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Italian fabric maker brings attention to ethical wool and the issue of pain relief

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Italian fabric maker Vitale Barberis Canonico is lobbying the Federal Trade Minister to address concerns about animal welfare and a struggling wool market. Davide Fontaneto, a raw wool buyer for the world’s largest fabric exporter, Vitale Barberis Canonico, is urging action on animal welfare. His call follows European wool buyer Laurence Modiano’s letter calling for compulsory pain relief for lambs at mulesing time.

Mr Fontaneto was interview by ABC rural radio in Australia. “At the beginning of this year we had a visit from the Australian Ambassador and a few days ago the Trade Minister visited Biella, (northern Italy)”,  Mr Fontaneto said. “We gave him a letter highlighting the problem in the wool market, one of them was animal welfare, the problem of mulesing and we suggested the same thing (as Modiano suggested).”

But on the vexed issue of fly strike prevention, Mr Fontaneto is torn. “I really can’t decide what is better, mulesing or not mulesing,” he said.”I have seen many times sheep die because of the fly, and this is really painful. But we are in the 21st century and if we decide to mules we must use pain relief, and the best would be to the use of anaesthetic before the surgery.”

Vitale Barberis Canonico, which has been making textiles in the northern region of Biella since 1663, produces eight million metres of fabric a year, with a turnover of 116 million Euros and employs 400 workers.

Davide Fontaneto says the Australian Saxon Merino is the best fibre.”So wearing a fabric made of Saxon wool is a feeling of having a second skin, I guess,” he said. “It’s a particular wool that unfortunately is disappearing in this period.”

Andrew Blanch, of New England Wool which sources wool for the Italian fabric maker, says the Saxon Merino wool has a tight crimp that feels alive. “It’s a very, very high crimp frequency wool, allows the fabric to be alive and have body, and come back to its original shape,” Mr Blanch said.

Australian wool producers grow the world’s finest wool, but the global financial crisis seven years ago nearly killed the industry. As well, a growing hunger for sheep meat, combined with a concerted campaign by animal activists, put further pressure on the industry with the national flock now half what it was at its peak.

Mr Fontaneto was in Australia to award the Wool Excellence Award to a Tasmanian farm “Miena” run by the Manning family.

Vitale Barberis Canonico has established a wool excellence club for Saxon Merino breeders and has signed up 18 members, to support the growers, particularly those using ethically and environmentally sustainable production.

“Offering them specific contract that is at least 30 per cent higher in price than the current market for the same kind of wool,” Mr Fontaneto said. “We say to them, ‘try hard, we are here to support you because we can together reach our goal that is the improvement is this type of wool.'”

Given the company buys 25,000 bales a year and this Wool Excellence Club offers just under 2000 bales a year, Vitale Barberis Canonico is searching for more.

To get the 30 per cent premium, woolgrowers are required to be signed up to auditing scheme SustainaWOOL, which was launched this year by New England Wool.

The auditing scheme requires wool to be environmentally and ethically produced, and fully traceable back to the farm, and even the individual sheep.

ABC Rural said that Australian Wool Innovation was unavailable for comment but has indicated that several mulesing alternatives are close to being available to woolgrowers, with the blowfly genome mapped, skin traction approved by the APVMA to begin commercial development, and pre-surgery anaesthetic nearly ready.

But the lobby group, Wool Producers says while more people are choosing to use pain relief, it should not be compulsory.

“I’m always reluctant to mandate something when there is only monopoly supplier, but what is an exciting story is the recent change in supply for Tri-Solfen,” said Ed Storey, senior vice president of Wool Producers Australia.

Until now, Tri-Solfen pain relief was only available from veterinarians, but now it’s also being sold through rural supply stores and Mr Storey said that had led to an increased uptake of Tri-Solfen.

“But from the wool buyer’s perspective, if they want more Tri-Solfen used, if they want more pain relief, they can pay more in the market place (for wool).”

The wool market indicator EMI fell 16-20 cents in sales on Tuesday, down from a high in May this year, after being knocked around by Chinese buyers pulling out of the market.

Davide Fontaneto, of Vitale Barberis Canonico, would like to see farmers paid for their work. “I would like to have the wool market higher, but unfortunately the market is led by the Chinese,” he said. “Even if we try to put more money in the auction system, the part in which we put this money is not so big compared to that led by the Chinese.”

Source: ABC Rural

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