NEITHER Australia’s major wool industry bodies nor the Federal Government had planned to notify the nation’s grass roots growers of a Swiss proposal to label garments made from wool harvested from mulesed Merino sheep.
The motion by Swiss Group of Greens MP Aline Trede was proposed in March this year to Switzerland’s Federal Council to enable consumers to decide if they wanted to “give up buying wool obtained by inflicting great suffering on the animals.”
The Swiss Federal Council said in May this year it proposed to reject the motion and Australia’s government continues to monitor the situation.
However, the motion and a recent FOUR PAWS petition calling on brands to phase out mulesed wool are believed to have major implications for the Australian industry. They represent a significant tactical shift by mulesing opponents from market-based tracing of wool from non-mulesed sheep to focussed market and now regulatory discrimination against garments sourced from mulesed sheep.
Ms Trede’s motion makes no mention of Australian industry moves to mandate pain relief for mulesing, but instead claims that mulesed lambs have large areas of skin removed without anaesthesia and there are alternatives such as breeding sheep with less skin folds or resistance to fly larva infestation.
“Currently, almost 90 percent of Merino wool comes from Australia, of which 90 percent is obtained through mulesing.
“In many countries, mulesing has been banned for years. In New Zealand and South America this cruel method for animals is not practiced,” the motion says.
“There are international brands that distinguish mulesing free wool, such as Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), New Merino or Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). Swiss retailers would therefore be able to choose whether to switch to “mulesing free” wool or to declare that the goods they sell are ‘obtained with a production method prohibited in Switzerland’.”
The Swiss Federal Council said according to Swiss legislation on animal protection, mulesing would be a painful procedure that could only be performed with local or general anaesthesia.
“In the case in question, which concerns exclusively the wool of merino sheep, one wonders however if a new reporting obligation is necessary to improve consumer information or if the goal cannot be achieved even with less drastic measures (p. eg a positive voluntary declaration for Merino wool coming from sheep not subjected to the practice of mulesing).”
The Federal Council opted to reject the motion and wait for a report on the compulsory declaration on the production methods of food and other animal products that do not meet Swiss standards.
Wool bodies and government have known about motion for months
Sheep Central believes grower levy-funded marketing, research and development body Australian Wool Innovation, the Department of Agriculture and other wool industry leaders have known about the motion for months. It was only raised at AWI’s Wool Industry Consultative Panel this month, but some of the Australian wool industry bodies had not seen the full Swiss parliamentary motion until it was published by Sheep Central.
Sheep Central yesterday and this morning emailed all the major Australian wool industry bodies about the motion. This included Australian Wool Innovation, Wool Producers Australia, the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia, the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors, Wool Industries Australia, the Australian Wool Exchange and the Australian Wool Growers Association of Australia. Questions were also sent to the Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie and the Department of Agriculture.
However, all the major Australian wool bodies – AWI, WPA, NCWSBA, ACWEP, WIA and AWEX — up to this morning have refused to address issues such as notifying growers, industry implications or future strategies to counter mulesed wool garment discrimination.
An unidentified AWI spokesperson said that as a not-for-profit company, Australian Wool Innovation’s role is to invest in research and development, and marketing to increase the long-term profitability of Australian wool growers.
“There is no more important time to do this than now, in a time of drought.
“Peak industry body, Wool Industries Australia (WIA), chairman David Michell is best placed to provide you with information pertaining to Swiss Government policy on mulesed wool labelling.”
However, over the past week Mr Michell has refused to respond to Sheep Central calls about the Federation of Australian Wool Organisations recently changing its name to WIA and his daughter Emma this morning said: “If he hasn’t called you back, he won’t be … he’s on a plane to China.” WIA secretary Bianca Heaney said Mr Michell left mid-morning for China.
WoolProducers Australia chief executive officer Jo Hall said: “The industry has recently been made aware of this issue, which is currently being dealt with at a government-to-government level and industry will continue to provide advice as required.”
