What’s the Problem With Wool?

The question I hear most often after “How do you get your protein?”, is “What’s wrong with wearing wool? The sheep aren’t hurt or killed in the process so why won’t you wear it?” If only that were true! Unfortunately, a large percentage of the time it isn’t.

Shearing sheep seems like a relatively benign process, right? The sheep stands there, they are sheared, and then they go about their business of being sheep (such as their life is, but that’s another story). Ooops, we forgot about the part where many of them have huge chunks of skin on their backend chopped off purposely and without anesthesia. Why? Because merino sheep have been bred over time to have unnaturally large folds in their skin. The more skin, the more wool. Unfortunately, this causes severe problems on many levels:

  • All that extra wool makes them hot, and they can collapse from heat exhaustion.
  • The folds in the skin collect moisture and urine and become infected with maggots.
  • Because the extra skin attracts flies, terrified sheep have chunks of flesh cut off their hind end (with no anesthesia) which eventually (not all sheep survive this process) forms a smooth scar. This scar keeps flies from settling in that area and causing severe problems. This procedure is called “mulesing.”
  • Shearing is a complicated process because of all the folds. Shearers are paid by the volume so the faster they shear the more money they make. You can imagine that great care is not always taken to protect the sheep from cuts, etc. Then, once they are sheared they can die from exposure—sheep grow wool for a reason!

The biggest offender? Australian merino wool — where up to 50% of the world’s wool production comes from. Believe me, you don’t want to know what happens to these sheep when they age and no longer produce as much wool.

To read more about sheep, wool, and mulesing, go to www.savethesheep.com/animals.asp or www.animalsvoice.com

Some people (vegans) have chosen not to wear any wool at all. Perhaps this will be or is your choice. If not, I have found that many people, once they know about this unpublicized cruelty, make an effort to choose wool that is procured from sheep raised more humanely. This is sometimes (unless you know the farmer) easier said than done. The finished product might come from China, for instance, and there will be no mention of where the wool originated. It means asking questions, doing some research, and, when all else fails, finding alternatives. Or, if you feel great need to wear wool, how about going to a consignment or thrift store and purchasing a pre-owned coat–no new sheep will have been tortured to create it?

Book Suggestion

In the book Empty Cages by Tom Regan (See Vegan Links) there is a chapter on “Turning Animals into Clothes” where he talks about wool and the shearing process. “Gentleness is not part of the bargain. Jennifer Greenbaum tells us why: ‘The sheep are thrown on their backs and restrained while a razor is run over their bodies. Whether sheared manually or mechanically, cuts in the skin are very common. Careless shearing can injure teats, pizzles, other appendages, and ligaments. Sheep are held in restraints with tight clamps on their faces when they’re mechanically sheared…Death can occur when shearer is rough and twists the sheep into an organ-damaging position, when the health of the sheep already is poor, or when being stripped of wool is a shock to the sheep’s system…[After shearing] [n]aked to the world, sheep are put back out to pasture where they can suffer severe sunburn or freeze as the heat is drawn from their bodies.'”

While there are probably some very caring sheep farmers who are careful and gentle with the sheep, the typical shearing process is more like what Tom Regan talks about. To read more by Jennifer Greenbaum, go to: www.animalsvoice.com

Vegan Fashion Secret

Read Ginger’s latest vegan fashion tip at www.salemvegan.org/events.htm.


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