AUSTRALIA’S wool integrity scheme SustainaWOOL has moved to accommodate a lack of market acceptance of sheep freeze branding as a ‘non-mulesed’ practice.
SustainaWOOL this month changed its grower declaration and is requiring scheme participants to declare which form of breech modification they apply.
The new declaration policy has applied since 1 October and follows wide industry discussion about whether freeze branding should be categorised as ‘non-mulesed’ on the Australian Wool Exchange National Wool Declaration.
After three rounds of consultation, the AWEX board in April unanimously agreed to maintain the NWD’s current definitions for non-mulesed and mulesed wool, which meant growers could nominate wool from freeze-branded sheep as non-mulesed on the NWD.
During this process, industry stakeholders opposed an AWEX suggestion that wool from sheep treated with an alternative breech modification method to mulesing be categorised on the NWD as AM – alternative method.
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 (surgical) mulesing shears. Freeze branding is not done with mulesing shears, but is still regarded by animal welfare bodies and some retailers and brands as a form of breech modification.
SustainaWOOL program manager Dr Paul Swan said the new declaration requirement followed a detailed consultation process with supply chain partners in April-May, and subsequent discussion with the SW Consultative Committee made up of SWIS growers and supply chain partners.
Referring to University of Melbourne research into whether there is any pain associated with SFB, Dr Swan said SustainaWOOL had taken a view that it would be prejudicial to assign SFB to a classification “in the absence of the science.”
Dr Swan said the strong feedback from the supply chain partners was that they wanted to know what breech modification practice had been applied. Additional questions had been added to the annual SustainaWOOL supplier declarations and growers will be required to declare which of their NWD-declared NM lots have been from freeze-branded sheep and this will be included on a weekly audited lot offering report for buyers.
“We are not being prejudicial or judgmental, our supply chain partners would like to be informed and we think that is the appropriate thing to.
“We’ve clarified it so that the market can be informed.”
He said the new declaration requirement was in keeping with the wishes of the people who purchase the wool and were SustainaWOOl partners.
Dr Swan said the wool lines from flocks using sheep freeze branding (SFB) will remain eligible for SWIS certification.
“However, we will not classify these as BLUE (mulesed with pain relief) or GREEN (non-mulesed or ceased mulesed), as it would be presumptuous to do so before the welfare science is in.
“Rather, we will adjust our private audited lot offering report supplied to our supply chain partners at the start of the sale week to indicate which of the NM lots on offer come from SFB-applying farms.”
Dr Swan said this will not disadvantage those growers adopting this technology: wool from SFB-treated sheep will still be able to be classified as NM/CM and identified as SWIS-certified in the wool sale catalogue and data transmissions.
“However, it will allow us to keep our SWIS supply chain partners informed as to where SFB has been applied, in keeping with their expressed wishes.
“These changes are in keeping with our abiding principles of mutually beneficial communication between our growers and supply chain partners built around trust and transparency, and shared commitment to grow demand for Australian wool,” he said.
Dr Swan said SustainaWOOL is a market information program separate from the AWEX NWD.