Australian Wool Exchange has backflipped and reinstated ceased-mulesed on the National Wool Declaration following widespread industry backlash.
AWEX chair Robyn Clubb AM wrote to the major industry group's last week informing them the CM status would remain on the NWD, less than two months after the abrupt announcement it would be removed from April 19.
The decision follows an NWD forum last month, hosted by AWEX, which heard attendees, including the Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors (ACWEP) and National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia (NCWSBA), slam the sudden removal of the CM category without the support or consultation of Australia's wool buyers and sellers.
The scope of the review was to "focus on the identification of wool from sheep treated with liquid nitrogen", an alternative breech modification process, currently defined as a non-mulesed on the NWD.
The review focus had since shifted to an "urgent" removal of the CM status against industry's advice, according to ACWEP president Josh Lamb, who said the review process had been "diabolical", which was up to the third attempt of NWD version 9.1.
The latest changes include a new liquid nitrogen code that separates producers who used analgesic in their flocks and those who do not, under non-mulesed and liquid nitrogen status - an update that overrides a previous update.
"Most of the quality assurance schemes, including Responsible Wool Standard, Authentico and Sustainawool, all include CM status in their programs," Mr Lamb said.
"To remove that status with little notice will take 4 per cent out of the national wool clip because those sheep will be deemed mulesed - growers will suffer a significant disadvantage.
"We are in the middle of the best demand for these wools in recent memory and yet there was an attempt to pull that out of the clip overnight."
The latest NWD will be reformatted to include two questions to improve clarity and reduce errors.
The questions will be - no lambs born on this property in the last 12 months have been mulesed and no mulesed ewes/wethers have been purchased in the last 12 months.
"I can't emphasise how important it is to get this (NWD) right because this is the wool industry's welfare licence - it shows the sustainability and transparency of the Australian wool industry and underpins the integrity of the trade," Mr Lamb said.
ACWEP supports the latest NWD changes but heavily criticised the review process.
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"Pulling the rug out from under buyers and sellers is not the way to go about it," Mr Lamb said.
"Purely because of lobbying by the industry associations, AWEX has been forced to do a backflip and reinstate CM."
An objective of the NWD review is to simplify the declaration to encourage uptake, minimise errors and increase transparency.
Just over 10pc of Australian wool is declared as NM and less than 4pc as CM from farms that formerly mulesed their sheep but have not done so within the last year.
While nearly 75pc of wool produced in Australia is declared through the NWD system, that fell to less than 50pc for wool from NM and CM sheep and those mulesed with pain relief.
"In a perfect world pain relief would be mandated, the mulesing definition would be more current and the NWD would simply ask whether you mules your sheep, yes or no, but we are a long way from that," Mr Lamb said.
"The industry is 15 years behind the rest of the world... we are slowly moving in the right direction.
"I have no doubt all groups and AWEX want what's best for the industry but we have to be better collectively."
In AWEX's letter last week, Ms Clubb dismissed the call for the NWD review to be conducted by an industry consultation group, rather than the AWEX board, writing a deferral to the release of an updated NWD was "delaying and ignoring our customers' requests of the last two years".
"The potential reputational risk to Australian wool is high," she wrote.
AWEX chief executive Mark Grave said the consultation process could be improved.
Mr Grave said the forum was held in response to industry concerns over the removal of CM, and during the meeting, a proposal was put forward for consideration and feedback from each of the associations.
The updated NWD is expected to be finalised this month.
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