The truth is when you buy wool clothing or products, you are supporting an abusive, deeply cruel industry. Save a sheep, rabbit or a goat—and don’t buy wool.
The Wool Industry
Sheep are sweet, gentle, quiet, docile animals that over the years have been genetically manipulated by the wool industry to produce increasingly high volumes of wool in a relatively short period of time. Before the days of genetically altering them, sheep only grew enough wool to protect themselves from extremes in temperature and then naturally shed their wool when warmer weather arrived. But genetic manipulation by humans for profit has produced breeds of sheep that no longer shed, have unnaturally large coats, and need to be sheared.
Cruel Practices are the Norm
Buying wool today supports numerous cruel practices that sheep are subjected to, and are the norm in the wool industry, including “mulesing” (cutting the skin around the tail area) and castration without anesthesia, ear-punching and tail docking without anesthesia, shearing that causes injuries, and at the end of their wool production lives, sheep are shipped in live transport boats experiencing horrific conditions for weeks on end, to the Middle East where they are slaughtered. Raising sheep for wool is also considered land- and water-intensive, highly polluting, and highly energy inefficient. Like other industries that use animals to drive income and profits, the wool industry is no different, where the welfare and well-being of the animal—sheep in this case—are routinely compromised and neglected for higher revenues. Money is the top priority. The sheep, like most animal-use industries, are simply treated as commodities for revenue generation, and
every year, millions of sheep on large industrial sheep farms are forced to live in substandard conditions unable to exhibit natural behaviors. Overcrowding breeds disease, infections and early death caused by severe neglect. Sheep on these large farms are deprived of medical treatment and veterinary care. Like all industrial factory farms, in order to save money and increase profits, large sheep farms forego providing veterinary care and leave sheep to suffer and die.
After Wool, Sold for Meat
When sheep can no longer be used for wool production, they are sold to the meat industry. The wool industry is a major driver and contributor to the production and use of baby lambs for the meat industry. And every year, after sheep are considered “spent” and no longer viable for their wool, they become part of the live export industry in Australia, where every year, roughly 3-4 million sheep are shipped on long, grueling journeys on filthy, disease-ridden transport ships across the ocean from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa. These trips often last for weeks, with many sheep dying during the trip. When they arrive, they are trucked to slaughterhouses where animal protection or welfare standards are virtually nonexistent—and lamb and sheep are slaughtered fully conscious.
Merino Sheep, Endure Even More Cruelty
Australia produces less than one-third of all the wool used worldwide, but they produce the highest volume of wool of any country in the world. Merino sheep are the most common sheep breed and have been genetically bred to produce more surface area of wool by increasing the volume of their wrinkly loose skin. For merino sheep, this wrinkly skin produces an unnatural and enormous amount of wool that causes the sheep to become overheated in warm weather months. Because they have no ability to sweat or shed their wool, it’s common for them to suffer heat stroke and heat exhaustion and die. Due to their unnaturally large coats and volume of skin folds, urine gets caught in the folds and burns their skin and creates uncomfortable and dangerous infections. The urine attracts maggots that lay their eggs in the folds of skin, called “flystrike,” that can end up eating the sheep alive if not treated. To prevent this, Australian sheep farms and the majority of sheep ranchers perform a cruel and painful procedure called “mulesin,” where they cut off large strips of skin from around the tail area and from the backs of lambs’ legs to prevent the maggot infestations. The surgery is commonly done without any anesthesia or painkillers, protection to cover the wound, and is rarely followed by antibiotics. Often the skin becomes infected and once this happens, the lambs can die. Since this procedure is considered extremely painful and cruel, there is pressure on the Australian government to find humane alternatives to mulesing. Since 2012, the industry has tried several alternatives, but most have been found to be less effective in preventing flystrike, even if more humane.
Shearers Abuse and Injure Sheep During Shearing
Shearers are not paid by the hour, but are paid by the quantity of wool they shear, and as a
result, are aggressive in shearing as fast as they can, and as a result, end up injuring the sheep. When the injury is severe, instead of providing veterinary care and treatment for the wound, shearers will often kill the sheep. Using sharp electric shears, shearers often gouge the sheep’s skin, accidentally cut off the teats, slice the ears, cut off the tails and cause unnecessary pain and suffering for the sheep—all in an effort to produce as much wool as they can in a day. More sheep sheared means more money made. A skilled nd careful shearer will remove the wool in one large single piece, without causing any real distress or injury to the sheep, and the sheep will jump up and just run away. But with the massive flock sizes found on today’s industrial sheep farms throughout Australia, the U.S., Chili and other countries, many shearers immobilize sheep in uncomfortable, painful positions, and shear them too quickly, making mistakes, causing injury, and even death. Watch the videos below to see first-hand what sheep experience for the wool industry.
