SA Wool goes green

The recent International Wool Textile Organisation conference in Beijing put much emphasis on animal rights and environmentally friendly wool. Here’s what chairperson of Cape Wools, Geoff Kingwell, told attendees about the South African wool growers’ Code of Best Practice.
Issue date : 27 June 2008

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Wool is produced in a way that leaves a small environmental footprint. When compared to synthetics and even cotton, wool that’s grown under extensive conditions is much more environmentally friendly. Even organic cotton remains a monoculture, while our flocks graze on the veld with all the biodiversity it supports. We have to do more to inform consumers and the whole pipeline about our product and the way we produce it. And, to ensure credibility, farmers can sign the Code of Best Practice. The code has three levels with the of Best Practice as the foundation.

A large percentage of growers will probably meet the requirements, because they’re based on the practices of responsible growers who are concerned about their sheep, the environment and the people around them. The Code for Eco Wool is the next level and the first step towards the niche markets. In line with the recommendations of the International Wool Textile Organisation’s Organic Working Group, the Code for Eco Wool will specify the requirements of the EU Eco-label.

Admittedly, there are several eco standards in different countries and if necessary, the code can be expanded to include some of these, but in the interest of simplicity, we are starting with the Eco-label. The Code for Organic Wool will be the highest level code and is likely to have the smallest number of growers who qualify. This code will initially contain the organic production requirements of SA as well as the EU. As other markets with different requirements develop, these will be included. L ooking at the overall code in more detail, it’s clear that it’s built around animal welfare, care for the environment and social responsibility.

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Animal welfare Adequate nutrition and sufficient water of a good quality are not only fundamental requirements for animal welfare; they are also fundamental for profitable wool growing. P reventing pain and disease: by breeding sheep that are adapted to the environment and by implementing the correct management practices, we actively try to prevent disease and the accompanying stress to the animal. These management strategies include procedures to prevent contagious diseases when introducing new stock to a farm.

As consumers don’t want a product that is grown under artificial conditions, it’s vital that animals are allowed to express their natural behaviour and this implies minimum interference. We comply by breeding adapted animals that don’t need help from humans for events like lambing. rotecting them against adverse weather is particularly important after shearing and at lambing. That’s why these times are scheduled not to coincide with the coldest times of the year in cold regions. Water and feed quality: as feed and water are not available in the same quantity and quality all year round, the woolgrower has to ensure that the stocking rate matches the available supply of feed and water.

In extreme situations like drought, the woolgrower has to have strategies in place to limit stress on the animals. At times we need to do things like tail docking and castration to animals for their long-term benefit, but which will cause stress at the time of the procedure. Here, we recommend the best age and methods to minimise stress. The sheep we have in SA don’t need mulesing. Instead, we have bred animals that are less susceptible to common problems such as fly strike.

For transportation, the code specifies the maximum distances that sheep can be driven in a day, minimum requirements for the vehicles, the driver’s responsibilities and so on. Lastly, good handling facilities, shearing practices and adequate shelter greatly reduce stress. Care for the environment ooking after soil structure and organisms means less chemicals and more sustainable farming. Caring for the environment also means conserving water and combating invader plants. But predator control is easier said than done because while we must protect our sheep, predators should not be wiped out.

The solution lies in finding holistic, humane methods that target only those predators that attack sheep. The code also requires woolgrowers to limit chemical use by looking at alternatives like biological control. And when chemicals are used, it must be according to recommendations. Social responsibility This relates mainly to conditions of employment, labour relations, health and safety.

Our labour laws provide good protection for employees. By adhering to these laws, creating a wholesome working environment and empowering employees through skills development, we’re addressing the social sustainability of the industry. – Roelof Bezuidenhout