Monday, June 26, 2006


Wool the Evil Empire?
In 2005 the group People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) took on the wool industry and those who use or wear wool, those who eat lamb, and the Australian sheep growers who provide the majority of the world’s wool and lamb, in the groups fact sheet “Inside the Wool Industry”, PETA accuses the wool manufactures of allowing sheep to be bred, sheared, and exported in an inhumane fashion. But based on research and campaigns by PETA’s biggest target and opponent in this battle, the Australia Wool Innovation Limited (AWI) it seems that PETA makes these claims based on misinformation, exaggerations, and out right lies. According to the Australian Wool and Sheep Industry Taskforce, a group made up of leading wool and sheep industry groups in Australia, and other research, PETA’s claims may be based on facts, but PETA chooses to twist these facts to aid their cause. PETA’s claims against the wool industry and the claims made by PETA’s opposition should be examined to uncover the real truth about wool.
Why should we care about Wool?
Man has used wool for over 10,000 years (Franck & Brownstone, 2003) to provide clothing due to the fact that wool is water resistant, warm, or cool, and is flame retardant too due to high levels of carbon dioxide (Wool, 2006). Today uses of wool vary from clothing to insulation, and the lanolin from wool is used for lotions and other cosmetics. Knitters, crocheters, weavers and many other crafters use wool in their arts. The majority of wool used is from Australia where wool is one of the country’s main exports, in fact 65% of the worlds Merino wool comes from Australia (AWI, 2005). Due to the claims that PETA has made about the Australian wool industry people have begun to boycott Australian Merino wool. According to the Australian Nation Land & Water Resources Audit, a division of the National Heritage Trust, the wool industry in Australia provided jobs for almost 30,000 in 1998 (n.d.), with boycotts happening due to PETA’s campaign against the wool industry these people’s livelihood is affected.
Continuous Fleece Growth
PETA claims that due to human needs and interference that sheep have been bred for continuous fleece growth (2005). PETA bases this claim on an article written by Pricilla Gibson-Roberts, a knitting scholar that describes why Scandinavian Sheep still have varied color fleeces. PETA (2005) states that “Breeding for continuous fleece growth began after the invention of shears”, however according to Gibson-Roberts (2000) as fiber arts progressed so did the need for a better fiber to use, sheep with better coats were kept for breeding and those sheep that did not possess the desired coat were consumed. PETA makes it seem that the process for sheep becoming what we know today was accomplished with malicious intent, but this was a process that took thousands of years to complete. Perhaps PETA would like us to believe that people have hated sheep for the past 10,000 years and are just trying to inflict pain on them. According to the History of Wool for Kids sheep were domesticated sometime around 10,000 BC, sheep were kept for meat, bone to make tools, and leather. It took 5,000 more years for fleece as we know it to become something that ancient man could use for spinning. Sheep have been bred for features that make them more valuable to their owner since 1,000 BC (Gibbons-Roberts, 2000). This has meant that sheep were kept for more than their meat, for 3,000 years, sheep have been used for more than just a food source, something that PETA, even though they believe that animals should not be used for any purpose, should be pleased with rather than raising a ruckus over.
PETA (2005) also claims that shearing sheep or any other animal is cruel. To prove their point PETA uses this quotation:
[T]he shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep’s nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off, no stitches ever being applied, not even as much as an antiseptic. Wethers (neutered male) have had their pizzles [penises] shorn straight off…
In PETA’s fact sheet (2005) the source for this quote is The Vegan Society a group in England that supports the vegan lifestyle, and shares many of PETA’s beliefs on animals. When one checks the sources that The Vegan Society provides for this same quotation in their 2003 document Wool, the source for the quote is a PETA document that has no sources. The above quotation leads one to ask why would growers and shears hurt sheep, don’t they rely on sheep for their livelihood? So how horrible is shearing for the animals that provide wool, such as sheep, Angora rabbits, Alpacas, an animal similar to the llama, and Tibetan Antelope? Merino sheep can die from the weight of their wool if they are not shorn, Angora rabbits that provide angora wool can suffer from wool block if their hair is not sheared, Alpacas are clipped not shorn, and another animal that PETA mentions, the Tibetan Antelope that provides the fibers for shahtoosh are on the endangered species list and all countries that signed the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species do not allow for the sale or even possession of this type of wool and work to try to imprison traffickers of this product (Macdonald, 2000).
