I’ve always appreciated the thermal efficiency and comfort of synthetic fleece, so I haven’t purchased wool products in a long time. But until a few years ago, I thought that wool came from happy sheep, cavorting in wide-open pastures and lovingly cared for by compassionate farmers who sheared them with tenderness and concern. Just like when I cut my English sheepdog’s hair so that he doesn’t get too hot in the summer, right? I soon found out how wrong that notion was when I saw this (warning: graphic content):
I don’t know about you, but that video leaves me determined to shut down the wool industry. Mulesing-in which lambs have large chunks of skin and flesh sliced from their backsides-and live export, in which sheep are packed onto ships to the Middle East for slaughter, are both common practices among wool producers. These poor sheep are victims of these painful and unnecessary abuses, which are driven by little more than mindless convenience and profit.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Two simple reforms would eliminate most of the abuse in the Australian wool industry (the supplier of most of the world’s merino wool): Stop mulesing and stop exporting sheep for slaughter. PETA has been actively fighting for Australian sheep for nearly a decade, and the plan to end mulesing was simple enough: Switch to raising sheep who haven’t been bred for the excess folds of skin that produce more wool but that provide a haven for parasites. Then there would be no need to whack off the skin and flesh on their rear ends and leave them a bloody mess. That straightforward plan worked for New Zealand, where mulesing ended a few years ago. And consumers have made it very clear that they don’t want to buy wool from mulesed lambs. Thanks to PETA’s education campaign, dozens of retailers and designers worldwide are boycotting wool from mulesed lambs. In fact, the world’s largest buyer of Australian wool has demanded an end to mulesing.
But Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the trade group that is supposed to explore innovations, is stuck in Depression-era farm practices and has succumbed to inertia and pressure from those who trade animal abuse for shortsighted profit. AWI had disingenuously agreed to phase out mulesing by the end of 2010. What it actually did was spend several years on foot-dragging and an unsuccessful lawsuit against PETA while sheep continued to suffer. Because efforts to work with AWI have proved futile, PETA has now offered a deal directly to the Australian government. If it pursues an aggressive genetic program to produce bare-breech sheep, eliminating the need for mulesing, then the potential corporate campaigns will be put on hold. This replacement effort should only take a couple of years. If that goal is not met, then the government should stop funding AWI. PETA has also asked the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to make that timeline a condition for signing a trade agreement with Australia.
And all those consumers and retailers? They have stepped it up a notch as well. Gap Inc, Macy’s Inc., Liz Claiborne Inc., Ann Taylor, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation, Perry Ellis International, Nordstrom, and many others have all signed a letter to the Australian government calling on it to end the mulesing mutilation.
About the export for slaughter part: Transport ships that take sheep to the Middle East are hell on Earth. There is no disputing that fact, and we must stop the exports. But the grim reality of wool is that when sheep are too old, sick, or infirm for their job, most are not going to face a happy retirement-on any continent. They face the slaughterhouse, which brings me back to appreciating synthetic fleece and cotton, for more important reasons than their comfort and utility.
If you would like to help stand up for sheep, please sign the petition found here: http://bit.ly/b178xo
Make your time with your friends and family—including your animal companions—even more meaningful.