Trying to force Australian farmers’ hands over the issues of mulesing
and live sheep exports,
US-based animal welfare group, People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals (PETA), announced a boycott of Australian merino wool last
October. Since then, it has secured pledges from major retailers including
Abercrombie & Fitch, Timberland and Gap Inc to stop using
Australian wool.

Two Australian wool bodies have approached the boycott in very different
ways. Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) is gearing up to take
the body to court; the Australian Wool Growers Association (AWGA) has negotiated with PETA, signing an agreement to phase
out “mulesing” and cruelty in the live export of
sheep raised for wool. In response, PETA granted a 45-day moratorium
on the international boycott while they try to sort things out. The
moratorium is due to end in two weeks, unless AWI and WoolProducers accept the agreement.

Sam Stephens, CEO of the Australian Wool Growers
Association, writes:

WoolProducers – the political arm of Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) – recently
launched an attack on the excellent work being done by the Australian Wool Growers Association (AWGA) to lift the
international boycott on Australian Wool.

The Stone Age mentality of Wool
Producers’ response to the AWGA/ PETA agreement is striking in its contrast to
the intelligent and positive response from all our major international
retailers.

It is important to note that WoolProducers have been
firm supporters of the highly inflammatory and incredibly expensive legal action
under taken by AWI. This “pugilistic” approach (as one of Europe’s largest wool
processors termed it) has seen millions of precious levy funds being wasted on
solicitors and barristers, while the wool industry sinks to its knees because of
desperately low prices.

WoolProducers were also the instigators of the recently
launched, and highly controversial “Fly on the shoulder campaign.” Allegedly,
approximately $4 million has been spent from the wool levy on this campaign to
date.

Now, after all the New York photography, first class airfares, 5 star
accommodation, seductive models, champagne swilling and caviar munching was
completed, WoolProducers has succeeded in educating retailers and fashion houses
that merino wool , blowflies, mulesing and flystrike all go together on the same
page… How absolutely bloody fantastic. Think wool, think flies! What a
disaster for the image of Australian merino wool! It’s no wonder our wool prices
are plunging away. What madness has gripped our industry?

WoolProducers response to PETA has been near-sighted
and unnecessarily hysterical. When examined objectively, PETA is simply a
consumer group that lobbies retailers, albeit with media grabbing tactics. They
can achieve little more than retailers will accept as constituting “ethical
corporate responsibility.”

Yet WoolProducers would have us believe that they
are a “terrorist organisation that are not to be negotiated with.” This
hyperbole and over-the-top histrionics have led to a lack of constructive
dialogue which has inflamed and prolonged the debate against PETA on all levels,
while our wool prices have continued to slide south.

AWGA, on the other hand, has succeeded in getting a
pragmatic stance from PETA on mulesing and lifting boycotts. This has earned
high praise and support from international retailers and processors and raised
the profile of merino wool with customers, all costing the industry nothing.
Well done AWGA, at last someone is showing some common sense, actively finding
solutions, lifting the image of wool, increasing demand and working towards
raising wool prices across the board.

Peter Fray

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