Next and M&S’s fashion boycott

Fashion chains threaten Australian wool boycott

Britain’s leading fashion retailers are threatening to boycott Australian wool from sheep farmers who use the controversial practice of ‘mulesing’, amid animal cruelty concerns.

The move follows an announcement that Australian wool producers have abandoned a promise to phase out the procedure by next year.

Next and Marks & Spencer are among major chains to condemn the decision as ‘totally unacceptable,’ and have pledged to seek wool from non-mulesed Australian sheep, or from other countries.

Mulesing involves cutting off the skin around the buttocks of merino lambs, often without anaesthetic, to prevent ‘flystrike’, the infestation of blowfly maggots, which thrive in the folds of the sheep and eat into its flesh.

Wool farmers promised six years ago to phase out mulesing by December 2010 after threats of a global boycott, following a campaign by animal rights activists PeTA, the US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Now, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the research and development body for the country’s wool industry, has said it is ‘unlikely’ farmers will meet the target because alternatives to mulesing are not yet viable or cost-effective.

The British Retail Consortium said it was ‘disappointed’ at the announcement. ‘Following consultation with the RSPCA (UK), BRC members will, until the end of 2010, seek wool from suppliers who provide flocks with pain relief when mulesing. After this date, they will seek to use suppliers who don’t use mulesing – even if pain relief is provided.’

The Australian National Farmers’ Federation said mulesing remains the most ‘effective practical way to eliminate the risk of flystrike’. Without it ‘up to three million sheep a year could die a slow and agonising death’.

The Australian RSPCA has accepted it as a necessary procedure, and the AWI said research showed without mulesing the risk of flystrike was 40-100%, while mulesing reduced it to 1-3%.

Marks & Spencer and Next have pledged to use only non-mulesed merino wool. Other retailers to have voiced concerns include H&M, Hugo Boss, Nike, Gap and Liz Claiborne.

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