What is mulesing and why is it practiced?
Mulesing is a mutilation where young lambs are restrained on their backs, unable to move or to run away while their skin is removed with sharp metal shears and without adequate pain relief. This brutal practice was invented in the 1920s in Australia in response to regular outbreaks of flystrike. Mulesing is painful and traumatizing for the animals. Flystrike itself is an animal welfare issue where blowflies lay their eggs in sheep’s skin folds, which leads to an infestation. Blowflies exist all around the world, however, the Australian climate and over-bred sheep with excessive skin folds are the ideal environment for these flies. Blowflies are particularly attracted to skin folds that retain moisture, especially feces and urine. For that reason, the areas primarily affected are around the buttocks. This is why mulesing is done to young lambs; cutting off the skin folds around the buttocks leave a bare area where no wool and no wrinkles grow for flies to lay their eggs in.
The procedure is performed annually without adequate pain relief on over 10 million lambs in Australia. To make matters worse, it does not even solve the problem of fly infestation. Flies can still lay eggs in other skin folds on the sheep’s body (called "bodystrike").
What is the solution?
The solution is good farm management and the transition to available and more flystrike resistant sheep genetics in order to produce mulesed-free wool. In other words, instead of cutting off a lamb’s wrinkly skin around the butt, sheep can be bred without excessive wrinkles. These animals are more resistant and render mulesing unnecessary.
The widely spread myth that more wrinkly sheep grow more, and higher quality, wool led to the over-breeding of merino sheep in Australia, and consequently to breeding animals who are highly susceptible to flystrike. The pain-free and available solution is for wool growers to transition to sheep without excessive wrinkles and for brands to source certified mulesed-free wool.
More than 3,000 Australian wool growers work with these types of sheep and therefore do not practice mulesing. According to wool growers that have stopped mulesing, transitioning to more flystrike resistant genetics takes only 3-5 years and does not result in any loss in wool amount or wool quality, while increasing animal welfare.
In summary, there are pain-free alternatives that make mulesing and the suffering of over 10 million lambs each year unnecessary! We want brands to go certified mulesed-free merino wool!
What goal does FOUR PAWS pursue by this campaign and what can I do to help?
FOUR PAWS wants to end the cruel and outdated practice of mulesing once and for all. We are raising awareness about the problem and the available pain-free solutions and we essentially want brands to commit to a complete phase-out of mulesed wool from their product range. We therefore need YOUR help!
Check out our brands list consisting of brands who are against mulesing!
By signing our petition and/or writing directly to the brands who have not committed to go certified mulesing-free yet, you can contribute to convincing them to switch. Once brands make that commitment, Australian wool growers will stop mulesing and produce according to the demand. Together, we can make a difference for the sheep and spare millions of lambs from being mutilated for their wool in the world’s biggest wool producing country – Australia.
What should I pay attention to if I want to buy mulesed-free wool?
You can check a brand’s website or our brands list to see if brands have published a stance against mulesing or a commitment to phase out mulesed wool in the next few years. If you can’t find any of that, it is best to ask the brand directly!
If the brand does not publicly speak out against mulesing or has no reliable certification in place (such as Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), NATIVA and ZQ Merino or equivalent) ask them to make a commitment to go certified mulesed-free by signing our petition and/or by writing to them directly.
We want brands to commit to reliable wool certifications and to communicate their decision publicly in order to send a clear signal to the Australian wool industry to produce mulesed-free.
What brands offer mulesed-free clothing?
There is an increasing number of brands who do not want to source mulesed-wool and have publicly spoken out against that cruel practice. For that reason, we have set up a list which is continuously growing and consists of already over 100 internationally well-known brands who are against mulesing. This enables higher market transparency and helps people to look up their favorite brands to make an informed purchase decision.
You can check out our brands list here. If you know more brands who have a public stance against mulesing (on their website, in their stores or on their products), you can contact us here to provide us with the respective information. We will then upload it and categorize it as either a position against mulesing or the more progressive category of commitment to phase out mulesed wool.
What can brands do to help the sheep they are sourcing the wool from for their products?
Brands must speak out publicly against mulesing (on their website, in their animal welfare policy, etc.) and translate that position into action by committing to a step-by-step phase-out of mulesed wool from their supply chains. Working with and relying on transparency and traceability systems such as the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), NATIVA and ZQ Merino or equivalent is essential to guarantee that the wool is mulesed-free and hasn’t been mixed up with mulesed wool along the supply chains.
How has FOUR PAWS contributed to increase animal welfare in the fashion industry?
Working collaboratively with other animal protection organizations and the fashion industry itself, while campaigning for change alongside its supporters, fashionistas and consumers, FOUR PAWS has effectively moved the industry to better care for animals. Since 1988, we have advocated for animals who are abused for fur, and now more broadly, for fashion. Most recently, we successfully encouraged almost all major European brands to end their use of down from live-plucked or force-fed geese.
FOUR PAWS brings its expertise into play, being the voice of the animals and helping to raise the bar within internationally recognized textile certification standards by promoting sustainable solutions.
Aren't there animal welfare laws protecting lambs from being mulesed?
While Australia's neighbor New Zealand prohibited mulesing by law in 2018, mulesing is still widely practiced in Australia. More than 10 million lambs are mutilated through this cruel practice each year.
While FOUR PAWS is calling for better animal welfare laws, effective legislation can take decades to achieve and implement. That’s why we need brands to be transparent, thereby enabling consumers to make the right decision today. The animals can no longer wait!
What is the difference between transparency and traceability in relation to animal protection and certified mulesed-free wool?
Transparency to enable better animal welfare standards includes operating in such a way that consumers can easily spot how a brand or retailer values and ensures animal protection. For example, brands should publish effective animal protection or welfare policies, as well as information about what standards of care are being applied.
Traceability has the capability to backtrack something such as wool within a supply chain, keeping track of and sharing its credentials, e.g. its origin and the standards applied.