Hard Facts About a Woolly Industry

Posted by 3 years ago | Permalink | Comments (21)

Here’s the not-so-fluffy lowdown on wool – and some facts that you’re not likely to learn from the industry’s sales pitches.

About 30 million sheep are farmed in the UK, and they are sheared of approximately 22,000 tonnes of wool every single year. This may not sound out of the ordinary until you learn that a third of this wool is labelled as “skin wool”, a grim name for wool which is torn from slaughtered lambs’ bodies.

Wool, far from being green, is a by-product of an industry which slaughters more than 6 million lambs a year in the UK alone. In fact, modern synthetic textiles have longer lives than many of the animals who are imprisoned and slaughtered to create what is essentially a weave of sheep hair.

On top of these already alarming numbers, approximately 4 million sheep die every single year from exposure, sickness and injury as well as complications during birth because of poor conditions and genetic factors resulting from the way that they have been bred. The sheep who do survive to be “productive” end their too-short lives in the abattoir, sometimes while still conscious because the electrical stun guns that are used are often ineffective.

Poor treatment of sheep in the wool industry

Around 25 per cent of the world’s wool comes from Australia, where a barbaric practice known as “mulesing” is widespread. Mulesing involves workers slicing huge chunks of skin off lambs’ legs and backs. It’s supposed to protect the mutilated sheep from flystrike, but it doesn’t really work – instead, this bloody procedure causes them intense pain and fear.

Sheep are routinely mutilated by Australian wool farmerd

Shearing sheep is often a violent and terrifying process for the animals. Low-paid workers try to rush through as many of them as quickly as possible, handling them roughly and making careless – but for the sheep, agonising – mistakes. During shearing, sheep can sustain anything from nicks to complete amputations of their udders, ears, penises and other body parts.

After a few years, sheep farmed for wool are consigned to be slaughtered and face a further harrowing ordeal. These naturally timid and sensitive animals may be crammed onto trucks, sometimes forced into crowded pens to be auctioned or even made to endure a prolonged and hellish journey on a ship to an overseas slaughterhouse because of the cruel practice of live export – which is common in Australia and has recently been resumed in the UK, too.

Cruel and stressful transport of animals in the wool industry

The wool industry makes profits of roughly 1 billion pounds a year in the UK alone, making the lack of basic welfare for many of the animals it exploits all the more obscene. Why celebrate an industry which derives a third of its profits from slaughtering intelligent, social and caring animals before they have been alive for even a year?

Given that there are so many affordable, cosy and cruelty-free (not to mention hypoallergenic) fabrics available, such as acrylic and polyester fleece, it’s no wonder that compassionate people are choosing not to buy wool. Why not make this Wool Week the moment when you change your consumer habits and help sheep by pledging never to wear their hair:

Take the pledge

Images 1 and 3: Jo-Anne McArthur / WeAnimals.org



  • betty jarvis commented on October 22, 2013 at 11:43 am

    the only thing i can say is shock and horror

  • Marion L B Dill commented on October 22, 2013 at 11:54 am

    I will only wear wool from reputable sources like Izzy Lane and Romney Marsh Wool – they care deeply for their sheep.

  • Antona Grady commented on October 22, 2013 at 11:56 am

    This makes me sick and needs to be stopped ASAP… Words can’t explain how sad I feel.(

  • cheryl jones commented on October 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    its absolutely barbarrick it makes me sick to my stomach

  • Daryl Michael commented on October 24, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Horrific! Must be stopped! how do the people that carry out these atrocities sleep at night?!
    I prefer acrylic anyway it doesn’t shrink.

  • Wowzers commented on October 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    At least cotton and polyester are GOOD alternatives to wool!

