Can we change the face of Australia’s wool industry and develop new markets overseas?
Co-founder, communication and business development director of Medical Ethics, Chick Olsson, says the industry can, as long as levy bodies lift their game and change consumer’s perception of the natural fibre.
Speaking at the Rural Press Club’s National Agriculture Day recently, Mr Olsson said it’s time to address the highly contentious topic of animal welfare.
“Animal welfare is not going away,” Mr Olsson said.
“For the last seven years the AWI board has decided to bury it’s head regarding Australia’s welfare practices.
“They need to lift their game in the big cities, directly to consumers and stop hiding the excellence of our farmers and their welfare practices.”
He said key markets in the US and the EU are simply closed down for wool with no new demand.
Dangerous campaigns are running around the world about the cruelty associated with wool, particularly in the US and EU and animal rights groups are using celebrities to take on the wool and sheep industry.
But it is not just in western countries, Asia is picking up the mantle as well, protesting against mulesing.
Mr Olsson said any brand or organisation will shy away from a product that comes with perceived animal cruelty associated with it, calling it a “death sentence”.
And in an analysis of the world textile market, wool percentage has slipped over the past seven years.
So it seems the world’s population is exploding, but wool has dropped.
And in another blow for the industry, consumers have cottoned on to climate change, saying that wool and sheep add dangerous methane gases to the earth’s atmosphere.
In fact, new research just released by agrobiologist and scientific researcher Albrecht Glatzle, Filadelfia, Paraguay, has concluded that there is no scientific evidence, whatsoever, that domestic livestock could represent a risk for the earth’s climate.
“It’s time for the industry to ditch the myth once and for all and scientifically show people how good sheep are for the environment,” Mr Olsson said.
Mr Olsson said it is Australian farmers that are breaking the ground.
“Australian farmers are leading the way when it comes to animal welfare,” Mr Olsson said.
“One hundred million Australian animals will be treated for pain and wound care by 2019/2020.
“What a brilliant result for welfare, so let’s tell the world. We have to stop cruelty, not stop the trade.”
According to Mr Olsson mulesing is ceased, that spells the end of the Australian Merino industry.
“It’s over. No more suits, no more jumpers, no more mills, no more China. And animal rights groups win,” he said.
“So instead, let’s tell them how good our product is, how natural it is, this is one argument we can win.”
Animal welfare is fast becoming the biggest issue with consumer groups and retailers in the in the biggest consumer market in the world, the USA.
In a survey conducted for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 77 per cent of consumers said they were concerned about the welfare of animals raised for food.
And new research has also found that the vast majority of Americans are concerned about farm animal welfare, confused by food labels and are willing to pay more for better treatment.
Lets tell them how good our product is, how natural it is, this is one argument we can win
The industry has to start rebuilding trust with consumers, Mr Olsson said.
“This is a full scale cold war – it’s about the hearts and minds of consumers and the battleground is dominated by animal rights groups. They are there and we are not there,” Mr Olsson said.
“We need to step it up and take it to them. We should be matching the animal rights promotions with our promotions.”
According to Mr Olsson, the Australian wool industry is looking down the barrel of becoming a very basic commodity supplier.
“We need to rapidly develop new markets in the US and the EU to remain viable,” he said.
“We are a great chance of losing the viability of price point farming. We need to get new price points and new markets and we can do this if we address our welfare properly.”
Mr Olsson said he will be pushing AWI very hard to counteract animal rights campaigns in the US for 2019.
He says until they do, there won’t be any new demand for Merino wool.
“Once we establish the fact that we are really treating our sheep well, and we are improving what we are doing and we communicate that message to consumers and we do it loudly, proudly and openly you will find wool demand increasing again,” he said.
“There will be a real demand and real interest in our story.”