According to a local Southern California sheep grower it is best to shear sheep twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. The spring shearing helps sheep stay cool in hot summer months and the fall helps thicker fleece to grow to allow for warmth during the cold winter (personal communication, May 9, 2006). According to Glenn et al. (1996) shearing also helps sheep stay clean and healthy, improves production and reproductive efficiency, and improves bonding between ewe and lamb, things that PETA would rather forget in its crusade against the wool industry. Thus it seems that for people who care about and for sheep shearing is mutually helpful to them and the sheep.
The one of the biggest issues that PETA raises is about a procedure called mulesing. Wikipedia defines mulesing as the surgical removal of a strip of wool-bearing wrinkle skin from around the tail of a sheep. This procedure is illegal in the United Kingdom but is widely used in Australia to prevent flystrike. Flystrike is caused by the Australian blow fly Lucilia cuprina; the fly lays its eggs on a wrinkly area of skin near the sheep’s anus, when the larva hatches the larvae eat the sheep’s skin. This condition can cause death and extreme pain to the infected sheep (Tucker, 2005). Australian woolgrowers are already working on eliminating mulesing; by 2010 they hope to have viable alternatives to prevent flystrike. There are many research projects going on that are testing other methods of preventing flystrike, Australian Wool Innovation Limited (AWI), a company made up of woolgrowers, is working on three different projects to help eliminate flystrike and mulesing (2006). Tucker (2005) states that:
AWI announced it had completed the first successful trials of a needle-free injection system for a "natural mulesing protein" in June. The process is said to be painless and achieves the same benefits as surgical mulesing. AWI doctors and researchers have said that the final product could be introduced as an alternative by 2007.
But according to PETA’s President, Ingrid Newkirk, this is not happening fast enough, in fact PETA claims that good husbandry is enough to protect sheep from flystrike (n.d.). PETA may talk about good husbandry, but this coming from a group that does not want people to use the products from the animals that they husbanded. While good husbandry may work in England were flystrike is not as big of a problem as it is in Australia, the practices that are used in England may not be as practical on some of the large flocks in Australia. Good husbandry practices such as keep sheep clean, removing protein sources that flies find attractive such as dead animals, feces, and rotting vegetation can help curb the problem (Sargison, 2003), alternative methods to mulesing such as vaccination, genetic testing, and researching genetic “mutations” like bare crutch may be answers to mulesing, but these alternatives need to be tested and studied before a viable substitution can be found (AWI, 2006).

Live Exports
PETA (2005), claims that live exports endangers a sheep’s life and are brutally stressful for sheep to endure. PETA backs these claims with sources that are dated and no longer reflect the current practices on live exports. There are laws in place to protect animals during live transportation, Compassion in World Farming (2005) states the rules of the Western Australia Animal Welfare Act as:
Section 19 (1) of the WA Animal Welfare Act; a person must not be cruel to an animal. Section 19 (3) (a) transporting an animal in a way that is likely to cause it harm. (3) (b) confining an animal in a way that is likely to cause it unnecessary harm. (3) (d) not providing proper food.
Although some companies have been found guilty of violating Western Australia Animal Welfare Act, many other companies choose to take of the animals that they are exporting. Livecorp a non profit Australian export managing company explains some of the misconceptions that many have with the live export industry. According to Livecorp (2004) it is in the best interest of all involved with live exporting for the animals to be treated well and kept in good health. Live exporters are paid by the weight of all the live animals that leave a ship, so intentionally letting sheep or any other animal being exported be kept in inhumane conditions is an unwise business decision. In addition to profit as a motive and safeguard, the Australian government and Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) closely monitor the live export trade (Livecorp, 2004).
Another concern that PETA raises is the lack of regulations in butchering that some Middle Eastern and African countries have. According to Wikipedia (2006) in America and other “Western” countries butchering regulations require that the animals are received from ranch, farm, or feedlot, herded into holding pen where they receive a preslaughter inspection. Then they are, stunned, after being stunned the animals are hung by the hind legs, the animals’ main arteries are cut, the blood drains out and the animals die. The hide is removed and the meat inspected for quality and safety. If the animal passes inspection it is then cut up and separated by what is fit for human consumption.
