After a lengthy public consultation by the Australian Wool Exchange, their National Wool Declaration (NWD) has failed to provide much needed transparency for the non-mulesed wool category in an update of its integrity program announced on Friday. Buyers looking to purchase the increasingly popular non-mulesed (NM) wool category for its animal welfare benefits will be unfairly disadvantaged. It will be impossible to distinguish between wool from sheep that have never had to undergo a breach mutilation versus wool from sheep that undergo freeze mulesing, a breech mutilation using liquid nitrogen to scar the skin, which the Non-Mulesed category will now allow for.

During the final stage of the consultation Humane Society International Australia welcomed what was a proposed ‘Alternative Method’ or AM category which would have appropriately separated those using alternative means such as freeze mulesing, clips or Skintraction from the non-mulesed category. In the final scheme announced on Friday, the AM category has now been dropped.

“Lumping ‘freeze mulesing’ into the Non Mulesing NM category muddies things for ethical consumers looking to avoid painful breach mutilations.

“It is very disappointing that AWEX have rejected strong calls for more transparency during the NWD review process.They have blown an opportunity to provide much needed clarity to buyers and retailers,” said Georgie Dolphin, HSI Australia Program Manager for Animal Welfare.

“NM wool should strictly come from sheep that have not been subjected to any form of breech modification, and the proposed AM category would have offered a good solution,” Ms Dolphin continued.

A growing number of retailers are taking notice of consumer concerns over animal welfare and introducing policies to move away from mulesed wool in their product offerings. Had the AM category been introduced then the NWD would have been a valuable tool to help buyers, but given the final outcome it will be of no help at all.  They will now need to look to the other assurance schemes such as the Textile Exchanges’ Responsible Wool Standard, New Merino and ZQ Merino for a guarantee instead. 

Ms Dolphin says, “HSI supports a transition to selective breeding of plain-bodied sheep to mitigate flystrike and avoid mulesing and other breach mutilations. This is a viable and humane long-term solution. The results of the animal welfare trials on liquid nitrogen will not alter the fact that freeze mulesing is still an unnecessary breech mutilation, so it should not be allowed to share the premium non-mulesed status of the NWD.”

“Mixing non-mulesed wool with wool from freeze branded sheep is unfair to the hundreds of producers who have made the effort to transition their flocks to a fully non-mulesed status using selective breeding”.

Further, a new AA (Analgesic and/or Anaesthetic) category replaces the former PR (pain relief) category which could also cause confusion. If AA is circled then buyers may assume the sheep were administered with both pre-and post-procedure analgesia, where in fact they may only have received one or the other, experiencing considerable pain.

“HSI thinks AWEX should go back to the drawing board and develop a more transparent scheme that buyers and consumers can rely on,” concluded Ms Dolphin.

Out of the Ashes Prime Minister signals leadership on wildlife trade to prevent pandemics