Debate continues for freeze branded sheep

Debate continues in where to put wool treated with liquid nitrogen on the NWD

Sheep
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Review sparks more debate on sheep freeze branding and where it sits on the NWD.

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Sheep freeze branding is not currently defined as a 'non-mulesed' process on the NWD. Industry heads say it could further damage the reputation of the Australian wool clip.

Sheep freeze branding is not currently defined as a 'non-mulesed' process on the NWD. Industry heads say it could further damage the reputation of the Australian wool clip.

The ongoing mulesing definition debate is continuing as Australian Wool Exchange conducts its latest National Wool Declaration review.

The review, set to finish this month, focuses on the breech modification process sheep freeze branding, which is currently defined as a 'non-mulesed' process on the NWD, because Australian standards define mulesing being the removal of skin from the breech of a sheep using mulesing shears.

In April last year AWEX upheld its former position to maintain the NWD's current definition for non-mulesed wool and mulesed wool, which meant growers could nominate wool from freeze branded sheep as non-mulesed on the NWD.

At the time, AWEX suggested that wool from sheep treated with an alternative breech modification method to mulesing be categorised on the NWD as 'alternative method' (AM), but industry stakeholders opposed this arguing the addition of categories will cause immense confusion among not only growers, but also along the supply chain.

AWEX CEO Mark Grave said they are keeping to their commitment they announced in March last year to conduct a further review of the NWD with respect to mulesing status with particular focus on the identification of wool from sheep treated with liquid nitrogen.

"Over the last 12 months, the profile of the NWD has increased significantly with exporters and their customers seeking greater levels of validation from AWEX of their purchases, to satisfy and comply with their orders and the increasing demands from their clients and consumers," Mr Grave said.

"At the conclusion of the 2019/20 review, a wide range of views were expressed regarding the use of liquid nitrogen.

"The AWEX board is committed to assess any scientific outcomes from the trials and we will be seeking an update on any available information from the trial."

Australian Wool Growers Association director Chick Olsson said the decisions AWEX make in the next two weeks will affect woolgrowers for years to come.

He said if the NWD continues to define what is known as sheep freeze branding as a non-mulesed process, even with the use of pain relief, they will damage the future reputation of the national clip.

"Rewind 15 years ago when the battle started with animal activist groups, someone came up with the definition of mulesing to be the removal of skin with a set of mulesing shears despite industry stakeholders not in agreement," Mr Olsson said.

"And now here we are again, we have got the new sheep freeze branding method which is okay, but it is just another form of mulesing, it doesn't matter how you look at it."

Mr Olsson, who is well-known as a director of the company that created the surgical mulesing pain relief product Tri-Solfen, believes wool welfare statements should be removed from the NWD.

"I think it's about time we took off all reference to mulesing on the NWD and just had the qualities of wool and market what we do best which is growing quality wool," he said.

"I would like to see a document sent out to all woolgrowers for an industry vote. It is our future how we market our wool."

Mr Olsson also believes the wool industry should move to change the Australian definition of mulesing to conform with international expectations and market preferences on sheep breech modification.

"These issues are standing in the way of marketing how magnificent our product is. It is clouding all of the good things we do to produce our wool," he said.

Mr Grave said the NWD declaration rate has increased but there is still opportunity for this to improve.

"As an industry, we have been challenged to meet the increasing demands of the customers of Australia's wool and the NWD has become an important part of an informed market," he said.

"Collectively, as an industry, consideration is being given to increase the uptake of the NWD to meet this demand."

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