What is mulesing and why is it practiced?
Mulesing is a mutilation practice where young lambs are restrained on their backs, unable to move, while their skin is removed with sharp metal shears and without adequate pain relief. Mulesing is painful and traumatising for the animals. This brutal practice was invented in the 1920s in Australia in response to outbreaks of flystrike. 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 sheep who have been bred with excessive skin folds make for an ideal environment for these flies. Blowflies are particularly attracted to skin folds that retain moisture, especially faeces and urine. For that reason, the areas primarily affected are around the buttocks. The purpose of mulesing is to cut off the skin folds around the buttocks to 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. Importantly, it does not even solve the problem of fly infestation. Flies can still lay eggs in other skin folds on the sheep’s body (so called 'bodystrike').
What is the solution to mulesing and flystrike?
The solution is good farm management and 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 their hindquarters, sheep can be bred without excessive wrinkles. These animals are more resistant to flystrike, and render mulesing unnecessary.
The widely held myth that more wrinkly sheep grow more and higher quality wool led to the overbreeding of merino sheep in Australia and consequently to breeding animals who are highly susceptible to flystrike. The pain-free and available solution is for Australian 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 already 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 which make mulesing and the suffering of over 10 million lambs each year unnecessary.
What is FOUR PAWS' goal for 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 want brands to commit to a complete phase-out of mulesed wool from their product range. We therefore need YOUR help!
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 300+ brands list to see if brands have published a stance against mulesing or even a commitment to phase out mulesed wool in the next 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 RWS, ZQ merino, New 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.
Which 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 favourite brands to make an informed purchase decision.
You can check out our 300+ 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 categorise it as either position against mulesing or the more progressive category of commitment to phase out mulesed wool.
What can brands do to help the sheep used for wool?
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, New Merino, ZQ 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 improving animal welfare in the fashion industry?
Working collaboratively with other animal protection organisations 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 said, 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.
Through our global Wear it Kind campaign, we are engaging directly with fashion and textile brands, wool producers and industry stakeholders to create an open dialogue on how animal welfare can become central to the fashion industry.
FOUR PAWS brings its expertise into play, being the voice of the animals and helping to raise the bar within internationally recognised textile certification standards by promoting sustainable solutions.
Aren't there animal welfare laws protecting lambs from being mulesed?
While Australia's neighbour New Zealand prohibited mulesing by law in 2018, mulesing is widely practiced in Australia itself, more than 10 million lambs being 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.