Behind your Wool

In light of the recent boycott of the Australian Wool Industry lead by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I have compiled some information so as to understand more about the current situation in Australia with regard to the practice of mulesing. I aim to seek out the potential solutions the Australian Wool Industry are researching in response to PETA's campaign.

I am an independent handspinner who works with & adores the superfine merino product produced by the country I live in. I am also conscientious with regard to where my supply comes from & how it is produced. The information I am posting here is by no means a professional reflection on the issue, instead it is a compilation of press-related & Industry released information that endeavours to provide an accurate & up-to-date understanding of the current practise of mulesing & the stance from the Australian Wool Industry.

If you are seeking supply of Australian fleece, but are wary of the Australian mulesing practises, I urge you to stay well informed when making your decision. I hope you shall find some relevant information to help you with your choice.

There is no doubt visiting the content of PETA's site is moving to tears, & while certainly the case they represent is devastating, I am keeping an open mind as to the point of view they have taken is one pathway to an arguement that is imbibed with much emotion. Needless to say, welfare of animals is of the utmost importance. Granted the Australian Industry at large believes that without sheep there is no industry. One would suggest the treatment & husbandry of our sheep "should" be of top priority when it comes to producing high quality fleece & related end products.

Managing the drought, random fox & dog attack on sheep, the practice of mulesing in Australia remains just one of the many issues currently facing Australian Woolgrowers. In light of the recent PETA campaign to break the Australian wool industry, many potential positive solutions to the practice of mulesing are being actively researched & implimented into current animal husbandry practices by the Australian Wool Industry.

What is mulesing?
The management of pests & diseases in Australian sheep is unique to our climate & environment. Mulesing was established in the 1930's as a means to rid the sheep from folds of skin around the behind to prevent maggot infestation. Known as flystrike, fly maggots burrow into the skin under the tail & eat the sheep alive, a slow & painful death. It is not debatable that mulesing is a torturous proceedure, & there are differing methods of employing the technique of slicing the skin from the sheep. However the technique has been regulated by recent Industry accreditation until the the mulesing practice ceases in 2010.

PETA's campaign for the Australian Industry to stop mulesing is not a viable solution either. Merely Stopping the mulesing practice alltogether, without an alternative, is not a humane solution, as death by flystrike is a cruel destiny. However it is important to be informed of what the Australian Wool Industry is actively doing to seek positive solutions towards preventing the prevalent & devastating reality of flystrike in our country.
"AWI does not underestimate the difficulties of introducing new technologies in the wool industry, but recognises that most woolgrowers would prefer effective alternatives to conventional mulesing."


19 February 2006

AWGA Chairman Martin Oppenheimer said “There are better ways to deal with threats to marketing our natural fibre. Improving our practices and highlighting the many positive attributes of Australian Merino as a natural, renewable, and ethically produced fibre is obviously the way to go”

“The Australian sheep and wool industry has done more, and invested more resources into improving animal welfare, during the past 18 months than ever before. We are committed to improving our already high standards.”

Below I have posted snippets of a Report from the ABC tv program Landline: 'PETA, Wool Industry War Could Be Over'. The Report covers alternatives such as anaesthetic development, bare-breech breeding, protein injections, PETA backs-away from the boycott.

I urge you to take a moment to read on, especially if you are a spinner considering boycotting Australian Merino fleece. You may wish to keep up to date on developments so as to make an informed choice.

Reporter: Prue Adams First Published: 21/08/2005
For a detailed copy of the Report, visit this link:

JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Before we get into our report on mulesing, some viewers might be disturbed by some of the pictures we will be showing early in the story. Now the practice of mulesing - today, we will look at what it is and why it's done, and we will also discuss the campaign against mulesing by the animal rights group PETA and how that campaign has divided the Australian wool industry. But if there is a silver lining to this sometimes messy debate, it's the work being pushed through our scientific institutions at break-neck speed to find an alternative to the 70-year-old practice of mulesing. I will repeat my earlier advice: some of the pictures are a bit gruesome, particularly the shots of fly-struck sheep.

GORDON GODSON (Mulesing contractor): I couldn't imagine a worse death than flystrike.

Prof. PHIL HYND (Director, Roseworthy Campus, Adelaide University): The larvae burrowing into the skin of an animal is really quite a horrendous thing.

GORDON GODSON: As days go by, they go right into the flesh and become big, black, hairy fellas, and then the sheep dies a slow and lingering death over a few days. Generally when they go on the ground, the crows then pick their eyes out.

NEIL SMITH (Calcookara Station, Eyre Peninsula): It's absolutely cruel. You have to see it to believe it.