In Muslim countries the process is different meat must be “halal’ or edible by Islamic law. For meat to be considered halal it must be butchered in a certain way, it is the methods of this butchering that has PETA upset. Basically the difference between our methods and Halal methods are that the animal is not stunned when the slaughter takes place, the animal has its throat cut with a very sharp knife and the words “Praise be upon Him who has made you suitable for slaughter [for the purpose of consumption]” (Wikipedia, May 2006). PETA and other animal rights groups have problems with this method because the animal is not stunned before the throat is cut. Proponents of the halal method feel that because the major arteries are cut the animal suffers very little. Muslims and Jews (Kosher slaughter is similar to the Halal way) worldwide are facing pressures from animal rights group to change the manner in which they slaughter animals, both groups are adamantly against any changes being made based on religious grounds (BBC, 2003). In America both halal and kosher style of slaughter is allowed as a religious freedom, it seems that PETA instead of making the issue that the animals are slaughtered at all, is persecuting Muslims and Jews because of their religious beliefs on how meat should be slaughtered. Is the way that an animal is slaughtered/killed more important than religious freedom?
Collateral Damage
Perhaps the most ludicrous of PETA’s claims is that kangaroos are killed because of sheep (2005). It is true that the Australian government does allow kangaroos to be hunted, but not to protect sheep. The Australian government agency the Department for Environment and Heritage (DEH), (2002) allows three different types of kangaroos to be hunted, the western grey, the red, the euro. The reasons these kangaroos are killed are for land conservation purposes, and to allow for a sustainable commercial harvest. The kangaroos are killed humanely by hunters who must first be licensed to hunt them. The kangaroos that are being hunted have been growing in population as well as in territory; the Australian government hopes that by having a program in place to curb the growing numbers of common kangaroos that they will be able to protect some of the other native macropod species that are endangered(DEH, 2002). For PETA to use a well thought out and executed conservation plan and to blame the kangaroo population problems on sheep or sheep growers is just another example of PETA using misinformation to further their own agenda.
Pulling the Wool over Your Eyes
PETA’s website contains their mission statement that animals “are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment” (2005). If PETA’s aims are for people to stop using animals in any fashion, why then is PETA saying it is acceptable for animals to be used for wool as long as the sheep are not mistreated by practices such as mulesing, or by being exported to countries that have different regulations for animal slaughter? One would expect PETA to object to sheep being used for anything at all. Yet their objections are based on everything form 10,000 years of breeding to the killing kangaroos. Somehow by using the information provided in their 2005 fact sheet “Inside the Wool Industry”, PETA has convinced many people to stop using Australian merino wool and according to PETA’s website on the wool industry,, they claim to have convinced 11 retailers and fashion designers to quit using wool, but is that really the case? According to Tucker (2005) not all of the companies that PETA says it has convinced have really joined their cause, if fact “a Timberland spokeswoman said the company does not support boycotts”. Two of the other companies that have joined the boycott do not even market wool apparel (Tucker, 2005). PETA has gotten major corporations to join their campaign through misinformation and economic threats, such as having protesters outside their stores and calling for animal rights activists to boycott brands that will not do business with PETA (n.d.). PETA’s save the sheep website has celebrities such as Alicia Silverstone and model Annalise Braakensiek helping to promote PETA’s case against the wool industry. Australian merino wool counts for 50% or more of the wool that is used globally (Tucker, 2005); this means that by not using Australian wool the wool will be coming from countries like China who has the second highest amount of world global clip and China is a country that has violated human rights and still persecutes Tibet to this day.
I have chosen to present the facts in an unbiased by to allow, you, the reader to make informed decisions. As a consumer you have the right to know where the products you purchase come from and the ability to choose what products you use and do not use. It was my desire to inform you about the “real” state of the Australian wool industry, it is your prerogative to choose whether or not you will use products that contain Australian merino wool or eat imported lamb. Today when so much of our thoughts are swayed by sensationalism, it is more important than ever to take the time and find out the truth. PETA has their own agenda one you may agree with or not, as do the woolgrowers associations that I have mentioned in this paper. Although both sides have an interest in their position, the fact will speak if you seek them out.


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