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International Wool Trade Shifts to Organic

Sep 5, 2008
Uruguay, which has a wool industry worth some $360 million and keeps around 60,000 people employed, is shifting the way it produces sheep hair in the attempts to counteract falling production levels, with a new focus on organic production methods. Tough the government ministry has said that this year's shear, which begins this week, should bring in around 42 million kilos of wool, there have been warnings from both farmers and those inside the textile industry that rising costs, poor exchange rates, primarily against the weakened dollar, and exacting tax rebate system were all at risk of lowering production levels.

Against that backdrop one of the country's leading wool and textile dealers, Pedro Otegui, has outlined his vision of the country's wool industry as one where a shift toward the increasingly popular organic method of production will secure continued trade. In addition, he stated that the World's growing population - which is expected to be over one and a half billion people in the next twenty-five years - will ensure that there remains a large enough wool market for Uruguay to continue profitably exporting wool and textiles.

"We know some farms are already moving towards the organic certification process, so we estimate that not too long from now, we should be able to supply the world Uruguayan wool stamped with the organic seal," Otegui said.

Even though the size of the sheep flock in Uruguay has fallen dramatically in the last couple of years - from around 26 million then to 10 million today- there is wide scale belief that the country can see its industry through by promoting organic wool, which it feels is a relevant product for international buyers who wish to endorse sustainable and animal cruelty-free methods of farming.

There are large fears over Australia's $2.9 billion a year wool industry over the country's lack of speed in keeping abreast of their consumers concerns over ethical farming practices. Mulesing, the practice of cutting the skin off of the hindquarters of Merino sheep to prevent fly larvae infestations . The practice has been condemned by animal rights campaigners, who argue that it is unnecessarily cruel, despite the fact that the infestations can be fatal.

The wool industry has had to change in Australia, with a new focus on providing higher quality, ethically sourced material. It is this kind of change that farmers and textile manufacturers in Uruguay see as crucial for the sustained existence of their industry. As of July this year Australian sheep farmers have had to separate wool produced using mulesing at their auctions. A large reason for this is that the companies buying the wool became aware of their customer's desire to avoid the practice. In 2004 Abercrombie and Fitch banned the use of mulesing wool in it's clothing. Hugo Boss, Timberland, Victoria's Secret and most recently Hennes and Mauritz (H and M) have all followed suit.

The actions of these huge companies have placed unmulesed wool at a ten percent premium over its mulesed counterpart and show the insight of the Uruguayan industry in realising that their future success is reliant on recognising and anticipating consumer concerns, such as the currently dominant concerns over animal welfare and organic products, and responding accordingly.
About the Author
Martin Gavin is a writer for Ecoswitch
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