Wool supplier Highlight: ‘The Schneider Group’ helps to end mulesing
The company's sustainability manager explains their journey to sheep-friendly practices
Willy Gallia talks about G Schneider and its vision as a company: The Schneider Group directly buys wool and other natural fibers at the origin. Our factories separate the noble fibers from the impurities and turn it into the best raw materials for the production of yarns and fabrics. We also manage 18 farms in Argentina hence we are wool producers ourselves.
Our vision is that natural fibers are the nature-based solutions to issues such as climate change and extreme consumerism and we want to deliver answers for a better world through our actions. We do this all with the greatest care for the people, the animals and the environment by adopting the best practises throughout the industry.
How did you come to your dedication and passion for wool?
I'm third generation of textile people. So, it runs in my blood. Also, I've been raised in close contact with nature and animals in Patagonia, Argentina. I want to play my part in finding a balance with nature. A balance like I encountered in farms and outdoors. I simply love being out there, away from crowds and noises.
What is the biggest animal welfare issue in your sector and why is animal welfare important for G Schneider?
Obviously one of the biggest animal welfare issues in the wool sector is mulesing, a practice that needs to be completely eliminated as soon as possible and finally we are seeing significant advances being made in this regard.
But there are other issues like adequate access to water and food, livestock transportation, tail docking and the shearing itself, just to name a few. Every interaction with humans needs to be put under scrutiny and make sure they are done in the best way possible. To us working in the wool industry sheep are very special: sheep are our lifestyle.
We love what we do, and we want to partner with likeminded people: a passionate farmer will take good care of his land and his animals. It also makes sense businesswise. Being woolgrowers ourselves we know that healthy and happy sheep produce better and more wool: It is as simple as that. Finally, we know that being on the front line makes us accountable for our actions, a concept we’ve embraced.
Have you ever witnessed the practice of mulesing? What does come to your mind when thinking of mulesing?
I have only seen videos. The suffering of sheep with maggots is terrible and this I did witness in person. It is hard to understand that this was the solution to another problem which is worse: flystrike. However, in the past, people didn't know better.
Growers or herders are so close to nature that sometimes it's difficult to understand their thinking. Nature is beautiful but can be very harsh, the circle of life can appear to be very cruel at times and most growers know this very well. Their communion with nature is surely profound and we have a lot to learn from them, but it is only healthy that we should ask them questions about what they do and if it can be done better. This is the clear case for mulesing, but it is a concept that is extensive to everything. I believe we are always evolving and surely some things we do today will be regarded as wrong in the future.
What is your personal connection to sheep?
I love their character; they are very sociable and relaxed. I had the chance of being raised close to them and caring for a lamb who lost its mom is something that changes your perspective about them for sure. They are like cats, or dogs, but with a touch of wild in them. And once you raise them, even when they go out in the fields with their flocks later on, they always remember you.
Why is G Schneider speaking out against mulesing?
Because we believe that it can and should be phased out. We are doing this by relying on the input from our clients and the end users who are pushing for this. So, we want to make sure that growers know that this is going on and that their wool won’t be desirable for our clients. We are one of the communicating channels of the industry, but we can talk from a partner perspective, which is hugely effective. We want growers to do well and we want more wool out there, because that's what we are: wool people.
There are pain-free alternatives to mulesing such as transitioning to better and more resistant sheep genetics. Over 3,000 wool growers have switched. However, the majority in Australia is still practicing mulesing. Why do you think the full shift away from mulesing has not happened yet and what do you think is needed to end this practice?
Because it isn't easy at all: it requires a significant change in the way they work, and some growers are very traditional. On top of that growers are facing huge financial burdens because of the low prices of wool and have lost faith in the fashion industry simply because the fashion industry in some cases doesn't seem to value their efforts. Do you know that quite often the price of the raw material within a garment is lower than the fee your credit card charges you for a transaction?
I believe that not to mules is a genuine request, but it should have been addressed differently. The accusations of brutalities have been very strong and widely spread. There are some rotten apples out there, but these mustn't speak for the vast majority of more silent actors who are passionate, loving and caring. It is vitally important to change the tone of the message to make it effective and I believe FOUR PAWS is doing it, that's why we've helped all along.
Let’s talk about G Schneider’s own wool verification scheme: Authentico. What were the motives and the vision behind it and how does G Schneider with Authentico contribute to end mulesing and increase animal welfare?
Authentico actually started a very long time ago as a traceability scheme. People wanted to know where the wool came from.
Regarding mulesing we do not accept it and we pressure the Australian authorities to become more transparent with the NWD* (the National Wool Declaration). We also created a RWS (Responsible Wool Standard) group certification partnering with brokers to make sure we give access to our network of 600 growers to become certified at the lower cost and hassle free. We promote good growers so that their stories are also heard, and we have many other plans for the future but will surely talk about them on a different occasion.
*NWD is the biggest wool auction body in Australia and has made recently a step backwards towards less transparency.
What are the challenges and solutions in taking leadership and moving away from mulesing?
The biggest challenge is convincing people that this is the best for all: it's not just a contingent 'market demand' but it’s rather a deeper change of mindset. Our solution is to empower the grower with visibility which in turn ensures they get all the credit and value that they deserve for the work. So positive reinforcement instead of negative feedback did help enormously.
Can you explain how you are helping wool growers to transition away from mulesing?
Through our Authentico program we have been promoting non mulesed wool to our customers and many retailers and we’ve created a higher demand for such wool. We are also offering our certified growers long term contracts at a premium. This sends a very loud and clear message across the industry. On top of this we are talking to growers through our communication channels making sure they know our vision on the matter and the reasons behind it.
What is the message to brands when it comes to moving away from mulesing?
Brands are playing their part in sending a clear message about what they want with regards to animal welfare, so we are happy to have their support when it comes to change within the industry. But brands must be prepared to value wool and all the work behind it.
How do you picture an Australian wool sheep farm in the future?
Absolutely bright. I'm optimistic and biased for my passion but I honestly think that good farming can bring answers to our current environmental challenges and therefore, if we play our part with doing the best we can and then some more, I am sure clients and the general public will approve and will highly value what natural based solutions can do for their lives. This means no mulesing, carbon sequestering, biodiversity, whilst generating value and wealth. The impact of our industry in the support for rural communities is amazing, so we also enhance the livelihoods of countless rural communities in places that only by seeing them and experiencing them will be understood.
What is your ideal picture of wool industry in 5 years considering mulesing developments in Australia and how will it probably look like in 5 years?
I am certain best practises will be spreading enormously and we are doing big efforts to see that happen. Also we hope that with our Authentico scheme gaining attention, more growers will follow our suggestions and understand how important it is to phase out mulesing and to then start offering solutions to other problems in a proactive manner.
Thanks to Willy Gallia for the interview!
The opinions shared in these interviews reflect the views of the authors and do not represent the position of FOUR PAWS.