(all photos NewMerino)
For well over 100 years Australia's prosperity was inextricably lined to the export of wool, and in particular, Merino wool. We even had phrase for it: "Riding on the Sheep's Back." But in the '60s wool's economic dominance was displaced by the likes of coal and iron ore. Years of drought have also taken their toll. But possible one of the more obvious hurdles to growth of the Australian wool industry has been the high-profile anti-mulesing campaign by US-based group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Succumbing to such marketing pressure the industry body, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), agreed in 2004 that it would, by 2010, phase out the practice of mulesing. However in 2009 announced it would be reneging on this promise of working to a deadline. This has left a vacuum that smaller wool businesses have stepped up to fill. Once such enterprise is NewMerino, who is now offering a chain of custody for ethically-produced Australian merino wool.Mulesing is where loose folds of skins are removed from the backsides of sheep so flies cannot lay maggots in them, which in turn can lead to 'flystrike' and potentialy the death of the sheep. While the Australian Veterinary Association and RSPCA Australia acknowledge that mulesing is a humane way to protect sheep, there is general agreement that less painful alternatives should be pursued. Some of which NewMerino list in this PDF : Fact Sheet Mulesing
In offering "a transparent and verifiable chain-of-custody from farm to yarn" NewMerino is hoping to convince textile buyer that it is not accurate to taint all Australian merino wool with the tar brush (to use a related metaphor) of 'mulesing.' That a portion of Aussie wool can be sourced from those wool growers who practice more acceptable ethical form of sheep farming. New Merino say they can trace the Merino back to its individual farm. No mean feet when you consider that there are about 29,000 Australian woolgrowers looking after around 80 million sheep (though not all are Merinos.)
In an endeavour, that sounds rather like Icebreaker's BaaCode, NewMerino reckons that "consumers who buy products with the NewMerino label can access the online trace back system as well to ensure that the wool products they buy meet the social, environmental, and ethical standards they value."
NewMerino is not the first to offer such a chain-of-custody service for Australian Merino. Others on similar trajectory include the Merino Company, who can assure customers of certified non-mulesed Merino, as well as organic wool and zero carbon wool.
It would be great Australia could continue to get its act together on this issue, because at one time the country supplied 50% of world Merino wool, as this is a high performance textile material that can leave many non-renewable, fossil-derived synthetic fibres in its dust.
Read more at NewMerino and eWool
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