GIVING consumers reasons not to buy wool, despite the fibre’s positives, only succeeds in reducing global wool consumption, especially from Australia, according to Australian exporter leader Matt Hand.
As PETA’s launches an anti-wool Christmas campaign and after comments suggesting mulesing was only a Northern Hemisphere issue, and pain relief messaging was becoming “easier” and its use should be optional, Sheep Central has collected other views on wool and welfare.
Meanwhile, the Australian Wool Exchange this week released statistics indicating market premiums for non-mulesed wool might be affecting grower views and National Wool Declaration rates.
Mr Hand is president of the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors and said although he was unaware of any statistical data, there is a general trade perception that, because Australia is regarded as a mulesing country, it had lost its wool price premium to equivalent wool types from New Zealand, South Africa and South America.
Read the analyses by Mecardo analyst Andrew Woods in the links below, which indicate:
– the decline in Australian Merino production and the emergence of demand for non-mulesed wool, the importance of other sources of Merino wool such as South Africa, New Zealand and South America has increased, and;
“Today’s reality is that non-mulesed (NM) demand is stronger than ever before,” Mr Hand said.
“It is abundantly clear that orders for apparel wool types often bypass Australia, reverting to regions considered by consumers to offer a more secure supply of NM & CM,” he said.
“Consumers globally are sending us a very clear message, one we shouldn’t choose to ignore.
“It’s a message that gives our industry direction and sets goals and targets to work towards. And it’s not a message we get to debate,” Mr Hand said.
“The reality is, our consumers are demanding non-mulesed wool, whether we agree or like it isn’t a consideration.”
Australia would struggle to supply enough non-mulesed wool – Kerin
At the 2019 Australian Wool Innovation annual general meeting AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough pushed back against a suggestion it do more on non-mulesed wool marketing.
Referring to an AWI overhead of collaborating brands, including David Jones, which is moving to exclusively non-mulesed wool sourcing, NSW wool grower and Merino breeder Nigel Kerin, noted that AWI was directing its marketing toward high-end brand customers. These are Millennials familar with social media and the internet — “the most socially aware savvy connected people that you could possibly want to market to, who are familiar with social media and internet,” he said.
“I struggle to see how you can supply enough wool into that market that is not mulesed.”
Mr Kerin suggested that Australia would lose that market because it won’t be able to supply enough non-mulesed wool, and said “a tipping point is coming very quickly with what’s acceptable in this social media-driven world that we live in, that we have no control over.”
“I’ve looked at all those companies there (on the AWI brand list) and I know there are none of them that would ever want to be associated with mulesing.”
Mr McCullough replied that he took Mr Kerin’s point, but said AWI worked to sell “all wool”.
“Every kilogram of wool sells every year, every kilogram is converted to garments every year, every garment sells every year, and wool prices have gone considerably up in the last nine years, so we have no doubt there is enough demand there,” Mr McCullough said.
All our wool is getting consumed and it is getting consumed at a higher price, probably not as high as it was last year, but not bad, and we expect that to continue.
“We market at the very pinnacle of the fashion triangle because fashion filters down and they are high value garments.”
He said AWI would never market wool to retailers such as Kmart, Target, Walmart and Cosco, but when the wool price went up they would move into polyester, sending peaks and troughs down the supply chain “into your pocket”.
He said he wanted to work with partners that have elasticity in their pricing to consumer wool at $15 a kilogram or $30 a kilogram – I don’t want to work with partners who are just in the space of $15-$16.”
“So I understand your point of view, or your statement there, we work to sell all wool, no section of wool, all wool’s good wool, whether they be locks, crutchings, dags, whatever; it’s all good, it all sells and it has value.”
Pressures on mulesing coming from the Northern Hemisphere – McCullough
In an interview with Farmonline after the AGM, see above, Mr McCullough said AWI accepted that there are some pressures from Northern Hemisphere retail partners on mulesing.
“But it’s a personal thing for wool growers and in the absence of a suitable cost-effective equally good alternative, wool growers will keep their sheep alive, which we encourage them to do.”
