Industry insiders are coming together to take on one of the wool industry’s most controversial practices.
More than 30 global fashion players ranging from Adidas to Patagonia and H&M joined international animal welfare group Four Paws earlier this month in delivering an open letter to Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), demanding a roadmap to eliminating mulesing from wool production. The industry association represents the interests of the country’s farmers, who make up the largest contingent of merino wool producers in the world.
Mulesing—a practice where strips of skin are cut from a sheep’s hind quarters to reduce the risk of parasitic infection by flies—has been fingered by the industry at large as an inhumane measure that unnecessarily harms animals and permanently impacts their quality of life. While AWI has released a plan dubbed the Wool 2030 Strategy, that aims, among other goals, to help its members keep their flocks healthy without engaging in mulesing, Four Paws believes that the group lacks an action plan to meet the milestone.
In its missive, delivered to AWI at the virtual Wool Connect Conference on Sept. 7, the group asked that wool growers actively seek solutions to both flystrike and mulesing to match the commitments of brands and supply chain partners, from genetic solutions—such as breeding sheep resistant to the affliction—to the adoption of new animal husbandry methods.
“The brand letter is intended to send a strong signal to the Australian wool industry that it is time to abolish mulesing once and for all by setting concrete measures to enable the transition,” said Rebecca Picallo Gil, a Four Paws wool campaigner.
“More and more wool producers, fashion brands and consumers are demanding this,” she added, noting that many are looking to make the switch by 2025—five years before AWI’s stated deadline for eliminating the practice. Picallo Gil said that it is possible for farms to switch to “resistant sheep breeds that make mulesing redundant” within a period of three to five years, making the extended timeline for compliance unnecessary if farmers begin the transition now.
“The AWI must be more consistent here and, above all, present a tangible action plan on how this goal is actually to be achieved by 2030,” she added.
Moreover, brands and consumers may be unwilling to wait. According to a recent Four Paws survey of 14,000 consumer respondents across 12 countries in Europe, North America, Africa and Australia, buying behavior has undergone a marked shift during the Covid crisis. Shoppers are quickly becoming more conscious about the impact of their purchases, it said, with 31 percent now looking for apparel that meets animal welfare standards—or avoiding animal-derived textiles completely. Brands that adhere to these standards were preferred by 37 percent of consumers over other brands.
With shoppers increasingly engaged and vocal about their values, brands and retailers like The North Face, Mara Hoffman, Esprit, Mammut, Marks & Spencer, VF Corp., Primark and Missguided have all joined the call to end the practice of mulesing.
Meredith Dawson Lawry, sustainability manager at New Zealand outdoor brand Icebreaker, noted that “It’s important to the consumer, but even more it’s important for the animal.”
“Consumers are more conscious than ever, and we feel it is our responsibility to drive awareness and demand for ethically-sourced product,” she added.
“For the sake of animals, consumers and fashion brands, we want to use the momentum of the open brand letter to encourage AWI to develop a bold action plan to make mulesing history by 2030 the latest,” Picallo Gil said.