PRUE ADAMS: It makes you want to turn away from the television screen, doesn't it? There is nothing pretty about a sheep that's literally being eaten alive by maggots but, in Australia, where farmers run big, wrinkly woolly merinos in a hot climate, flies are a curse.

NEIL SMITH: That's why mulesing was brought in in the early days.

PRUE ADAMS: In the 1930s when sheep dips were de rigueur, flystrike, particularly around the sheep's back end, was a major killer. It was around this time that a man called John Mules developed a process which would soon become the norm for Australian wool growers.

PRUE ADAMS: Not all wool growers support AWI spending their levy money on taking legal action. In May, a breakaway group, the Australian Wool Growers Association, introduced parts of the industry to an anaesthetic spray that reduces the pain of sheep post-mulesing and improves the animal's recovery.

PRUE ADAMS: Called trisolfin, it is still going through the regulators but it shows promise.

CHICK OLSSON (AWGA): We've got an international boycott. It is spreading throughout Europe and throughout the United States, all in relation to mulesing, which is an historic necessity in treating sheep blowflies. We've been under pressure for some time to do something about it, and today it is a possible great step forward for the industry.

PRUE ADAMS: Australian animal libbers gave qualified support to the use of the anaesthetic.

MARK PEARSON (Animals Australia): Very significant move forward in the issue of addressing pain relief in animals which have been mutilated. And, let's face it, mulesing is the worst mutilation of any farm animal in Australia. And so it's opened the door. It certainly isn't the final answer, but what is positive to our organisation is that it is a decision to move in the right direction.

PRUE ADAMS: In June, the Australian Wool Growers Association, led by NSW grower Charles Chick Olsson, met with PETA in New York to talk about the moves to use pain relief. The AWGA strongly believes in negotiation with, not legal action against, animal liberationists.

PRUE ADAMS: While the debate rages over how to deal with animal liberationists, the wool industry has vowed to phase out mulesing by the end of 2009. So, an alternative must be found. Wouldn't it be great, then, if sheep were just born with a bare breech so the urine and faeces didn't catch in their wool and the flies didn't feel the need to lay their eggs in the skin folds?
Well, on Calcookara Station on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, Neil Smith has two such rams. Meet Kojak and Garrett, the bare-bottom boys.

NEIL SMITH: Sheep have usually got a bare patch just up in here, But this is unique that it goes right down inside in the leg and up to the anal area and the testes are totally bald. You can see there's no wool on there whatsoever. Really, if you drew it and tried to have it so it's mules-free and crutch-free, you couldn't do it better. This is Garrett and you will notice that he's got a little bit more wool in the breech area, but you will also see that if you grab hold of it you can pull this out...

PRUE ADAMS: Great expectations rest on the shoulders of Phil Hynd and his team. They're busily trying to track down the gene which determines the bare-breech attribute.Prof.

PHIL HYND: We are almost certain that it's inherited, that it's not just a random thing popping up. It is inherited. It looks like if we mate bare-breech to bare-breech animals, we get bare-breeched offspring, which is exciting. So we're getting there. It just takes a little while to work these things out.

PRUE ADAMS: Professor Hynd is realistic though. A genetic alternative to mulesing will take time - years, maybe even decades to flow through the entire Australian flock. In the meantime, he has another promising project on the go, which it's hoped will provide a solution much sooner.

Prof. PHIL HYND: We've come up with another alternative which is quite exciting. It's based on a discovery that came out of pure science in our laboratory. We found a protein which seems to have the same effect as mulesing. It causes the skin to contract and to enlarge that bare area around the breech, which is what we need.

PRUE ADAMS: The protein is called collagenase. It is a naturally occurring enzyme, but the scientists apply a larger dose than the animal would normally exhibit. In this experimental phase, the protein is injected in the sheep's side. Of course, in reality it would be applied to the rump. Collagenase breaks down the collagen in the skin, forming scar tissue and contracting the region. Have you got an alternative to mulesing in this protein?

Prof. PHIL HYND: We have, but it's still in the research phase. We are not there yet. We are a long way down the track. We know it works. We think it's painless. We know it works. It's bloodless and it has the same effect as mulesing. That's a pretty good start, but we've got to get it from there to the field, and that's a big step. We've got to get an applicator, we've got to prove that it works in all conditions in all sheep types and in different environments. It is a big ask, it's why mulesing hasn't been replaced yet.

PRUE ADAMS: There are several other projects that AWI is funding, some that involve work on the fly itself. But the Roseworthy work, with the possibility of a commercial application within two years, holds the greatest hope.

