Following months of deliberations, the Australian Wool Exchange has decided not to make any changes to the National Wool Declaration’s (NWD) current definitions for non-mulesed and mulesed wool.
The National Wool Declaration (NWD) is the standardised declaration method for Australia that applies to all breeds of sheep and enables woolgrowers to promote their animal welfare practices to wool exporters, processors and retailers.
The push to add a new category to the NWD form began with a review by AWEX in May last year. The NWD is a signed declaration by growers about the mulesing status, as well as the dark and medullated fibre risk, of wool.
The decision by the Exchange now means wool from sheep that have had their breeches modified with the freeze branding process will now be defined as ‘non-mulesed,’ despite the opposition of non-mulesed wool growers, animal welfare bodies and some brands and processors.
However, AWEX says it is seeking further information on the Animal Welfare trials being undertaken on this procedure to allow “an informed decision” to be made.
“The next review will be conducted when the trials are complete or in 12 months, whichever is sooner,” it says.
Mulesing, a practice unique to Australia, involves cutting large chunks of skin and flesh from the rear ends of merino sheep, often without any pain relief, in an attempt to prevent maggot infestations known as flystrike.
Global animal protection organisation Four Paws quoted a You Gov opinion poll last October that found almost 50% of Australians, who are aware of animal cruelty issues within fashion supply chains, are concerned about mulesing.
Peak grower body WoolProducers Australia welcomed what it says is a “common sense approach” by AWEX.
“The reality is, there was not the relevant information to make such a decision,” says WoolProducers CEO Jo Hall. “WoolProducers provided written submissions into the various phases of the review process, strongly rejecting any change to the definition of mulesing and non-mulesing categories and calling for a delay in making any decision until all of the information was known.
“For any organisation to make a decision at this point in time to change the non-mulesing definition, would not only have been premature but also reckless as there simply was not enough information available to make an informed decision. The current usage rates for Sheep Freeze Branding (SFB) are very low and therefore the volume of SFB wool that may be declared through the NWD would be immaterial.”