Broker encourages growers to inform market of non-mulesing practices

Declarations important to build industry trust post-virus


Wool broker stresses the marketing value of completing declarations about non-mulesed wool.

Woolgrowers can show their commitment to animal welfare by filling-in the National Wool Declaration as 'mulesed with pain relief' when preparing their clips for sale.

Woolgrowers can show their commitment to animal welfare by filling-in the National Wool Declaration as 'mulesed with pain relief' when preparing their clips for sale.

As the world grapples with COVID-19 - and even starts to consider living with the virus - it is worth thinking about what this will mean for Australia's wool industry.

The wool market this calendar year has been more volatile than at any other time in its history.

We have had big rises and falls in prices during the past 100 years, but nothing compares to the frequency and size of fluctuations experienced recently.

Market movements of 100 cents a kilogram have almost become 'normal' and a weekly shift of only 30-40c/kg is now viewed as a welcome relief.

Post-coronavirus, these violent swings will most likely even themselves out - particularly if we can get other wool consuming nations, such as India, Japan and Europe, back in to the market on a more regular basis.

China has, at certain times this year, taken more than 90 per cent of wool sold on a month-by-month basis, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) export data.

Although this is unhealthy on the surface, without China in the market we would be in a much worse predicament no doubt.

Similar to the post-Global Financial Crisis era, the wool industry went through a similar experience and it was China again that propped-up the market.

There are early signs of an increasing consumer trend - after the worst of COVID-19 - to having more of a focus on supporting locally-made products that tick all the right boxes of ethical, renewable and environmentally friendly.

This is occurring not just in Australia, but also in many countries around the world.

Wool can satisfy all these requirements and, as an industry, we should be pursuing promotion of such attributes.

While non-mulesed (NM) is often the focus of any welfare discussion regarding Australian wool, perhaps we need to look past it for now.

The National Wool Declaration (NWD) is the industry's most under-utilised tool.

In a perfect world, no sheep would be mulesed. But we know in Australia this may never be attainable - although we are trying to achieve it.

The single most important factor in the animal welfare debate is transparency.

The wool industry's practices may not be 100 per cent up to what some of our customers require. But if we can demonstrate transparency and a willingness to move forward, than we can turn negative perception around.

We have let other wool producing countries get a head-start on us in the past 10 years, for various reasons, and this has created the perception that Australia does not take animal welfare seriously.

I've never met a woolgrower who doesn't want their sheep to be healthy and producing to the fullest capacity.

But unfortunately in this argument, perception becomes reality.

Stopping mulesing overnight is not practical for a lot of graziers. But filling-in the NWD and declaring 'mulesed with pain relief' is still telling of a positive welfare outcome.

Some wool customers who don't need NM wool still want to know that best-practice is a priority, and this is a perfect example of that.

But if the NWD is not completed how do they know?

Showing our downstream customers that the industry does care about welfare can be achieved by getting NWD completion rates up to 100 per cent.

At present, the national completion rate is about 70 per cent and there are big differences state-to-state and between broker catalogues.

There's no real pattern as to why some NWDs are completed - correctly and incorrectly - and some are not, except to think that growers are not aware of how important this is for the industry as a whole.

An issue like this will be front-and-center post-COVID-19, with a consumer that is more conscious than ever about where their potential purchase comes from.

When the question is asked, we need to show that we are ensuring the health of our sheep and transparency of our industry.

The first thing we can do is produce the NWD and inform the customer that all woolgrowers complete it prior to selling their wool.

Our practices aren't perfect - yet - but we do care.


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