Bribery allegations unravel wool industry

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PUBLISHED ON: 11 March 2008

The Australian Wool and Sheep Industry (AWSI) has been accused of bribery and intimidation tactics by both Swedish animal advocates and the Australian Wool Growers Association (AWGA) after video evidence of the alleged bribery was exposed on Swedish TV last week.

This most recent controversy surrounding the wool industry continues to escalate as European media coverage builds public outrage over the controversial practice of mulesing, in which skin is cut from the sheep's backside without pain relief.

Lambs are routinely mulesed without anaesthetic or follow-up, ongoing treatment for pain relief.

Kevin Craig, an AWSI taskforce consultant, accompanied by a man said to be an Australian embassy official, were filmed by the Swedish television program Kalla Facta offering a free trip to Australia to an animal welfare campaigner on the condition that she did not speak out on television against mulesing.

Laurence Modiano, director of the UK based company G. Modiano, one of the world's largest wool wholesalers, has joined the AWGA in calling for the resignation of Ian McLachlan, the chairman of Australian Wool Innovations (AWI), the research and marketing arm of the industry taskforce. "He's contributed little to the industry over the years and I fear that if he continues in this way he may end up being responsible for its demise," said Mr Modiano.

Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett has called on Australia's Federal Government to conduct a public inquiry into these allegations of bribery and intimidation. "Australian Wool Innovations has a history of intimidating those who try to highlight the cruelty involved in mulesing of sheep and the live export industry," said Mr Bartlett.

This scandal comes on the back of an exposé earlier last week in the Swedish paper, Metro, regarding Australia's 'ultra-fine' wool industry. The reaction from the Swedish public to both practices has been one of shock and outrage, with nineteen of Sweden's largest clothing retailers banning Australian wool products.

Since first airing, Kalla Facta's wool industry bribery exposé has been televised in Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, and is soon to be aired in Germany. Ten Danish retailers have also joined the boycott of Australian wool from mulesed sheep.

The Western Australian Department of Agriculture has announced that it will end mulesing of lambs on its research stations forthwith. On the same day the NSW Farmers Association called for an immediate ban of mulesing to stave of threats of 60 major foreign retailers joining the boycott.

While Australia's Agricultural Minister, Tony Burke, continues to defend the wool industry and mulesing, his Swedish counterpart, Eskil Erlandsoon, has urged consumers to boycott Australian wool and now intends to raise his concerns about mulesing with the EU Commission.

The Swedish police and military have also criticised the Australian wool industry. A military spokesperson likened Australian treatment of sheep to 'child labour', while Swedish police's head of purchasing Karl-Goran Svensson said "[Mulesing] is, of course, totally unacceptable and we will put up ethical rules for it now."

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What you can do:

The most powerful message each of us can send to the wool industry is that caring consumers and community members will not support animal cruelty. If you choose to buy wool products, enquire of the retailer whether the wool is ethically sourced (from sheep that are not mulesed — as a minimum!).

Show Australia's decision makers that it's not only the international public that are appalled by the Australian wool industry's cruel treatment of animals. Use the following key points to compose a letter to the editor of your local paper:

  • I am writing regarding the recent outrage throughout Europe over the Australian wool industry's continued cruel treatment of animals.
  • Mulesing, which involves cutting skin from the backside of an animal without pain relief is cruel and outdated.
  • Whilst the Australian wool industry continues to mules sheep, factory farm sheep for 'ultra-fine' wool and export live animals, they taint Australia's international reputation.
  • Even the Swedish Agricultural Minister has urged consumers to boycott Australian wool.
  • In the past the Federal Government has unquestionably backed the wool industry.
  • It's time for the Australian government and the wool industry to wake up to the fact that Australians and the international public alike, will not tolerate animal cruelty.

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