AWGA director Martin Oppenheimer said AWI, in the last two years has been “looking inward” and dealing with governance issues, while the industry was facing major international trade problems.
“So it’s no wonder that we have more problems than we have solutions for.
“And then you look at the longer term, where the non-leadership from AWI on animal welfare issues is there for all to see,” he said.
“They’ve made it clear that they didn’t want to talk about these issues and it has not worked and it will not work, and the industry is paying the price for it.”
He believed AWI has been aware of the motion for months.
RSPCA Australia senior scientific officer (farm animals) Melina Tensen said the Swiss motion to label garments as being from mulesed wool was further evidence that consumers are concerned about animal welfare in the wool industry, and want to see producers transition away from mulesing, or any other breach modification procedure.
“The RSPCA acknowledges that flystrike poses a significant animal welfare issue to sheep, and urges wool producers to invest in a long-term solution, specifically transitioning to sheep that are not susceptible to flystrike, to eliminate the need for any form of breech modification.
“This shift in consumer demand presents an opportunity for Australian wool producers to be proactive in transitioning to sheep which do not require mulesing as a protection from flystrike, a move which is both better for animal welfare, and which will allow producers to continue to supply an increasingly discerning market both in Australia and overseas,” she said.
Department of Agriculture aware of Swiss motion since April
A departmental spokesman said the Department of Agriculture became aware of the motion in April 2019.
“Since that time, the department has been engaged with the Swiss Government – discussions to date have been constructive.”
The spokesperson said the motion was put forward in the lower house of the Swiss Parliament.
“Following the motion, we understand that the Swiss Government proposed that the motion, as drafted, be rejected.
“The motion has not been dealt with by the lower house,” the spokesperson said.
“We understand that further consideration is being given in Switzerland to a range of animal welfare issues associated with the garment and accessories trade – not just mulesing and the production of wool.”
The spokesperson said the department has been providing updates to wool industry representative bodies and wool trade representatives.
“Updates will continue to be provided if and when needed.
“Officials from the department have discussed the motion with Swiss Government officials and relayed factual information about Australia’s animal welfare laws, regulations and industry practices as they relate to mulesing.”
This has included:
o that mulesing is accepted under the laws of Australia’s states and territories as it is considered the most effective single procedure for providing lifelong protection from breech flystrike, which is a significant animal health and welfare issue.
o the significant research and development investment that has been made on a range of alternative options to manage flystrike
o that when mulesing is conducted, the overwhelming majority of lambs are mulesed with pain relief
o that the National Wool Declaration (NWD) scheme provides a traceability and assurance system for the significant volumes of non-mulesed wool which are available to the international supply chain; and
o publicly available statistical breakdowns on wool production and export statistics including the proportion of the clip that has been declared under the NWD as non-mulesed, ceased-mulesed and mulesed with pain relief.
“The Australian Government has, and will continue to, advocate for the interests of Australia’s agricultural exports in international markets.”
The spokesperson said Australian Government officials posted overseas remain alert for potential policy changes that may impact on Australia’s export and domestic interests.
“It is equally important that the Australian wool industry does the same.”
The spokesperson said the Australian Government has, and will continue to, advocate for the interests of Australia’s agricultural exports in international markets, including supporting wool growers in their choice of best practice animal health and hygiene in flystrike control.
“The practice of mulesing, while a necessary husbandry practice in some management systems, has and will continue to evolve.
“It is important that the Australian wool industry proactively promotes the improvements made to farming practices, how practices are being replaced overtime and accurate statistics – including that the numbers of sheep requiring mulesing are being reduced as a proportion of the national flock,” the spokesperson said.
“It is also important that the wool industry considers these changes – and what marketing needs to be undertaken on behalf of the industry.
“The government notes that Wool Producers Australia and Sheep Producers Australia have policies that mandate pain relief for surgical mulesing.”
Click here to read the full Swiss motion.