Wool Trade

Sheep freeze branding developer opposes latest NWD proposal

Terry Sim, February 26, 2020

Sheep freeze branding developer Dr John Steinfort

A PROPOSAL to describe sheep freeze branding as an ‘alternative method’ or AM on the National Wool Declaration does not have the support of the company promoting the breech process.

AgVet Innovations general manager Stuart Blair told Sheep Central that AWEX’s recent proposals on the issue were not encouraging investment in new alternatives to mulesing.

“We don’t agree with the AM category and we will be making a submission accordingly.

“It is not the correct outcome for emerging technology that is providing a solution to an issue that was to have been phased out 10 years ago,” he said.

Dr Steinfort with his freeze branding apparatus.

Freeze branding developer John Steinfort said the AM category would exclude the process from the NM or non-mulesed category.

“We have always viewed sheep freeze branding as a transitional pathway for both mulesed and non mulesed categories of sheep.

“To then exclude sheep freeze branding from this non mulesed category, destroys this transitional pathway with resultant industry stalemate and standstill,” he said.

“The opportunity is for wool producers to utilise the sheep freeze branding process as a support tool for wool growers in the breech health management of their flocks.

“A move away from NM category destroys the transitional pathway and offers no incentive for future innovations,” he said.

“I think all stakeholders agree that sheep freeze branding is a non-mulesing process by the Australian definition (of mulesing with shears), so it needs to stay there, but define it as a process.

“That allows for all other NM processes, including any future processes that are non-cutting, ie. non-surgical, to be included,” he said.

“We would like to see the non-mulesed status quo maintained for the sheep freeze brand process and then further validated  once the university behavioural and physiological studies are completed.”

Mr Blair was concerned that adoption of an AM category on the NWD could drive growers back to surgical mulesing.

He said AgVet Innovations is focussed on achieving an outcome that improves animal welfare.

“We want a decision (from AWEX) that supports that.”

The Australian Wool Exchange last week circulated an update proposing that wool from sheep treated with an alternative breech modification method to mulesing be categorised on the NWD as AM – alternative method.

The latest attempt at describing wool from sheep treated with mulesing alternatives on the NWD has been circulated to the 161 submitters to the second round of consultation, with comments required by February 28.

AWEX had previously suggested that the current NM category be broken up into:

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.

In the current NWD version, wool from sheep treated with freeze branding – a liquid nitrogen application method – is regarded by AWEX as coming from a non-mulesed source. Some sectors of the wool industry support this because the Australian definition of mulesing refers to the use of shears, which are not used in sheep freeze branding. However, AWEX has said other sectors of the market perceive and value non-mulesed or NM as wool coming from sheep that have not been mulesed or had any alternative method (to mulesing) applied.

Feedback/submissions on the latest NWD draft must be received by the close of business on Friday 28 February 2020. Submissions must be in writing and include the name and address of the author/organisation. Emails are preferred and encouraged to ensure submissions are received by the closing date.

Feedback and enquiries can be sent to Mark Grave, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Wool Exchange Limited, (02) 9428 6110, email [email protected], address PO Box 651, North Ryde, NSW 1670.

Click here to see the latest proposed NWD draft.


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  1. Deane Goode, February 27, 2020

    Why do you all insist that any sheep that has had any type of breech modification be called non-mulesed when the customers all insist that their clients don’t want wool from these sheep? They insist on genuine non-mulesed wool. We have to provide them with what they want.
    Non-mulesing is wool from a sheep that hasn’t been modified. End of story.

    • Andrew Farran, February 28, 2020

      All very well, but that is not the accepted definition. If you bought a car that drives on petrol and later bought another that drives on diesel, they would both be cars, regardless of the modification. You wouldn’t be required to buy or use the diesel one. It would be a valid option.

  2. Andrew Farran, February 27, 2020

    I disagree. My comment is motivated wholly by animal welfare considerations.

  3. Paul Favaloro, February 27, 2020

    This debate is more about wording rather than animal welfare. Hundreds of years ago I suggest, the words ‘Alternative Method’ were not considered. There would be more sheep with body strike without chemical treatment regardless of mulesing method. Millions of dollars have been spent denying that a thin skin plain body is fly-resistant. The current sheep industry is not reliant on just wool. AWEX is responding to market signals and calling it as it is. Well done, for protecting our market.

  4. Andrew Farran, February 26, 2020

    The mulesing issue has two complementary, but opposite facets; concern in the market place over cruelty to sheep regardless of the larger purpose of preventing fly strike, and on the other side, providing wool growers with the means of addressing the fly strike issue without resort to mulesing — thereby avoiding ‘blood and pain’.

    A treatment of the latter type can stand alone without regard to mulesing. It is neither mulesing nor a sub-category of mulesing. Mulesing is, as is frequently explained, the removal of skin from the breech by the use of surgical shears. Freeze branding is not mulesing. So why should the NWD categorise in respect of sheep that have been mulesed that they have not been subject to any alternative treatment?

    Why exclude alternatives if clearly they do not involve mulesing? To do so muddies the waters deeply and is illogical.

    Those who oppose this approach would prefer to subject their sheep to further decades of pain and suffering rather than offering them a treatment that involves neither blood nor pain and which at the same time would alleviate market concerns about mulesing .

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