NEW YORK — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals placed a 45-day moratorium on its campaign against purchasing Australian wool after reaching an agreement with the Australian Wool Growers Association on the phaseout of the practice of mulesing and other animal welfare issues.
However, other major organizations, including Australian Wool Innovation and National Farmers’ Federation, said they would not endorse the agreement.
Terms of the accord were presented in a joint statement from AWGA and PETA and represented the results of negotiations ongoing since June. Mulesing and improving animal welfare standards during the live export of sheep were the focus and have been at the heart of PETA’s campaign that began in October 2004.
Australia is one of the largest producers of wool in the world, with 106 million sheep producing more than 1.05 billion pounds of wool in 2004, according to data from AWI. Wool exports were $2.8 billion in 2004, representing 2.5 percent of Australia’s total exports. Only beef and wheat outpaced wool as the country’s top agricultural exports. When it comes to apparel, Australian wool accounts for almost 50 percent of the global total.
Mulesing is used by Australian farmers to prevent sheep from being infested with the larvae of an Australian blowfly called the Lucilia cuprina, which lays its eggs in the damp wool around the sheep’s anus and genitals. Unlike other fly larvae, Lucilia cuprina maggots burrow into the skin and devour healthy flesh, a condition called flystrike that may cause the death of the animal. To prevent flystrike, farmers remove the skin from around the area. The wound scabs and, once healed, leaves scar tissue that is thicker and resistant to flystrike.
“PETA has today acknowledged that it is not in the best interests of Australian sheep to end mulesing without a viable alternative, a fact that [the] industry has been telling them all along,” Robert Pietsch, president of WoolProducers, said in a statement.
“The mulesing phaseout strategy developed by the industry task force is based on science and animal welfare considerations, not an arbitrary numerical formula as proposed by PETA’s agreement with AWGA,” Peter Corish, NFF president and chair of the Australian Wool and Sheep Industry Taskforce, said in a statement.
NFF and WoolProducers have also refused to any negotiations regarding the live export of sheep.
While the wool industry has already pledged to implement an alternative to surgical mulesing by 2010, the agreement between AWGA and PETA requires the administration of analgesic pain relief to all animals leading up to the deadline. It also calls for a “verifiable reduction” in lambs mulesed, with a 10 percent reduction in 2005 escalating to a 25 percent reduction by 2008.
“Farmers must allow a mutually agreed upon third party to engage in regular audits to ensure that these obligations are being met (based on statistical sampling principles),” the agreement said.
The accord also provides a similar timetable to “reduce the number of sheep live-exported from their flocks to any destination in the Northern Hemisphere that does not have animal welfare standards equivalent to Australian animal welfare standards.”
PETA has agreed that it will extend its moratorium an additional 45 days provided groups such as AWI at least enter into discussions with PETA. If the terms are adopted on a industrywide level, PETA has pledged not to initiate further campaigns against the Australian wool industry for 10 years, to encourage retailers to purchase AWGA-branded wool and not to campaign against retailers purchasing AWGA-branded wool.
“AWGA has proved that, as we’ve said all along, that sheep farmers don’t have to spend millions of dollars on lawsuits and costly adverts to stop the war against wool,” said Chick Olsson, AWGA president, in a statement announcing the agreement.
The AWGA has criticized AWI for it’s “Fly in the Ointment” advertising campaign that began appearing in fashion and trade magazines, including WWD, in May. Rather than marketing the product, AWGA has argued, the campaign draws attention to negative aspects of the wool industry.
The organization has also objected to an AWI-led legal campaign against PETA. An Australian court dismissed AWI’s first legal filing against PETA in March.
“The general theme was there was a complete and utter lack of detail to show that PETA had breached Australian laws,” said Paula Hough, a paralegal in corporate affairs with the PETA Foundation.
An Australian judge is deliberating whether AWI’s second legal filing can proceed. Hough said a ruling is expected in two to three weeks.
Matthew Rice, a PETA campaign coordinator, said the 45-day moratorium serves as an opportunity for groups who have refused to engage in the talks to review the agreement.
PETA’s moratorium will end in mid-September.
“At the end of the initial 45 days, if the rest of the wool industry is not at least willing to talk about this agreement … then yes, our campaign will be back on,” Rice added.