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In 2008, the Australian Wool Exchange (through which around 90% of Australian wool is auctioned) introduced the National Wool Declaration (NWD) to allow wool growers to voluntarily declare the mulesing status of their sheep, and thus their animal welfare credentials, to wool buyers at auction (AWEX 2017b). Wool growers are asked to declare, on a mob basis, whether wool from that mob is from sheep that have not been mulesed (NM), whether some or all sheep have been mulesed (M), or whether all sheep were mulesed using pain relief (PR). If sheep are no longer mulesed on the property (and haven’t been for the last 12 months), then the grower declares ‘ceased mulesing’ (CM). Each of these categories attracts a premium per kilogram of wool sold at auction.
In 2016-17, a total of 1,709,686 bales of wool were sold at auction (AWEX 2017a). Of the bales offered that had mulesing status declared, 197,612 bales (12% of total) declared ‘non mulesed’ or ‘ceased mulesed’ and 426,385 bales (25% of total) declared that pain relief was used at mulesing (AWEX 2018b). The national percentage of bales with mulesing status declared was 65% as at 31 October 2017 with Tasmania and Victoria at the top declaring 85% and 79% respectively (AWEX 2018a). At that time, the percentage declared ‘non mulesed’ or ‘ceased mulesed’ was 12.7% and the percentage of bales declared that pain relief was used was 27.7% (AWEX 2018a). Even assuming that the remainder of bales, i.e. those without NWDs, had similar mulesing status declarations, considerably more work needs to be done towards achieving a phase out of mulesing and, in the interim, 100% uptake of pain relief.
Growing interest from wool buyers in mulesing status has seen a significant increase in premiums. As at 31 October 2017, national premiums for ‘non mulesed’, ‘ceased mulesed’ and ‘pain relief’ were 55c/kg, 76c/kg and 18c/kg respectively for 17 micron wool (AWEX2018a). Clearly and encouragingly, the market preference is for wool from sheep that are not (or no longer) mulesed. Interest is also rising in declaration status of all wool (not just fine wool) as well as non-Merino wool, evidenced by discounts routinely being applied to bales that have not been declared (AWEX2018a).
Because the National Wool Declaration is voluntary, it is difficult to accurately track progress within the wool industry towards an end to mulesing and, in the interim, the extent to which mulesing is carried out with pain relief.
It is the RSPCA’s view that declaring mulesing status on the NWD must be mandatory. This would not only allow the wool industry to demonstrate their commitment to improving animal welfare and to provide transparency to the market and the opportunity for customers to make an informed choice but also provide stakeholders with the ability to monitor progress towards a long-awaited phase out of mulesing.
Australian Wool Exchange - AWEX (2017a) Annual report 2017. Australian Wool Exchange Limited, North Ryde, Australia.
Australian Wool Exchange - AWEX (2017b) National Wool Declaration Frequently Asked Questions. Australian Wool Exchange Limited, June 2017.
Australian Wool Exchange - AWEX (2018a) ‘Declaring what the world is demanding’. BoardTalk January 2018, Australian Wool Exchange Limited.
Australian Wool Exchange - AWEX (2018b) Mulesing status – Bales offered. Available at http://www.awex.com.au/market-information/mulesing-status/.