THE Australian wool industry is on a collision course with animal-welfare groups after declaring it would not meet the controversial December 2010 mulesing deadline.
Australian Wool Innovation this week made the bold declaration, provoking an immediate reaction from animal rights group PETA.
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"If AWI is unable to meet the 2010 deadline, retailers around the world will take action by sourcing wool elsewhere," PETA campaigner Ashley Fruno said.
"AWI need only blame itself for losing the world market by trying to put off the inevitable."
In a statement released on Monday, AWI claimed the deadline was "not based on sound health and welfare science and risks a serious deterioration in the welfare of sheep and/or a critical negative impact on the production and supply of wool".
AWI's statement drew fire from some wool growers but praise from others.
"There was no need for AWI to say the deadline would not be met," said WoolProducers president Don Hamblin.
"AWI is a research and marketing body, not an industry policy," Mr Hamblin said.
He said the December 2010 commitment was an agreement developed in 2004 between retailers and the representative Australian Wool and Sheep Industry Task Force.
Mr Hamblin and Australian Council of Wool Exporters executive officer Dr Peter Morgan rejected AWI's claims that its new policy had been adopted after industry-wide consultation.
"The statement from AWI is short-sighted and once again has our customers and the public confused about where the industry stands on mulesing." Mr Hamblin said.
"The credentials of how a product is produced is a high priority to consumers and the problems associated with mulesing won't go away."
Federal Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said any variation of industry position on the mulesing deadline was "a matter for the industry".
"The important principle is that any overseas buyer who wants to purchase unmulesed wool is able to," Mr Burke said.
WoolProducer vice president and Queensland producer Brent Finlay said the AWI statement was premature and populist politics which the wool industry could do without.
"There are still 18 months to go before the proposed phase-out of mulesing is due, and many growers have already ceased or are working towards stopping the practice," Mr Finlay said.
He said AWI's line that mulesing was the reason people were leaving the wool industry ignored the reality that, as in any business, profitability was the key driver.
Dr Morgan said he was extremely disappointed with the AWI statement and the message it would send to those retailers who were critical in lifting the demand and price for wool.
The US retailers, through their representative body National Retail Federation, were also very disappointed.
NRF vice president Erik Autor said US retail and brand companies were very concerned about the position this left and the options they might have available.
"While we agree that an analgesics system is acceptable as a short-term measure, retailers do not consider it to be consistent with the 2005 commitment by the Australian wool industry."
The Weekly Times was unable to get comments from AWI board members or its executive director Brenda McGahan.
AWI media manager Marius Cuming said no one from AWI would be made available for comment to The Weekly Times because of what he claimed was unfair and incorrect reporting by the newspaper.