Australia’s Merino sheep were originally smooth skinned, with no wrinkles or wool on their buttocks, but a breed was introduced in 1883 with folds of skin in order to yield more wool. This coincided with the arrival of a new fly species which, when coupled with our warm temperatures, resulted in a serious condition called ‘fly strike’. To counteract this problem, the cruel and unnecessary practice of ‘mulesing’ was developed by Mr John Mules in 1931 to reduce the incidence of fly strike.
Mulesing is a surgical procedure which involves slicing skin off the buttocks of sheep to scar it and eliminate wrinkles. It is deemed a cruel and unnecessary practice by many, but affects millions of Australian sheep every year.
Technology has come a long way since then and fortunately there is a genetic solution to this painful practice which could potentially revolutionise the Australian wool industry. Through genetic selection, smooth-bodied sheep with no wrinkles that are resistant to flystrike and produce impeccable, top quality wool can be bred, transforming the Australian wool industry within five years.
It’s vitally important that the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the industry’s chief body, gets behind smooth-bodied breeders so that this procedure can be ended. Consumers and international wool buyers are applying pressure to end mulesing misery.
Humane Society International has worked closely with the Responsible Wool Standard to improve welfare conditions for sheep around the world and we work with retailers both overseas and in Australia. Global retailers H&M, Marks & Spencer, Next, Target and Tesco have already 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 also made commitments to move away from or ban wool from mulesed sheep. Here in Australia many major retailers are already amending their Animal Welfare Policies and making time-bound commitments to source only non-mulesed wool including David Jones, Country Road Group, Kmart and Target. Luxury wool processers from Italy and other countries are increasingly rejecting mulesed Australian wool on welfare grounds.
Non-mulesed wool is expected to take more and more market share as consumers look to buy wool products not tainted by this cruel practice. Most Australian sheep are still subject to mulesing whilst the procedure is not common in other sheep farming countries and is illegal in most. HSI is campaigning for a commitment by the Federal Agriculture Minister to phase out mulesing and to promote smooth bodied sheep as the win-win solution for both industry and animal welfare. You can take action to call for an end to mulesing in Australia here.