And last week there was another glimmer of hope for the wool industry: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals entered into an agreement with the Australian Wool Growers Association, stating they would back down from their damaging boycott campaign if a number of criteria were met. Pivotal is the use of pain relief on freshly mulesed lambs. While whole chunks of the wool industry are sceptical about entering into deals with what they perceive to be the devil, the growers' group that struck the deal is encouraged.

CHICK OLSSON: I guess history will tell us, Prue, as to what's going to happen. At the moment we have a deal which is looking very, very sound. I just pray the industry has common sense and reason here and decides to negotiate further. We've solved the mulesing boycott. The boycott, indeed, is lifted for 45 days. That is very, very good news for our retailers. I'm sure they'd be very much appreciative of this. In fact, it's the first good news for wool growers across Australia from two years of drought and bad wool prices. Let's hope we can get some commonsense going here and start re-marketing our wool.

PRUE ADAMS: Chick Olsson now has to get the rest of the wool industry on side so that PETA doesn't reignite its campaign. With an increasingly divided industry, that won't be easy. The Wool Producers group, which represents the lion's share of growers, has just put out a 10-point plan, outlining why it won't support the deal. Among their gripes is that the agreement provides PETA with an ongoing role as an arbiter of standards of sheep welfare. And Wool Producers claims it is an opportunistic attempt by AWGA to raise its own profile. In addition, AWI's court action against PETA still stands. Both parties say PETA's demands, such as a 10 per cent reduction in mulesing by the end of this year and a further phasing out until 2009, are unrealistic when there is as yet no viable alternative. Chick Olsson disagrees.

CHICK OLSSON: The 10 per cent phase-out over the next year can take into account all the wether lambs that you produce, that you don't mules and send to market. All your first-cross lambs out of your merinos counts in this deal. So it is a workable deal. It seems to be very sensible.

GORDON GODSON: Back to the mulesing...

PRUE ADAMS: Meanwhile, Gordon Godson still has a job teaching farmers how to perform this farmyard surgery, as he has done for the past decade. The industry is now insisting mulesers be accredited, and to be accredited they will have to be appropriately trained - even if they will only use that training for less than five years. You might think that lifetime mulesers like Gordon Godson would be saddened by an end to his trade, but he is philosophical, also pinning his hopes on Professor Hynd's so-called chemical mules.

GORDON GODSON: We support the chemical mules. As soon as they can get it there, we're
happy. So I guess that someone will have to apply it, so hopefully it will be a changeover straight into the chemical mules.

PRUE ADAMS: Of course the perfect solution would make all operations obsolete. If sheep could be bred without that pesky wrinkly skin around their rear ends, then the running sore of the Australian wool industry could finally start to heal.

NEIL SMITH: I think it's got a huge benefit for the whole merino industry and, as I said, not just for the mulesing side and the crutching side, you've got less shearing costs - easier to shear - you've got no flies on the testes, no flies on the back udder and a higher lambing percentage. We were quite excited ourselves when we first found it. But when you get people of the stature of Ian McLachlan and Professor Phil Hynd and those people turning up and they're blown away with it, they're really excited. I think it can benefit the whole industry out there in a big way.


If you are interested in exploring more about the alternatives to mulesing, namely breech clipping, protein injections, & breeding, that are being researched & evaluated as effective alternatives, visit the following link.

This insight into the welfare of the sheep in Australia has prompted me to consider where all my supplies for fiber originate, & the associated practices of many differing production lines that are established around the world. It prompts me to ask those spinners & dyers who may be considering boycotting Australin wool supplies, just where is your local supply coming from? What are "behind" the local practices that exist in your country? Of course there are many debates about animal welfare, many who are morally opposed to the use of animal products turn to manufactured fibers, some of which also have damaging effects on the environment. Bottom line is, anything we do as humans can be viewed to have a negative effect on either the environment, ourselves, the animals, the ecosystem, the world around us, it is all about Choice. At the end of the day, ensure you are making conscious, well-informed choices, including what is behind your wool supply.

For me, not having the luxury of owning my own flock, I am sitting comfortably here with my supersoft, superfine, scrumptious Australian merino fleece knowing that the Australian Woolgrowers are proactively forging ahead with improvements & actions to stop the practice of mulesing, & that works ok for me.

If you have updated information about mulesing & the Australian Wool Industry, or are an Australian Woolgrower & wish to comment, please comment to this post.


hollyeqq said...

I want to thank you for your very insightful review of the situation. I have seen personal indoor pets who have died from maggots and it is a horrible painful way to go. I live in the US, the land of the pampered pooch and it can happen to ANYONE.
So, just Thank you.

michelle said...

Holly, thanks for taking the time to read about this issue. It helps to make choices from information that represents the whole picture. I hope this helps. Happy Spinning!


Related Posts with Thumbnails