TRACEABILITY and sustainability are key elements the fashion industry and therefore processors are talking about, says Tim Marwedel, managing director of G. Schneider Australia, part of the European based family-owned Schneider Group wool processing and trading company.
He was a guest speaker at the Sheep Welfare and Husbandry Best Practice Seminar at Dubbo in late August organised by Macdonald and Company Woolbrokers, Dubbo.
Mr Marwedel said it was unusual to hear people in the industry talking about the market, wool and sheep, without mentioning traceability and sustainability.
"You can't underestimate the importance, and it's been predictable" he said.
"It's been coming for a while," he told the 100 attendees made up of sheep breeders and industry.
"Country Road Group recently announced a long-term strategy towards sustainability through a traceable non-mulesed wool supply chain. They are using a New Zealand company, Oritain, to do their DNA to provide customers the origin of the wool fibres in their garments."
Mr Marwedel said Hugo Boss representatives spoke at great lengths at the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) conference in Europe earlier this year about the importance of traceability and sustainability.
"They were willing to talk about the elephant in the room - mulesing, while others danced around it.
"The luxury industry is under more pressure than ever before to prove it's sustainable credentials."
Mr Marwedel said serious levels of investment in that field had given clear direction that global fashion brands were taking to promote the sustainability of their brand.
"Make no mistake, the mulesing status of Merino sheep is a part of those credentials," he said.
The National Wool Declaration (NWD) is a first document in the supply chain that starts the traceability of bales from the farm gate.
"This is the key to traceability and trust of the Australian wool clip, and all Australian wool growers should complete it," Mr Marwedel said.
"Personally, I'm not supporting mandating the completion of the NWD, but prefer education through the network of wool brokers to relay the importance of this document.
"The NWD is currently under review and on completion it will have increased relevance and value to the wool industry."
Australian Wool Exchange figures indicate 70 per cent of the wool clip consigned to auction has a completed NWD.
"There is still 30pc not declared," he said.
"Customers in Europe ask me why people do not complete the declaration.
"In their opinion, and their words, they say farmers who don't declare don't care.
He said AWEX data for 2018-19 show that 13pc of people declared their clip as non-mulesed, 35pc declared as mulesed with pain relief and 19pc declared as mulesed without pain relief.
The Australian Council of Wool Exporters and Processors (ACWEP) have proposed a change from the current mob-based declaration to a property-based approach.
"Ultimately it makes sense as it's not the status of the individual sheep, it's the practice undertaken by the wool grower that's important," Mr Marwedel said.
"This proposal would, in our opinion, reduce error and should result in a greater declared volume."
But according to Mr Marwedel, the mulesing story will not go away.
"We are not telling a grower how to care for their sheep. They do that extremely well already.
"We are just passing on the clear message we are getting from our clients based on consumer expectations.
"Our collective aim must be to make mulesing and the breach of the Merino just a chapter of the sheep welfare book, rather than the whole book that it is at the moment."
Mr Marwedel said to think that mulesing was the only animal welfare story was just nonsense.
"Our position is that we would prefer if mulesing must continue for particular welfare reasons, that both a preoperative Meloxicam product be used in conjunction with the post-operative TriSolfen.
"This is based on Australian Wool Innovation funded research undertaken by the CSIRO. Clearly both products have advantages, so I suggest growers talk to their vets and find out what options are available."
Mr Marwedel said top makers, spinners and weavers had other supply options now.
"South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Uruguay don't mules. Australian wool production is falling at an alarming rate and we don't dictate the global supply of wool like we used to."
He said ACWEP president Matthew Hand recently told industry representatives in Melbourne that Australia was losing orders to other origins because of the perception that Australian wool is mulesed.
"I see it first hand with European clients and our sales staff sell Argentine wool tops which are non-mulesed and organic.
"There is a perception the woolgrowers in that part of the world care more for their sheep than Australian woolgrowers. It's ludicrous, we don't believe that, but it's the perception."
At Schneider the focus is on quality and sustainability.
"Wool is a prestigious natural fibre that should be treated as such. As the owner and operator of four large-scale, strategically placed wool combing facilities we have the responsibility and privilege to supply a 100pc traceable production.
"We can ensure the source and supply of every kilogram of wool we process and sell through our own combing mills.
"For this reason, we established the Authentico Quality Assurance and Integrity Scheme.
"We wanted a simple structure that our clients can understand and provide them with the confidence to know that the growers they are dealing with are doing the right thing by their staff, their animals, their environment and the quality preparation of their clip.
"Our supply chain is our biggest asset, we control the goods until delivery to our clients and Authentico will certify that our grower partners are also doing the right thing."