greater uniformity than wrinkly, thick skinned sheep. So fleece weight can increase and the wool can become finer and better in quality and processing performance. The number of lambs weaned also increases and the smooth-bodied sheep are easier to shear.

    The genetic change in Merino skin type from wrinkly to smooth takes only 3 to 5 years. It is a rapid process but it requires zero tolerance to skin wrinkle in Merino ram selection. The starting ewe base is then easily transformed.

    Dating back to the 19th Century, there has been a widely held view among Merino breeders that wrinkle (or fold) is necessary for high fleece weight, and Merino sheep have been selected accordingly since this time. Despite Dr. Harold Carter and colleagues in 1937 demonstrated otherwise, and Dr. Belschner in 1937 demonstrated the negative impact of skin wrinkle on fleece rot and body strike. The debate was taken up by geneticists in the 1950s who set about declaring that wrinkle was a component of clean fleece weight. These wrong assumptions need to be excluded from Merino breeding programs.

  6. Glenn Phillip Nix, December 8, 2017

    Just got paid a record price, so the market signal I’m getting is we are are all good and the hippies can go pleasure themselves. Nicola go buy your own sheep stud if it’s all that easy and compete in the market place.

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