Wool Processing

Proposed wool declaration changes generate mixed reaction

Terry Sim January 22, 2020

Sheep freeze branding developer Dr John Steinfort’s joint venture company opposes the proposed NWD changes.

MORE opposition and some support for proposed changes to mulesing status definitions on Australia’s National Wool Declaration has emerged as an industry consultation period continues.

The industry’s peak grower body WoolProducers Australia, the company promoting the mulesing alternative sheep freeze branding and Italian topmaker Claudio Lacchio have stated their opposition to NWD mulesing status changes proposed by the Australian Wool Exchange.

The National Wool Declaration allows wool growers to declare their flock’s mulesing status, and its dark and medullated fibre (DMFR) risk, to wool exporters, processors and retailers. NWD details are converted by the wool handling agent into a recognised mulesing status and/or DMFR code included in sale catalogues and test certificates.

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.

WoolProducers chief executive officer Jo Hall said WPA has written to AWEX “strongly rejecting” the proposed NM1 and NM2 categories.

“We are concerned that the addition of these categories will cause immense confusion amongst not only growers, but also along the supply chain.”

The current mulesing definition specifies the removal of skin from the breech and/or tail of a sheep using mulesing shears. Sheep freeze branding is being touted as a potential alternative to surgical mulesing, but is going through independent pain assessment trials.

Ms Hall said there is a long-standing and accepted definition of mulesing in Australia and WPA believes if another procedure does not meet this definition then it should simply be defined as ‘non-mulesed.’

“WoolProducers are asking that there is no change to the non-mulesing status on the NWD until at least the pain assessment trials on sheep freeze branding are completed.

“Any change to this approach would be a shifting of the goal posts for our industry that will essentially mean millions of (research) dollars have been wasted,” she said.

“WoolProducers is keen to listen to our customers in the supply chain, but is not interested in the views of activist groups whose aim is to shut down livestock production.”

WoolProducers is also concerned adoption of split ‘non-mulesed’ definitions on the NWD — including any form of breech modification — could potentially lead to other husbandry procedures, such as tail docking, being included in this definition.

She said the current mulesing definition refers to the ‘breech and/or tail’, but if there is a concession for procedures that don’t use mulesing shears to be declared, it cannot be guaranteed that tail docking would not need to be declared in the future.

“This is a path that WoolProducers do not want to go down,” Ms Hall said.

Sheep freeze branding company opposes NWD changes

Sheep freeze branding developer Victorian veterinarian Dr John Steinfort last year joined with wool broker and marketer Australian Wool Network to form AgVet Innovations, to develop and promote the liquid nitrogen application process.

AgVet Innovations general manager Stuart Blair told Sheep Central the company will be making a submission to AWEX supporting no change to the definition of non-mulesed on the NWD, “as per the ISAC recommendation”.

“Removing complexity from the NWD to ensure declarations can be completed correctly is in the best interest of producers and the supply chain.

“We hold concerns that any changes to the NWD which call for more specific details of management practices may bring scrutiny to standard sheep husbandry methods,” Mr Blair said.

‘Big concern’ over proposed NM changes

Italian Wool Trade Association board member and topmaker Claudio Lacchio said the IWTA will make a formal submission to AWEX on the proposed NWD changes, but there is “a big concern” about the proposed different categories of NM.

“From the perspective of the consumer I guess, NM wools should only be those coming from untreated animals.

“Instead, sheep whose breech area has been treated with an alternative method such as intradermal injections or clips or liquid nitrogen, should not be considered NM, in my opinion,” he said.

“There is a potential danger for NM2 to create confusion and give misleading signals to the market, and above all to the final users, something we should try and avoid straight from the beginning.

“Also worth to note that there is still, at this end, some uncertainty on how the Australian law could consider liquid nitrogen for example,” he said.

“But even if it may “legally” fall within the NM category, I firmly believe it should be seen and treated more from a marketing and ethical point of view, therefore with a new category for the alternative methods indicated in the catalogue, without calling them NM though.”

Mr Lacchio said he also believed that wool from mulesed sheep treated with pain relief should be considered as AA only if the sheep have been treated with an analgesic and an anaesthetic, not and/or pre and post-operation.

“If this recommendation is not met, I trust these wools, same as PR, will not be able to attract any premium.”