What the Wool Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know
Investigations Reveal Rampant Abuse of Sheep
Pink on Lambs, Sheep Used for Wool
The Live Export Industry
Australian Live Export to Pakistan
Why is Wool Cruel?
- Sheep must endure the “Mulesing” procedure – Where their skin is cut off of their backsides, without any anesthesia or pain killers, then given no protection while healing, causing an open wound without any medical care, antibiotics or pain relief
- Lamb’s ears are hole-punched – Without the use of anesthesia or pain killers
- Lamb’s tails are cut off – Without the use of anesthesia or pain killers
- Male lambs are painfully castrated – Without the use of anesthesia or pain killers
- Baby lambs die – From lack of care, neglect, starvation and exposure to the elements
- Baby lambs are forcibly separated from their mothers
- Mature sheep die every season from disease, neglect, lack of veterinary care and lack of shelter
- Shearers mutilate, beat, abuse, kick, hit and stomp on sheep – Shearers are rough, careless and abusive to sheep during the shearing process, which on some large farms is the industry norm
- Sheep endure Live Export to the Middle East – Older, unwanted sheep as well as baby lambs are shipped to the Middle East and must endure extreme overcrowding on boats in transit, without any animal welfare; they are given minimal water; minimal food; suffer from starvation; get sick and die en-route; and can suffer from being trampled where they die of suffocation. This transit and suffering can last for weeks
- Sheep are slaughtered – When they arrive back on land after tortuous journeys at sea, they often must be dragged to slaughterhouses unable to stand or walk. Slaughterhouses in North Africa and the Middle East are completely unregulated, and investigative footage shows the enormous cruelty to animals slaughtered there, all while fully conscious
What You Can Do
- Buy only ethical, cruelty-free alternatives to wool – look for animal-free products and vegan wool alternatives, such as cotton, polyester, polyester fleece, microfiber, acrylic, rayon, linen, viscose, modal, bamboo, hemp, synthetic shearling, and other man-made materials. Here’s a great list of cruelty-free fabrics
- Never buy any of the following wool-based fabrics that all involve animal cruelty including: angora, mohair, cashmere, shearling, shahtoosh, pashmina or anything with “wool” on the label
- If you must buy wool, only buy ethically sourced and ethically produced wool with a humane, cruelty-free logo, here are some humane U.S.-made options: Eco wool, Pure Rest, and Shepherd’s Dream
- Ask retailers to carry alternatives to wool and wool-free products
- Buy sustainable fabrics that cause less environmental destruction
- Buy ethical and eco-friendly yarn and textiles
- Read PETA’s PDF on mulesing and live exports to learn more
- Support the fight against cruelty to sheep by signing up for email alerts and becoming involved with Animals Australia, Stop Live Exports, PETA, and The Humane Society of the United States
See our Cruelty-Free Vegan Fashion Brands and Guide
Don’t Buy the Following Wool Fabrics – All Involve Animal Cruelty
- Anything labeled “Wool”
Cruelty-Free Alternatives to Wool
- Cotton, polyester, polyester fleece, microfiber, acrylic, rayon, linen, viscose, modal, bamboo, hemp, synthetic shearling – all of these are vegan and cruelty-free materials
- Plartec Wind Pro
- Recycled Polyester and Cotton
Questions to Ask Designers That Use Wool
- Do you practice mulesing?
- Are the sheep free range?
- Do your sheep have to ensure long sea journeys? Are they killed for meat?
- Do you use organic feed?
- Do you spray your sheep with pesticides?
Read More About the Wool Industry
The Wool Industry, PETA
5 Alarming Facts About the Wool Industry, by One Green Planet
Think Wool is Harmless? Think Again, The Ethical Man
There’s No Such Thing as Humane Wool, NBC News
PETA Launches Campaign Against Wool Industry (Dec. 2016), PETA
Head Photo Credit: Kokoromo via Photopin.com
Last Photo Featured, Photo Credit: Anguskirk, An Ewe and her new-born lamb at Sparsholt College in Hampshire, via Photopin at www.photopin.com