  • Ty Jeffries commented on November 11, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I am horrified by this of course…it is horrendous…
    but your ‘pledge’ is too extreme!!! How can we not wear wool..and then cotton surely something or somebody get’s hurt in the making of this ( people for a start I am sure) Surely there must be a way to ensure ETHICAL treatment of animals in every industry. To do a ‘blanket ban’ ( excuse the bad pun) is OTT and not going to work. A campaign to raise awareness and put some laws in place…a far better idea.. but thats just me.I agree with Marion L B Dill above… if we named and shamed those who hurt animals then we could encourage people to buy the kind kind.

    • Anne commented on November 13, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Ty,

      Thanks for your comment. We are working on concrete ways to improve the welfare of sheep raised for wool, for example, by putting pressure on the Australian government to ban “mulesing” (you can help here: http://action.peta.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=5&ea.campaign.id=1253). But right now, Australia is the world’s largest wool producer, and because wool is generally not clearly labelled, there is no way to ensure that any wool you buy didn’t come from mulesed sheep.
      Fortunately, it is in fact very easy to avoid wearing wool! High street shops are full of coats, jumpers, hats and scarves made from animal-free fibres (hardly surprising given how many people have adverse skin reactions to wool). Just check the labels, you might be surprised by how many wool-free options are out there 🙂

    • John Rooksby commented on November 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      ‘Naming and shaming’…why don’t we get away from inadequate sayings such as this that only get used because they rhyme? These perpetrators should be named and PUNISHED.

  • Ben Barnard commented on November 11, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Not sure the person who wrote the article has ever been close to a sheep. I read the article with interest and was disappointed at the conclusion. Not all sheep are raised for meat with wool as a by-product. Some sheep are raised for wool and meat is the by-product. Get your facts straight. If the complaint was about karakul sheep, I may have shared your passion. You clearly lack basic knowledge about the sheep industry to qualify you as an organizer for any type of protest involving products derived from sheep. When did you escape the flock? Gather facts, do some research and stop calling for a protest on a whim. You are wasting poeple’s time with B.S. Facts are not hard to come by if you really care to.

    • Anne commented on November 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm

      Hi Ben,

      Sorry that you don’t agree with our position. However, I’m not sure I fully understand your critique. Nowhere in the blog does it state that all sheep are raised for meat with wool as a by-product. Many of the figures cited in the blog in fact come from the wool industry’s own reports. And, regardless of whether sheep are raised primarily for their meat or their wool, they are typically treated cruelly and killed well before the end of their natural lifespan.

    • John Rooksby commented on November 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Ben. Get *your* facts straight! Gather facts, do some research and stop criticizing protests on the grounds of your own ignorance and stupidity. Facts are not hard to come by unless some idiot is sticking his oar in spreading BS to confuse matters probably because his interests lie in the cruel treatment that has caused the outrage.

  • Jennifer commented on June 12, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Yippeeee- lets all wear clothes made from oil!!!!! THAT WON’T DAMAGE ANIMALS OR THE ENVIRONMENT!

    Sorry but this is totally one-sided. Go and speak to a sheep farmer – regs in UK are very strict, the animals are free-range and wool growing sheep are highly unlikely to be slaughtered for meat (seen much mutton on the shelves???) – sure lambs are eaten but the meat has to come from somewhere, at least it is done in a humane fashion for the most part. But we’re talking about wool here. Wool growing sheep are not eaten, that would be a massively false economy!

    ‘4 million sheep die every year’ – out of 35 million sheep in the UK with an average natural life span of 10 years, yeah that actually makes perfect sense, they’re not immortal!

    Shearing is not a violent and terrifying process, oh please, have you ever seen a sheep being sheared?! Please can everyone either go to a farm or watch a video of how to shear a sheep on youtube – I imagine all the city-goers will believe the poor animals are hacked at, the clippers are pretty similar to the type we use on our hair… Shearers are also penalised if they damage the sheep.

    The wool industry makes a profit… Hmmm not sure where you got 1 billion from, that’s not the case in the UK – sheep farmers and wool growers have been teetering on the edge of complete ruin for years, we need to promote wool to ensure that farmers don’t starve, the ensure thier animals can be well kept and to keep our countryside in a healthy state.