Growers divided on proposed NWD changes

South Australian non-mulesed Merino wool grower at Kingston Deane Goode said Australia’s lack of decisions on mulesing was driving buyers away from its wool. He said “watering down” the definition of non-mulesed wool on the NWD with the proposed NM1 and NM2 categories would not help.

“But it’s what the buyers and the brands think on this that matters, not the opinions of growers.”

However, Victorian wool grower Andrew Farran said in a comment on Sheep Central that WoolProducers Australia is wrong to oppose the AWEX proposal to add a NM2 category to the NWD.

“To say it might cause confusion is a bit weak, when NM2 is clearly defined, as it will be.”

Mr Farran believed the objective of the NWD is to discourage mulesing, while recognising that the industry by and large has not reached the point of abolition without an effective alternative.

“The road to an effective alternative is not straight, but in the meantime there are evolving measures in that direction which allow growers to stop mulesing or greatly reduce its incidence. Liquid nitrogen is such a measure.

“It does not involve mulesing so it is not mulesing and if used exclusively of mulesing, then it can be asserted logically that the grower has ceased mulesing,” he said.

Mr Farran said although the question as to whether freeze branding’s liquid nitrogen-based process has not been concluded.

“In any event, a grower that applies pain relief in conjunction with liquid nitrogen should meet reasonable requirements.

“The new category of NM 2 should be supported,” he said.

“It can be expected to discourage mulesing without complicating consequences for growers or the market.”

AWEX is seeking feedback on new NWD draft version 8.0 by the close of business Friday January 31, 2020. The proposal and draft NWD v8.0 can be accessed though the AWEX website here.

Submissions must be in writing and include the name and address of the author/organisation. Emails are welcome and encouraged to ensure submissions are received by the closing date. Feedback is to be returned by COB 31 January 2020 to Mark Grave, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Wool Exchange Limited by email: [email protected] or by post: PO Box 651, North Ryde, NSW 1670.


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  1. Donald Cameron, February 20, 2020

    The word “mulesing” entered the English language circa 1929.
    For the sake of the wool industry, please let us pray that this practice finishes before 2029.

  2. Deane Goode, January 23, 2020

    The mules operation was developed in 1929 and in 1940 the Joint Blowfly Committee recognized that ” The Mules operation must not be regarded as an alternative to breeding towards plain breeched sheep”.
    As a consequence of the success of mulesing on the breech, Merino producers have generally retained the skin exactly the opposite of the recommendations for the last umpteen decades.
    Genetically, if you take the skin off the breech you will take it off the body, which is a good result for all.
    The use of these modifications will only mask the evidence and the end result will be similar to the mulesing result.
    There will still be wrinkly sheep in Australia as there will be little incentive to fix them.
    These alternative practices must not be allowed to be called non-mulesed. There are growers that have genetically refined their sheep to not need to mules or use topical chemicals to stop flystrike. This is the gold standard. Those that don’t start now will soon be severely disadvantaged.
    in the marketplace.
    From my goss within a couple of years those that are still mulesing will be price takers on all of their products including wool, meat and skins and there will be a huge disparity on the comparable prices compared with NM.

  3. Jim Gordon, January 23, 2020

    Great comments Mr Deane Goode. The only question that needs to be asked is: How would the trade like the NWD laid out? Heed the comments made by IWTA board member, Mr Claudio Lacchio. The trade is trying to tell us. They prefer non-mulesed wool. They are not interested in any form of breech wrinkle removal, pain relief etc.
    Wool producers have to focus on making it easier for the trade to sell wool. I am aware that we are selling the whole Australian wool clip at the moment; however, one can sell most things at a price.
    Mr Andrew Farran, I am sorry, I think the road is very straightforward. The wrinkle has to be bred off sheep, especially around the breech area. Wrinkle removal, in any form is a welfare issue; however, the big issue is harvesting wool fibres that are all the same length. This is very difficult on a wrinkly sheep.
    The growth area in the apparel market for wool is in next-to-skin wear and women’s fashion. The need for high quality yarn is paramount — with fibres that are very uniform, length, micron, comfort, etc.
    AWEX, put in place in the NWD what the trade want. Please leave the politics and self-interest out of the decision making.

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