ANIMAL rights activists calling for the elimination of mulesing will be responsible for the death of five to six million sheep if the practice is banned, according to Woolmark chairman Trevor Flugge.
Mr Flugge said an international political campaign - by US-based vegetarian lobby group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - urging people not to buy wool products could severely damage the industry.
He said the group had recently contacted key retailers in the US and UK, placing pressure on them not to promote woollen products.
In a recent eastern states newspaper article, a PETA spokesman claimed mulesing was hideous and there were many alternatives, such as spray washing, diet regulation and simply not breeding sheep unsuitable for the Australian climate.
He said farmers continued to mutilate live sheep by carving chunks of their flesh off.
Mr Flugge said he had spoken with other industry leaders about the issue, including Australian Wool Innovation chairman Ian McLachlan and WoolProducers president Robert Peitsch.
Mr Flugge told last week's WAFarmers annual wool conference PETA had misrepresented the mulesing issue and WoolProducers, which is coordinating the response to the issue, had written to major retailers providing assurances that husbandry practices are done in the best interests of the animals.
"If you cut out mulesing today, between five to six million sheep will die from flies, there is no question about that," Mr Flugge said.
"But if that's what those people want, then let the world hear about that, because that's what they are suggesting at this point in time.
"They are saying stop the mulesing. Now is that what they really want, because we don't have any alternatives although we are working on some new ones."
The PETA campaign is also targeting the live sheep trade.