American Sheep Industry
(American Wool Assurance (AWA) homepage)
The American Wool Assurance website launched today at AmericanWoolAssurance.org, allowing American sheep producers to take a crucial step in certifying their wool through this voluntary, American industry-driven certification process.
The American Sheep Industry Association worked with Colorado State University the past two years to develop the voluntary program and standards that will allow manufacturers to purchase American wool with confidence that the animals producing that wool have been raised with a high level of care. Industry input from producers, shearers, buyers, extension, animal welfare experts and processors was critical in development of program standards.
“This is something that consumers and brands are asking for increasingly, and so it has become important to retailers, processors and wool buyers in recent years,” said ASI Deputy Director Rita Samuelson, who oversees wool marketing for the association. “We announced the standards for the voluntary American Wool Assurance program earlier this year and we know that many in the textile trade are anxious to buy wools with the assurance of best animal care practices. Launching the website and the accompanying education courses are important steps in the process. Most importantly, this process allows American wool producers to share their stories of using premium animal welfare practices, as well as their rich wool heritage.”
Sheep producers interested in earning certification should go to AmericanWoolAssurance.org and sign up as soon as possible. After filling out the initial sign-up form – which is for those involved in wool production only – users are then able to access the educational courses that are required to complete Level I (Educated) of the voluntary program. Producers must also complete ASI’s Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance course to complete the first level. Those who have previously completed the SSQA course will not have to complete it again.
The SSQA course – which is in the process of being updated – provides a foundation for care and handling of sheep. The AWA course narrows the focus to handling, shearing and production. It will guide producers through three learning courses: an overview of AWA, year-round standards and shearing standards. The courses are user-friendly and can be accessed on any computer or mobile device with an internet connection. The AWA course should take about an hour for most producers to complete.
Following Level I accreditation, growers can become certified in Level II (Process Verified), which involves an evaluation by a second party such as a veterinarian or extension agent. Level III (Certified) requires an independent audit. To prepare for these next levels, growers are encouraged to develop an operating plan and hold records relating to each of the AWA standards. Additionally, training for veterinarians, extension and auditors is being developed and training will occur late this year and into next.
Following accreditation, growers can share their unique code with wool buyers, enabling buyers to verify the status of their certification. Additionally, as traceability becomes increasingly important, wool growers can choose if they would simply like to share the status of their certification, or if they would like to share more information, such as ranch name and general location.
“Accreditation in AWA certifies what growers are already doing, prioritizing the proper care of their sheep and provides another marketing tool for them,” Samuelson said. “ASI suggests consulting with your wool warehouse or buyer for more information before making production and marketing decisions, as prices for certified wool will vary based on a number of factors. However, the feedback from wool buyers and processors is that international wools in an assurance program sell with a premium.”