    One more point about the humane treatment of sheep – the fact of the matter is that if sheep are stressed or sick they GROW BAD QUALITY WOOL!!! The farmer gets far less money for this wool, therefore it is in their interest to keep sheep happy and healthy. Wool price is not only determined by the breed or colour, but also by the quality. The indusrty can’t use wool grown by stressed or sick sheep as well as healthy wool FACT!!!

    Oh and mulesing in Australia has not been common practice for decades now – it was an extreme measure to prevent the animals being eaten alive by maggots – can’t believe how wrong people got that one! Throw a few extreme photos about and anyone will believe what they want, even if the photos aren’t actually of mulesing in the first place!!!!!!!!! Better solutions to flies and parasites are now used.

    Wool is hypoallergenic, biodegradable, sustainable, flame retardant and the sheep actually keep the ground/environment healthy – check out the Savory Institue’s facts on desertification. If done in a sustainable way, sheep farming is not harmful to sheep, environment or man – those are the facts! Yes, improvements need to be made in some countries, but honestly, go visit a farm!

    So if you’d rather use oil to make your textiles causing wide spread destruction of our oceans, global warming and horrendous pollution – then go ahead – but you really shouldn’t be misleading people on PETA. I’m sorry for the rant, but overall this article is damning to a good eco-friendly industry in the UK and it’s pro-pollution, what on earth are you thinking?

    • Dallas commented on December 2, 2016 at 2:18 am

      Thank you!

  • Cold person commented on November 29, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Surely there must be some ethical wool farmers? I suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome and wool socks and leg warmers have so far been the best heat shells so far. I get seriously cold and suffer from chilblanes and numb hands and feet. Acrylic and fleece don’t have the same insulation properties, especially when wet. Any advice?

  • sheri williams commented on December 6, 2014 at 8:58 am

    We have a gorgeous farm. We are certified Humane, conservation, and a Michigan Show Farm path. We are also Jewish. Our Mitzvot (rules we must live by), tells us to care for an animal before you care for yourself. Along with that goes absolute respect, knowledge and providing rest, clean housing, no stress and affection.
    Our animals are Kashruth (kosher to a clean standard).
    Putting an animal to pasture means you planted that field with the best seed and conditions in mind.
    We grow heritage Dominique hens for fresh eggs and let them go without laying all winter. We have a few crazy turkeys and 3 meat hens that are as big as turkeys…have not got around to schochet with blessings and letting them fall asleep first. Of course we have cows and steers, that have names, but the steers are for meat. Again, no stress at anytime in their lives. Lush grass and constant rotation to ensure no bugs and the highest levels of vitamins they need.
    It is a quiet life here, with beauty that many of our small farms adhere to. We welcome guests, but we require cleanliness that noone brings outside germs to us.
    We clip, not shear our sheep, and keep English Mastiffs as their protectors. Sheep have no protection against predators except for what we provide them.
    Our farm is in Hastings, MI and we are honored to be able provide the best for our animals and environment. Not all farms are disgusting, if eating is what you do, dont buy from supermarkets. Search out humane farms. That is our advise, and standards. Clean,caring,gentle.
    Thank you.

  • Sandra Brady commented on June 9, 2016 at 12:51 am

    These facts need updating with the practises in Chile. Wool harvested with extreme cruelty and sent to Italy for retail as Italian.

  • Márcia De Vecchi commented on November 27, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    (My ‘desire’ is that these SADISTIC “human” beings – that cause so suffering to the UNDEFENDED (and sweet) ANIMALS! – have a PAINFULL death, SOON, and come back like one of their own victims: to SUFFER MANY AND MANY TIMES MORE, in the equally SADISTIC PERSON’S HANDS!!! Amém.)

  • Kumari Herath commented on December 9, 2016 at 1:23 am

    Why ? Only people feel cold??
    What about vouceless poor animals?
    Please STOP this madness..
    Leave poor Animals ALONE..

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