The Australian wool industry is under fire from some of the world’s largest retailers to ban mulesing, a painful surgical operation that cuts away flaps of flesh from a lamb’s breech and tail—typically without anesthesia—to prevent the parasitic infection known as flystrike. In a new position paper from the Wool Working Group on Monday, organizations such as the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the European Association of Fashion Retailers, the British Retail Consortium, the Canadian Apparel Federation, the Foreign Trade Association, the National Council of Textile Organizations, and Nordic Initiative Clean and Ethical are urging Australian wool growers to “expeditiously identify and adopt viable alternatives to surgical mulesing,” an animal-husbandry technique that is unanimously opposed by animal-rights groups across the globe.

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Although the consortium of manufacturers, retailers, and brands affirm the Australian wool industry’s value, particularly with the current high price of wool, its failure to act undermines that relationship, the letter states. “In addition, we call upon the representative organizations of the Australian wool industry to develop a strategy with measurable milestones to achieve this goal,” it says.

The signatories encourage the Australian wool industry to support genetics and breeding programs.

The signatories encourage the Australian wool industry to support genetics and breeding programs, which have the potential to eliminate some of the highest risk factors for flystrike among merino sheep, particularly breech wrinkle. “We support the efforts by a growing number of merino stud breeders in Australia to produce plainer-bodied rams, with progeny that will be more resistant to flystrike, yet have good fleece weight and lower wool micron size that growers need,” the statement adds.

In addition, the group calls upon the Australian Wool Exchange, with support from the Australian government, to require all growers selling their wool to report their mulesing status on the National Wool Declaration: “mulesed,” “mulesed with pain relief,” “clips,” “ceased-mulesed,” or “non-mulesed.”

Despite its strong language, the letter is short of actual threats, which begs the question of how effective it’ll be. The group sent a similar letter in June 2010, after Australian stakeholders missed their own 2010 deadline to outlaw mulesing.

On its website, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals describes mulesing as not just cruel, but “also ineffective.”

[Via ABC Australia]