The holy grail of animal welfare campaigning is to find those ‘win-win’ solutions where animals and industry both get a positive out of it. Such a win-win solution for wool growers and sheep is within reach to end the cruel practice of mulesing if it weren’t for vested interests getting in the way.


Those vested interests were laid bare in Senate Estimates on 24th October. Under fierce questioning from several senators, Wal Merriman, Chair of Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), was forced to admit financial interests in ownership of a wrinkly type of Merino sheep that requires mulesing and the financial interests of other board members in the pain relief sold for use in mulesing.


Mulesing is cruel and 75% of Australian lambs bred for wool suffer this practice. It involves slicing off strips of wrinkled skin from lambs’ buttocks to produce stretched skin in order to prevent fly strike. The pain relief used has been shown to be ineffective and it is only applied after the operation has been done.


The Australian wool industry is facing a reputation crisis with international wool buyers turning away from our wool over the cruel practice of mulesing. Yet AWI failed to meet their 2010 deadline to end the practice.


75% of Australian lambs bred for wool must endure the cruel practice of mulesing. Image:


HSI agrees fly strike is a terrible animal welfare problem, but the best solution is the introduction of smooth bodied sheep which can be bred and are resistant to all forms of fly strike, and do not need to be mulesed.


Why wouldn’t industry leaders seize on this solution and put an end to both fly strike and mulesing?


The vested interests in the wrinkly (traditional) type of Merino sheep and pain relief exposed in Senate Estimates could explain why.


Merriman told senators AWI did not meet what he termed the “supposed” deadline to phase out mulesing because research didn’t support it. He made this claim is despite the proven genetic solution which prevents fly strike and the need for mulesing altogether.


Here are more truths:


  • Smooth bodied sheep produce top quality wool
  • Smooth bodied sheep produce wool in the same or better fleece weights as the wrinkly sheep that are prone to fly strike
  • Smooth bodied sheep do not require chemical treatment to prevent body strike, whereas wrinkly sheep do
  • Smooth bodied sheep are easier to shear as their skin is free of wrinkles
  • 1,200 wool growers have switched to smooth bodied sheep and are producing 7% of the country’s wool
  • It takes only three to five years to transform the genetics of a flock to smooth bodied sheep
  • An example of the smooth bodied sheep which does not require mulesing is SRS Merino
  • Global retailers H&M, Marks & Spencer, Next, Target and Tesco have made commitments to move away or ban wool from mulesed sheep on welfare grounds
  • Global brands Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Hugo Boss, Kerring, Nike and Timberland have made commitments to move away from or ban wool from mulesed sheep
  • The Australian Wool Exchange released figures yesterday showing premiums for non mulesed wool are on the rise
  • The global Responsible Wool Standard cannot be given to wool from mulesed sheep.
  • With the right leadership and support the Australian wool industry could transform to smooth bodied sheep within five years and stop mulesing nationwide


In addition to conflicts over mulesing, Merriman also came under sustained pressure from National, Liberal and Greens senators over his management of conflicts of interests, bullying behaviour and controlling votes to elect the board. Humane Society International thanks Senators McKenzie, O’Sullivan, Abetz and Rhiannon for their questioning.


Humane Society International is calling for Wal Merriman to resign, urgent reform to the AWI, a senate inquiry to properly examine the vested interests of AWI board members and for the Australian Government to show leadership and support the industry with an urgent phase out of cruel mulesing. Add your voice to our campaign by signing your name below. 



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