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New Zealand Becomes First Country to Ban Sheep Mulesing

As of next month, all wool purchased from New Zealand should come with the guarantee that it was produced without mulesing.

New Zealand has officially made the controversial practice of mulesing a criminal offense.

Mulesing is a procedure employed by some wool farmers to protect their livestock from “flystrike,” a condition caused by blowflies laying eggs in the folds of a sheep’s skin. The eggs, aided by the moisture in the folds, hatch into maggots—these maggots then begin eating at the sheep, which can lead to death in some cases.

Some farmers, looking to protect their livestock and their livelihoods, remove the skin around the sheep’s backside where blowflies are most likely to be found. This is often done without anesthetic and what some have deemed inhumane conditions.

New Zealand’s ban on mulesing will take effect starting Oct. 1 of this year now that the law has been added to the Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations. The legislation will enforce punishments of $5,000 New Zealand dollars ($3,300) for individuals and fines up to $25,000 New Zealand dollars ($16,500) for companies found engaging in mulesing.

Awareness of mulesing has ramped up in recent years amid efforts to reduce animal-cruelty within the wool industry. In 2016, the Textile Exchange adopted a ban on mulesing into its Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) and brands like H&M and Patagonia have added their support.

Considering New Zealand is responsible for 9.8% of the world’s wool production, according to the International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO), the ban represents a win for organizations like PETA that have spent time and resources to see the practice eliminated. However, there could be more to the move than public opinion.

Wool exports have declined in New Zealand by 18 percent, according to the IWTO’s 2016/17 survey. While Australia, its neighbor the south, accounts for 22.8% of the 1.14 million metric tonnes of wool produced and is one of the world’s largest wool exporters. Although efforts have been made to curb it in the past, mulesing has been widespread in Australia.

In 2016/17, 40 percent of the wool traded in Australia came from non-mulesed sheep, although that number includes sheep mulesed with anesthetic, a compromise not accepted by the RWS.

As New Zealand works to increase its wool exports and production, raw material buyers could take into account the more humane practices the nation’s wool industry employs in comparison to its local competition.