What does “mulesing-free” mean? Why you should buy mulesing-free merino clothing

The term "mulesing" has to do with the production of merino wool and is a highly controversial topic. Many consumers who care about animal welfare are increasingly asking for products that are mulesing-free.

Mulesing against the flystrike disease

Merino wool is produced from the fur of merino sheep. These sheep are bred in a way that the animals have a very wrinkly skin. As a result, they can produce a higher quantity of wool. However, these skin folds cause a lot of problems: Moisture collects in the folds and faeces and urine are also retained around this area. This attracts the blowfly (Lucilia cuprina), found mainly in Australia and New Zealand, that causes the so-called flystrike. The fly lays its eggs in the warm and humid skin folds of the sheep, from which fly larvae hatch. The maggots nest parasitically in the skin of the animal and can cause infections. For the sheep, this infestation can be fatal.

Mulesing: removal of skin strips - without anaesthetics

Mulesing means that skin strips around the buttocks of merino sheep are removed. The tissue that grows over the wound does not grow wool again, so it is less likely to attract the flies. The Australian National Farmers Federation states that without mulesing, 3 million sheep a year could die a slow death from flystrike. What sounds like a good thing for the animals has a huge negative: the skin strips are removed without anaesthetics. The procedure is carried out with the sheep fully conscious and it is therefore very painful for the sheep. Afterwards, the wound has to heal without further check-ups. It also happens that the blowfly lays eggs in this open wound and the sheep becomes infested nevertheless.

Mulesing-free merino wool - the pressure on producers is increasing

The pressure on sheep farmers who use mulesing on their animals has increased significantly in recent years. In October 2004, the American label Abercrombie & Fitch was the first brand to boycott Australian merino wool under pressure from the animal welfare organisation PETA. Many large fashion chains are now distancing themselves from merino wool, which was made using mulesing. Mulesing has been forbidden in New Zealand since October 2018. In Australia, the largest producer of merino wool, there is only a voluntary ban. In March 2020, a list of one hundred international textile brands was published that oppose mulesing was published.

Alternative non-surgical methods to mulesing have been researched. These include more targeted breeding, injections into the sheep’s skin, biological control of blowflies or insecticides. But an equally effective alternative to mulesing has not yet been found.

What can I as a consumer do against mulesing?

As a consumer, go for labels that guarantee sheep farming without mulesing. One of these is the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) label. The RWS label is based on the “Five Freedoms”: 1. Freedom from hunger and thirst, 2. Freedom from discomfort, 3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease (this includes mulesing-free husbandry), 4. Freedom to express normal behaviour, 5. Freedom from fear and distress.

With your conscious choice of merino clothing marked “mulesing-free” or certified with the Responsible Wool Standard seal, you support high animal welfare standards.
At Pamboo, we source the wool for our merino children’s clothing from an organic farm certified with the Responsible Wool Standard. We are proud that our merino clothing is therefore mulesing-free.

Pamboo offers kids' wool sweater and thermal underwear from mulesing-free merino.

(Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash)

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