Sheep sustainability progress, but more non-mulesed wool needed

Sheep Central, May 12, 2023

FOUR PAWS Rebecca Picallo Gil with AWI program manager Geoff Lindon at AWI’s Animal Welfare Forum this week.

AUSTRALIA’S second annual Sheep Sustainability Framework report has shown improvements across several indicators, but also that the industry is not meeting some expectations for non-mulesed wool production.

The 2023 sustainability scorecard for Australian sheep and wool industry is being launched at an invitation-only event at Anlaby Station in South Australia.

The report is recognised as revealing the broadest range of data to date on the performance of the Australian wool and sheep meat industry.

A SSF release today said the report shows directional improvements across 18 indicators with eight indicators holding steady. These include industry net emissions having fallen steadily over the reporting period, an increase in Australia’s share of global wool and sheep meat exports, and a lift in the percentage of Australians who believe lambs are farmed and raised in a humane manner – from 53 percent to 55pc.

The report also shows that there has been an increase in non-mulesed/ceased-mulesed declared Merino and non-Merino wool in the past year. The percentage of declared non-mulesed/ceased mulesed bales offered at auction has risen to 15.8pc for Merino clips and to 40.1pc from non-Merino flocks.

The reports also shows that the National Producer Survey in 2022 indicated that 52pc of Merino growers, and 8pc of non-Merino producers, mulesed their flock in 2021.

However, this is not nearly enough for lead wool campaigner Rebecca Picallo Gil for the global animal welfare body FOUR PAWS, who attended Australian Wool Innovation’s Animal Welfare Forum this week to present an updated open brand letter calling for an end to mulesing. She was unaware the SSF Annual Report was being launched today.

Ms Picallo Gil said the updated letter list 66-plus brands that have moved to the use of certified non-mulesed wool use, have partly transitioned away from the use of wool from mulesed sheep and committed to a transition.

She said some of the textile brands are struggling to get sufficient non-mulesed wool because the Australian industry is not moving fast enough.

Ms Picallo Gil said some of the brands have mentioned that it is hard for them to get regular supplies of non-mulesed wool despite making transition commitments.

In AWI’s Wool 2030 Strategy under its Pillar 1 – ‘Caring for our animals and the environment’, one goal is that: “Growers have the confidence and tools to manage flystrike without mulesing.”

However, Ms Picallo Gil said at the current rate of progress the AWI strategy goal would not be achieved and FOUR PAWS would like to see more funding of workshops encouraging uptake of non-mulesed wool production through the genetic solution.

She said the forum showed that the genetic solution was being acknowledged more “which has not always been the case,” but wanted a greater appreciation that “mulesing is not part of the toolbox anymore.”

Led by Sheep Producers Australia and WoolProducers Australia, the SSF was launched in 2021, with the first annual report released a year later, containing 58 indicators under four themes: Caring for Our Sheep; Enhancing the Environment and Climate; Looking after Our People, Our Customers, and the Community; and Ensuring a Financially Resilient Industry.

SSF Sustainability Steering Group chair, Dr Scott Williams, said the annual report had made notable gains in its reporting capacity over the past year, with a range of new information being added in 2023, including 25 new baseline data points in the latest iteration.

“When we launched the inaugural annual report in 2022 just over half of the indicators were reported with data,” Dr Williams said.

“Today, 91 percent of our indicators are reported with data and we are on track for 100 per cent next year.

“These metrics allow us to determine directional changes over time, highlight our successes, identify areas for improvement and demonstrate the sustainability credentials of one of Australia’s most important industries,” he said.

Other SSF highlights

One of the key priorities of the Framework is to reduce the industry’s net greenhouse gas emissions. The CSIRO reports net emissions generated from Australian sheepmeat and wool production in the latest reporting period (2020) was 9.49Mt CO2e, down from 10.21Mt CO2e in 2019 and 11.39Mt CO2e in 2018.

The percentage of producers who have completed the six-day Lifetime Ewe Management training with AWI, a program of best practice adoption, has increased to 9.4pc of all AWI-eligible wool levy payers (up from 8.09pc).

Other highlights include that sheep mortality on ships during export has declined to 0.14pc, investment in wool research, development and adoption has increased 18.5pc to $32.7m. Australia’s value share of global sheep meat exports has risen to 45pc and for global wool exports to 75.5pc.

The percentage of sheep-grazing land achieving 50pc ground cover is holding steady at 62.2pc. Australia continues to be declared free from 12 major diseases and 91pc of producers use vaccinations to prevent disease and protect their flock. About half of sheep producers generate and use renewable energy.

What are the challenges

The latest report shows there have been directional declines in research, development, and adoption investment in sheep meat, and the gross value of agricultural production for both sheep meat and wool and an increase in the number of serious injury workers’ compensation claims.

Independent chair of the SSF board and sheep producer, Lucinda Corrigan, said each annual report was an expression of the commitment to continuous improvement across the industry.

“One of the most important functions of the annual report is to bring transparency to our industry and identify areas where we need to improve.

“We have a duty to our people, our animals and our consumers to strive for excellence in sustainability and continue to affirm the Australian industry’s position as among the best in the world,” she said.

Today’s official launch of the 2023 annual report will bring together sheep meat and wool stakeholders and feature a panel discussion on customer expectations of sustainability from the red meat and apparel industries, facilitated by Dr Scott Williams.

For more information, read the 2023 SSF Annual Report online here.


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