ANIMAL activists PETA have flagged the "near death" of the Australian wool industry if producers continue to mules beyond 2010.
The group has vowed to "keep all campaign options open" if the mulesing deadline - an agreement made between PETA and the Australian wool industry last year - is not adhered to.
PETA's threats follow last week's Australian Wool Innovation board election, which saw NSW stud Merino breeder Wal Merriman elected chairman.
Four new board members - all opposed to the 2010 deadline - were also elected.
Former chairman Brian van Rooyen was the only member of the incumbent board to be retained.
"If AWI cannot still guarantee an end to mulesing by 2010, it could mean more major retailers will pull out of Australian wool entirely, which could mean the near death of the Australian wool industry," PETA's corporate affairs director Matt Prescott said.
"It seems rather than vigorously promoting viable mulesing alternatives like bare-breech breeding, early crutching and frequent jetting, AWI has led wool growers down the dangerous path of clip mulesing, another cruel mutilation that many global retailers oppose."
PETA sent an open letter to six AWI directors in the wake of last week's election, demanding AWI commit to a three-point plan to phase out mulesing.
A copy of the letter, provided by PETA, is addressed to new chairman Wal Merriman, deputy chairman Roger Fletcher and new board members Laurence Modiano, Meredith Sheil, David Webster and George Falkiner.
The letter states AWI must:
Immediately end the use of clip mulesing nationwide and replace it with humane flystrike-control methods that don't involve the removal of skin.
Ensure that after 2010, Australian farmers will not remove the skin from sheep's rumps - whether by standard or clip mulesing.
Agree to immediately undertake bare-breech breeding programs nationwide, with the goal that every wool-producing sheep in Australia will be bare-breech by the end of 2013.
The letter says PETA will cease its efforts urging international retailers to boycott Australian wool if AWI agrees to the three-point plan.
Mr Prescott said the letter also sought clarification on AWI's position on the 2010 deadline.
Mr Prescott said AWI didn't seem to have "one clear message" for the industry.
"That's why we wrote to Mr Merriman and the other board members to ask for clarification," he said.
"PETA and dozens of major retailers have been anxiously awaiting an end to the gruesome mulesing mutilations in 2010, so it's disappointing and outrageous that AWI might now be back-peddling."
But after last week's AWI meeting, Mr Merriman said he would be sticking with AWI's current policy of researching mulesing alternatives and supporting the 2010 deadline.
Whether or not that policy would change Mr Merriman was not saying, despite an electorate of growers who wanted a softening of the mulesing deadline.
"Everyone on the new board wants to see an end to mulesing as soon as possible but it can only be achieved when viable alternatives are in place," Mr Merriman said.
"While it's my genuine hope that this can be achieved by the designated phase-out date, it's also my hope that animal activists realise that the Australian industry is genuinely seeking viable alternatives."
The first full meeting of the new board is scheduled for December 16.
Local animal rights groups have also called on Australian wool producers to stick to the 2010 deadline.
RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neil urged the industry to continue its work developing alternatives to mulesing.
"The industry has come a long way in such a short period of time so it would be very disappointing if the momentum was lost," Ms Neil said.
She commended wool producers who had switched to "more humane husbandry procedures" and urged others to "stay focused on 2010".
Last week's election results meant seven of AWI's nine directors were now opposed to the mulesing deadline.
The election attracted votes from 35 per cent of AWI's 30,000 levy-paying shareholders.
The five challengers, of which four were successful, attracted 52.4 per cent of the vote, while the incumbents won 47.6 per cent.
New board member Mr Modiano, a UK wool processor, attracted the most votes - 199,273.
Dr Shiel received 189,892 votes, Mr van Rooyen 185,006, Mr Webster 179,589 and Mr Falkiner 174,811.