By Chere Di Boscio
A few years ago, many ethical fashion consumers stopped buying angora when they learned how cruelly the material is sourced. And now, with PETA drawing attention to the harm the wool industry does to sheep, we’re expecting shoppers to curb their consumption of that material, too.
Is Wool Ethical?
A new video exposé of the British wool industry revealed some horrifying sights at 25 UK farming sheds visited by a PETA Asia eyewitness. For example, shearers punched sheep in the face, stamped and stood on their heads and necks, and beat and jabbed them in the face with electric clippers. One farmer was filmed dragging two injured sheep who were unable to walk into a shed, where he left them to suffer without care. They eventually died. Several others died during shearing from possible shock resulting from the rough handling – or what one farmer called a “heart attack”.
PETA Asia also demonstrated that sheep workers left large, bloody wounds on the animals’ bodies as a result of fast, rough shearing. Any wounds they made were hastily stitched up with a needle and thread, with zero pain relief. The shearing process is usually a violent and terrifying experience for sheep, since workers are generally paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages them to work as quickly as possible – shearing as many as 200 sheep a day. This leads to rough handling and frequent injuries to the animals. What’s more, sheep are often deprived of food and water for 24 hours before they’re sheared so they’ll put up less resistance.
“Sheep are gentle prey animals who are petrified of even being held down, yet they endure vicious beatings, bloody wounds, and broken limbs in the hideously cruel British wool industry,” says PETA Director Elisa Allen. “We want to encourage (consumers) to ditch wool this winter in favour of soft and cosy, cruelty-free materials for which no animal had to suffer.”
But don’t think this type of abuse is limited to the UK: eight exposés by PETA affiliates of 72 facilities on four continents have revealed that sheep are regularly mutilated, abused, and skinned alive – even for “responsibly sourced” wool on so-called “sustainable” farms. In 2014, PETA US went undercover in shearing sheds across Australia and the US and found sickening mistreatment of sheep. One shearer even twisted a sheep’s head so forcibly that he broke her neck. In all wool producing countries, once the sheep stop being useful for wool production, they’re packed onto crowded lorries and taken to abattoirs, where their throats are slit.
Some people argue that it’s essential for sheep to be shorn, as their wool can be suffocatingly hot for the animal. However, in nature, sheep grow only the amount of wool that they need to keep warm, and they naturally shed some of their fleece each year. Only sheep such as merino who have been selectively bred by the wool industry to grow unnaturally heavy fleeces suffer if they’re not shorn each year.
As sheep get older, the volume of wool they produce declines. However, because of the live-export industry, their suffering is not over. Millions of sheep end up being sent to the Middle East on crowded ships – a horrific journey that can last for weeks – often without sufficient food and water.
Many believe that sheep are ‘too stupid’ to suffer, but the facts are quite to the contrary – they may be docile, but sheep are smart enough to recognise the faces of at least 50 other sheep, and they can remember up to 50 images for around 2 years. Here are a few more facts about sheep you need to know:
- Sheep “dip” (a commonly used insecticide/fungicide) is highly toxic and presents a major pollution risk. For example, in 1995, it killed 1,200 fish in Scotland after a farmer dumped it into a stream.
- H&M, Adidas, UNIQLO and Perry Ellis are just some of the companies that have pledged not to use wool from lambs who have been mulesed.
- Methane emissions, mainly from sheep, make up more than 90 per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse-gas emissions.
- Environmentalists suggest that sheep farming in the UK has led to widespread destruction of the natural ecosystem, causing problems such as soil erosion and flooding.
If you care about animals, you’ll shun off not only angora and fur, but wool, too.
For more information, please visit PETA.org.uk.
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