PETA entities have exposed horrific cruelty on 117 sheep farms in six countries on four continents, revealing systemic abuse in the wool industry. Impatient workers have been caught punching, kicking, and stamping on sheep, and some animals died from their injuries. A Scottish sheep farmer pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals after he was caught on video viciously punching sheep in the face during a PETA Asia investigation.
Some of the farms where cruelty was documented supplied companies that claimed their wool was “sustainable” and “responsibly sourced”, which shows that claims of humane treatment are nothing more than marketing schemes. When sheep are no longer profitable to the wool industry, they’re slaughtered.
Shearing is also extremely stressful to goats, prey animals who are terrified of being pinned down, vulnerable, and completely defenceless. PETA Asia’s investigation into the South African mohair industry revealed that workers roughly handled, threw around, mutilated, and cut the throats of conscious goats for mohair, and its investigation into cashmere production in China and Mongolia revealed that goats screamed in pain and fear as workers tore their hair out with sharp metal combs. After goats are exploited in these industries, their throats are slit in slaughterhouses.
A PETA US undercover investigation revealed that workers hit, kicked, tied down, and mutilated pregnant, crying alpacas in Peru. Animals were strapped tightly by the legs into a restraining device resembling a medieval torture rack before being violently sheared. Because alpacas are terrified of being pinned down and defenceless, they cried out, spat, and vomited in fear as workers carelessly sheared them – leaving many animals bleeding from deep, painful wounds.
Cutting Sheep on Purpose
Australia is the world’s top wool producer, and more than 70% of the country’s wool comes from sheep who are mulesed. Mulesing is a painful procedure in which workers cut off chunks of tender skin and flesh from sheep’s backsides with an instrument resembling gardening shears. It leaves the sheep with open wounds – which, ironically, are prone to flystrike, the very thing mulesing ostensibly aims to prevent.
Merino sheep are not native to Australia, but farmers prefer them because they’ve been bred to have folds of extra skin and therefore produce more wool. Not only does that extra skin cause the sheep to suffer – and sometimes die – in the heat, it also causes flystrike. So it’s the intentional breeding of merino sheep that’s the problem!
In 2018, New Zealand made mulesing illegal, but it remains prevalent in Australia.
Wool Production Worsens the Climate Catastrophe
Sheep release enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere and have been referred to as the “Humvees” of the animal kingdom. The Higg Materials Sustainability Index (Higg MSI), a measurement tool based on more than a decade of data gathering and industry development, found that in almost all cases, synthetic materials are much more sustainable than their animal-derived counterparts. According to the Higg MSI, wool’s environmental impact is 1.46 times higher than that of rayon, 1.66 times higher than that of acrylic, 2.23 times higher than that of polyester, and 2.96 times higher than that of spandex. Another study found that producing one Australian wool knit jumper emits about 27 times more greenhouse gas than making a cotton knit jumper.
Deforestation and Erosion
As with the production of other animal-derived materials, wool production gobbles up precious resources. Land is cleared and trees are cut down to make room for grazing sheep, leading to erosion, increased soil salinity, and decreased biodiversity.
In the first half of the 20th century, Patagonia, Argentina, was second to Australia in wool production. But when local sheep farmers got too greedy, the scale of their operations outgrew the capacity of the land to sustain them. Soil erosion in the region has triggered a desertification process that officials estimate threatens as much as 93% of the land. Argentina is no longer a major wool producer.
Faecal matter contaminates waterways in areas where sheep are farmed. A case study conducted for the New Zealand government found that “due to the large number of sheep in Southland (4.1 million), the prolonged survival of E. coli in ovine faeces during the warmer seasons and their daily faecal output (approximately 1 kg per day), a potentially large reservoir of contamination exists in Southland. During rainfall or irrigation generated overland flow could result in considerable contamination of the waterways”. In addition, wool has a great impact on eutrophication, a serious ecological problem in which the excessive nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff waste lead to algal blooms, which suffocate animals by depleting oxygen levels in the water and are the leading cause of dead zones.
Sheep “dip” – a toxic chemical used to rid sheep of parasites – presents disposal problems and can harm the environment. A study found that “due to the large quantities of spent dip, risks associated with environmental contamination are high”. The toxins in sheep dip can pose risks to soil and aquatic fauna and other wildlife. A Scottish study of 795 sheep dip facilities found that 40% presented a pollution risk. The study found evidence of a 1995 incident in which a cupful of spent dip, full of a highly toxic synthetic substance called cypermethrin, killed 1,200 fish downstream from where it had been dumped into a river.
A Better Way
Many vegan fabrics have less of an environmental impact than wool, and numerous eco-friendly, natural alternatives to wool are available. These include hemp, organic cotton, Nullarbor (made from coconut), soya bean fibre, nylon 6.6 (made from glucose and other sustainable sources), Monocel (made from bamboo pulp), and Woocoa (made from coconut and hemp).
PETA endorses purchasing clothes made with natural, organic fibres, and many of the companies using our “PETA-Approved Vegan” (PAV) logo sell items made from eco-friendly or recycled materials. The PETA-Approved Vegan certification programme was recently expanded to include a special “100% Plant Wool” logo for certified brands to highlight clothing, accessories, and home decor goods made from natural, plant-derived alternatives to animal-derived wool. Today, there are kinder ways for most of us to clothe and feed ourselves than by abusing and killing animals, and PETA does everything it can to inform people of these humane options.
Help us work to stop the suffering of sheep and other animals by making a donation today. Save Sheep Now!