The trade body representing some of the world's largest apparel retailers is heading to Australia this week to discuss progress in ending the practice of mulesing of sheep.

Erik Autor, deputy vice president of the US-based National Retail Federation (NRF), is due to talks about the problem with 17 organisations representing woolgrowers, researchers, geneticists, animal welfare experts, wool brokers, processors and government.

The visit comes as retailers grow increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in introducing an alternative to mulesing, which involves the cutting away of flesh from the hindquarters of sheep to prevent blowfly infestation.

Animal rights groups have successfully campaigned to stop retailers and brands such as Next, Liz Claiborne, Abercrombie & Fitch, Timberland and H&M from using Australian wool.

And earlier this month a coalition of US clothing retailers warned the reputation of their brands was threatened by the lack of action to end mulesing.

Last year the trade group Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) agreed to phase out mulesing by 2010, but abandoned that commitment in July.

AWI acting CEO Stuart McCullough says it is vital that the wool industry continues to actively engage retailers.

"The prevention of flystrike continues to be AWI's number one research priority with over $25m spent on finding flystrike prevention alternatives in the last five years," he said.

Attempts to make wool supply and demand more transparent include the National Wool Declaration (NWD), which allows woolgrowers to declare their practices at sale and for the buyers of wool to send market signals up and down the wool pipeline.

The Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) will discuss with the NRF the importance of the National Wool Declaration (NWD) in providing transparency of supply and demand for wool buyers and sellers.

Mr McCullough also believes the greatest encouragement that could be sent to Australian woolgrowers is a price incentive for unmulesed wool in the auction system.

Many breeders are also working towards a genetic solution to the problem.