As winter rolls around and I start shivering in 55 degree weather (I don't want to hear about how it's below 30 where you are - my chill is enhanced by my icy cold heart, sob!), clothing stores start hawking wool like it's made of pure happiness and will cure all your ills. I was never a wool fan to begin with (my skin does not like the scratchies), but when I first went vegan, I was sort of ambivalent about the wool issue.
'Meh,' I thought, 'It's not like it's fur, it doesn't hurt anyone, and besides, they NEED to be sheared, right?'
I am the first to admit I was dead wrong. Emphasis on dead.
Wool vocabulary every vegan should know:
Flystrike: [A]n animal or human disease caused by parasitic dipterous fly larvae feeding on the host's necrotic or living tissue. Blowfly strike, known as myiasis, is a common disease in sheep, especially in areas where there are hot and wet conditions. The female flies lay their eggs on the sheep in damp, protected areas soiled with urine and faeces, mainly on the sheep's breech (buttocks). It takes approximately 8 hours to a day for the eggs to hatch, depending on the conditions. This results in sores as the larvae lacerate the skin; this is the primary reason for the early removal of lambs' tails. The larvae then tunnel into the host's tissue causing irritating lesions. After about the second day bacterial infection occurs and if left untreated causes toxemia or septicemia. This leads to anorexia and weakness and if untreated will lead to death. Blowfly strike accounts for over $170 million a year in losses in the Australian sheep industry and so prevention measures such as mulesing are practiced. - Wikipedia
Mulesing: In Australia, the most commonly raised sheep are Merinos, specifically bred to have wrinkly skin, which means more wool per animal. This unnatural overload of wool causes many sheep to collapse and even die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive. To prevent this so-called "flystrike," Australian ranchers perform a barbaric operation-called "mulesing"-where they force live sheep onto their backs, restrain their legs between metal bars, and, without any painkillers whatsoever, slice chunks of flesh from around their tail area. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that can't harbor fly eggs. Ironically, the exposed, bloody wounds themselves often get flystrike before they heal. - Save the Sheep!
Live export: Millions of sheep who are less profitable to wool farmers are discarded for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa, where sheep are crammed aboard multitiered open-deck ships. Nearly 800,000 sheep enter the live export trade from the U.K. and are slaughtered abroad.
Australian and New Zealand sheep are slaughtered in the Middle East, after enduring a grueling, weeks- or months-long journey on extremely crowded, disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water through all weather extremes. Many sheep fall ill, many become stuck in feces and are unable to move, and many are trampled to death by other sheep trying not to fall or trying to reach water when it is available. Shipboard mortality ranges up to 10 percent. - Save the Sheep!
Mutton: From the earliest of times there was complicity in the use of wool. Merinos, which were originally from Spain, are the most efficient wool producers. Mutton breeds, which primarily originated in England, are used predominately for meat. Cross-breeds are raised for the dual purpose of meat and wool. Nevertheless, Merinos also yield mutton and mutton breeds also yield wool. No sheep escapes either function; it is just a matter of emphasis. Essentially, all wool is a slaughterhouse product. - What's wrong with wool?
Paid by volume: Because shearers are usually paid by volume rather than by the hour, they often work too fast and disregard the animals’ welfare. Sheep are routinely punched, kicked, and cut during the shearing process. - Vegan Voice: Why Wool is Bad News
If the facts aren't enough to sway you, consider this. Walk into an Old Navy or Gap or JC Penny or other clothing store. Go over to a stack of wool sweaters. There's like 20 or so, right? Then take a look around the store, and see how many of those stacks there. Consider that there are many, many more of these stores, filled with stacks of wool sweaters and coats and mittens and scarves and hats and boots. How much wool did it take to make all of those? And how many sheep need to be sheared in order to make that much wool? The Wikipedia article I quoted above talks about how flystrike costs Australian farmers $170 million in losses every year - translate that into how many sheep are suffering, especially when you consider that flystrike often occurs even when mulesing is used.
This image of stacks of sweaters and piles of gloves is no different than stacks of egg cartons or blocks of cheese in the supermarket, and the underlying ideology is no different. The concern is NOT for the animals involved: it's putting as much "product" on the shelves as possible, and quickly. Commercial sheep shearers have the same thing on their minds as slaughterhouse workers trying to butcher animals as they're moving along the kill floor: faster faster faster. Get it done.
This is not a mindset that allows compassion or concern for an animal that is nothing more than material for a sweater.
The bottom line: exploiting another creature for fashion is not nice. So quit it.
More information for your consideration:
Save the Sheep!
What's wrong with wool?
Wool: the reality for sheep
Veg For Life: The Truth about Down, Leather, Wool, & Other Fibers
Vegan Society: Sheep & Wool
Inside the Wool Industry <--well cited!
I'll be doing an entry soon about the best places to get non-wool winter goods, as well as an entry on being vegan and knitting/crocheting, for those of you who are knitters like myself! :D