AUSTRALIA’S largest wool exporter says the industry’s failure to respond to market signals has led to an explosion of “unrealistic” buying certifications being forced on the industry.
H&M are the latest retail giant to create an independent animal welfare certification on wool purchased from Australia, according to Techwool Trading export manager Josh Lamb, in response to the lack of an industry-led “best practice" standard.
“There is a movement to have an umbrella approach to ethical, animal and environmental welfare standards,” Mr Lamb said.
“This is being pushed by the retailer and often that perception is not necessarily practical.
“(One) declaration asks woolgrowers to recite the 100 year history of the flock, and to guarantee sheep weren’t harmed during shearing.
“They are being written from a theory point of view and often they are not realistic on farm.”
He said the argument had gone beyond a mulesing strategy to a holistic best practice industry standard.
“This is coming from a desk on the other side of the world and it is not practical with how the process works,” Mr Lamb said.
“The industry should have been on the front foot and developed a best practice.
“We need more leadership on this in Australia because we all know wool has a great environmental story, but that is being lost in the animal welfare debate.”
He said the uptake of National Wool Declarations was a concern due to a “disconnect” from woolgrowers and classers.
“It is breaking down with woolgrowers not seeing the importance of that document being filled out correctly,” Mr Lamb said.
“If you can’t get the first step correct, nothing after that will work anyway.”
NWD regulator, Australian Wool Exchange, reported more than 60pc adoption, which chief executive Mark Grave said reflected greater awareness “but we still need to improve”.
“The increase in quality assurance schemes from commercial parties was a good signal from the industry,” Mr Grave said.
“Our customers downstream want to engage with woolgrowers - the accuracy of information is critical.”
Mr Lamb said Techwool Trading, which last season purchased more than 255,000 bales at auction, had received poor demand for Pain Relief (PR) status wool.
“This is part of the greater debate – there are areas around the country that will always mules, which is best practice for those areas, but we might need to have PR a part of that to uphold a best practice.”
His comments follow pressure from the red meat industry to develop a strategic research and marketing plan to address the negative perception around mulesing.
“Why is one party being proactive and the other not? This is an issue that is never going to go away,” Mr Lamb said.
“The signals have been there for many years about the need to establish a best practice, ethical standard - this is not a new thing.
“Certain parts of the wool industry have chosen to ignore those signals over the years.”
He said an effective industry strategy was overdue.
“There is a perception that all sheep are mulesed in Australia – we need to turn that ship around and talk about best practice standards,” Mr Lamb said.
“The industry is doing nothing effective to change the perception around mulesing.”
During a presentation at Rural Bank’s Sheepvention luncheon, Hamilton, Meat and Livestock Australia managing director Richard Norton said a strategic animal welfare plan was critical to uphold consumer confidence.
“The number one goal set by industry is to ensure consumer confidence never falls below 90 per cent,” Mr Norton said.
“What would drop Australian consumers’ confidence below that 90poc is another live export crisis and another major issues – so one would expect MLA to do risk management particularly around mulesing.
“When I go to Europe, there are retailers that won’t buy Australian lamb because of their perceptions of mulesing.”
He said in 2004, the whole industry signed up to phase-out mulesing by 2010, “and none of that has been done”.
In response, audience member James Egan said to prevent non-mulesed sheep from flystrike, producers would have to apply “a heap more chemical”.
“That flystrike argument doesn’t hold its weight because the question is then can you sell a product that has been doused in chemical three times a year for its entire life,” Mr Egan said.
Mr Norton said it was not up to MLA to make these decisions.
“I can only tell you what consumers think,” he said.
“We can stand here today and say that no prime lamb is mulesed in Australia, but consumers only see one sheep.”
AWI was contacted for comment.