Euro brands seek ethically produced, non-mulesed wool
Despite prices in the overall wool market declining, non-mulesed wool is fetching premium prices because of the demand in Europe by retail brands looking for ethically produced wool.
- Non-mulesed wool is commanding a premium of up to $2 a kilogram at auction
- Currently one in 10 bales of wool offered first hand at auction in Australia is non-mulesed
- 30% of wool grown in Tasmania is declared non-mulesed
This month the wool market took another major tumble with $1.22 per kilogram being wiped off the Eastern Market Indicator (EMI).
While it is tough to find many positives in a falling market, there is one category that is still in demand. Non-mulesed wool is fetching a premium, as high as $2 a kilogram extra at auction.
Auction room wants more non-mulesed wool
In an effort to get more wool in the auction room declared non-mulesed or mulesed with pain relief, the Australian Wool Exchange has taken over the SustainaWOOL Integrity Scheme.
Close to 1,000 woolgrowers across Australia now sell their wool as SustainaWOOL accredited, which verifies to the market it is non-mulesed or pain relief has been used while mulesing.
AWEX SustainaWOOL program manager Paul Swan said consumers wanted to know the story the behind the product they bought, driven by the Hugo Boss type companies of the world and in the processing sense, Italian fabric mills Reda and Barberis, making a corporate statement about their ethical practices.
“The prime motivators for price and premiums are the brands and retailers, they are voting with their feet in terms of what standards they want to be associated with as a company,” Mr Swan said.
Non-mulesed wool in vogue with retailers
Australian fashion retailers David Jones and Country Road Group announced they would be exclusively using non-mulesed or ceased-mulesed wool within four years. But despite growing retail and consumer demand, Australian Wool Innovation chief executive Stuart McCullough could not foresee mulesing being phased out by growers until there was a suitable alternative available.
“If growers had a cost-effective, equally good alternative to surgical mulesing, they would adopt it immediately. I have no doubt about that,” Mr McCullough said.
At auction, wool buyer Tim Marwedel, the managing director of G Schneider Australia, expected a premium price for non-mulesed wool would continue to be paid.
Despite the dip in the market, Mr Marwedel remained optimistic with a shift towards wool and a younger generation is buying wool.
The US-China trade war is also having a huge impact on confidence – with consumers showing they’re nervous to spend, retail markets are struggling so that is having an effect all the way through the chain.
However wool producers in Tasmania are leading the way with 30% of the clip already declared non-mulesed, well above the national offering of about 12% declared non-mulesed.
Currently 40% of wool sold at auction in Australia is being declared as either ceased mulesing, non-mulesed, or pain-relief-used-at mulesing, according to the Australian Wool Testing Authority, but it is challenging to compete with other countries that have phased out mulesing. Australia competes with the other big wool-growing countries being South America, South Africa and New Zealand, all of which don’t mulese.
What is mulesing?
- Australia has a blowfly, Lucilia cuprina, that can lay maggots in wet or stained wool and open wounds. This is called flystrike and it can kill sheep.
- Mulesing is a surgery that involves cutting a patch of skin away from the breech of a very young lamb, so a scar of stretched skin grows back. The pink skin, with no wool, stays clean and dry, and unattractive to blowflies.
- Mulesing can be treated with a pre-surgery anaesthetic registered for castration and tail docking.
- It is not compulsory, but woolgrowers can declare what is done through a National Wool Declaration.
- The industry said it would end mulesing by 2010, but has not found an easy solution after spending up to $40 million on keeping sheep safe from flystrike.