On the suggestion that AWI would need to work hard to educate Millennials on the realities of flystrike AWI chair Colette Garnsey said mulesing was “the best practice animal husbandry that we have today in those areas that require the procedure.”
“It’s best practice particularly when it is used with anaesthesia and analgesia – the market understands that, the market understands anaesthesia and analgesia, and they understand that it is the best practice.
“Farmers want to look after their animals, they are the best custodians of their animals and their land, and they will do what’s right for their animals,” she said.
“The messaging on that has become easier, as the messaging around anaesthesia and analgesia has become easier.”
Ms Garnsey’s pain relief comments were followed this week by president of the Australian Superfine Wool Growers Association Danny Picker reiterating support for Merino flock owners to decide individual best practice animal welfare for their flocks, even above the demands of the market.
However, about 90 percent of the world’s population resides in the Northern Hemisphere and world wool integrity schemes are increasing accrediting only non-mulesed wool and not wool from sheep mulesed with pain relief.
Global purchasing manager for Tianyu Wool, Angus Hooke, said there are some customers in Europe aware of pain relief, but in China domestically, awareness is very limited. Tianyu Wool is one of Australia’s largest buyers of wool and is China’s largest topmaker and scourer.
“For many brands in both regions (Europe and China) it is non-mulesed to start as minimum, and now there is the serious traction with RWS, ZQ and traceability stories.”
Jim Chiang at New Chuwa, one of the biggest woollen topmaking and spinning groups in China (Xinao Textiles), said if Chinese brands sell garments to Europe and the United States, they care about the mulesing issue.
“But the reality is that most of Chinese brands sell their garments only in China…so they do not care (about the) NM status of wool, instead, they care about what the young generations think and do marketing as the young consumers request.”
Compelling percentage of brands reside in the Northern Hemisphere
Mr Hand said he had heard the argument that mulesing issues in particular are isolated to the “Northern Hemisphere”.
“It’s a good point, especially when we consider that over 80pc of the worlds’ population resides in the Northern Hemisphere, that’s over 80pc of wool’s consumers.
“An extremely compelling percentage of brands, fashion designers, labels, manufactures, retailers and consuming decision-makers reside in the north, so every decision our industry makes should first consider how it will be received by our global client base, mostly existing in the Northern Hemisphere,” he said.
“So if it is a Northern Hemisphere problem, it’s a problem.
“It should be a great concern to us, because we can’t overlook the fact that our client base is predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere.”
Mr Hand said wool is the most environmentally-friendly fibre on the planet and is able to address every concern of today’s consumer with regard to environment, sustainability and traceability.
“It’s a fibre that delivers zero contribution to the growing concern of microplastics.
“The attributes of wool apparel make it the most appealing fibre to wear in any circumstance, sleep under, walk on and yet we are left with one ill-informed argument around mulesing.”
Mr Hand said regardless of perceived misinformation, Australia’s industry is always completely obliged to satisfy its global consumers.
“Giving consumers a reason not to buy wool, considering all of its positives, only succeeds in reducing global wool consumption.
“However, if we consider the alternative is that no reasonable argument exists to the contrary of buying and wearing wool, in this scenario and considering our current catastrophic climate, we simply would not be able to meet global demand.”
NWD declarations need to increase
Mr Hand said the current National Wool Declaration structure and usage largely fails to deliver significant enough non-mulesed figures.
“Declaration rates are not high enough and undeclared wool clips are automatically considered and can only be marketed as ‘mulesed’, even if many of these properties don’t practice mulesing due to the lack of necessity.
“If we can successfully increase overall usage of the NWD we will reflect a greater percentage of NM clips in Australia,” he said.
“The end goal is to tip the scales in our favour, to ultimately have Australia become considered globally as a Non-Mulesing origin.
“This would achieve the end goal, to give Australian wool growers free and full access to every wool market in the world, compete on a level playing field with other wool producing countries, and ultimately derive greater market health for our industry.”
In his weekly newsletter, executive director of the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers Chris Wilcox said the AWEX National Wool Declaration for the first half of the year showed that while wool volumes were down, the volumes of first-hand offered wool declared as Non-Mulesed and Ceased Mulesed have increased this season.