The War on Wool

This week, the trending topic in several knitting groups has been the discussion of a 3 year old, graphic video produced by PETA, of sheep being abused during sheering. There is no disagreement with the fact that the sheep featured in this video are being horribly abused by those handling them, most of the video shows one individual, that I hope is no longer working with any type of animal. However, I will argue against PETA’s claims that the actions of a few in this video do not represent the actions of the many.

I have a personal objection to PETA, and their tactics. Animals should never be cruelly treated, but I refuse to consider the opinion of an organization that publicly claims to protect animals on one hand, but has documented, and convincing evidence of abuse and unwarranted euthanization of animals on the other. I have no intention of further discussing the merits/faults of PETA any further. I’m also not interested in discussing the vegan lifestyles vs. those that use/consume animal products.

That said, let’s remove PETA from the rest of this post.

There is no doubt, that no matter the animal industry, there is a chance an animal will be treated badly by an ill-educated, frustrated, careless, or flat out cruel individual. It is the responsibility of us as consumers to research our purchases to verify that they come from providers with excellent track records concerning animal welfare. If companies can’t provide information on their sources, we as consumers, should be demanding that information become public, or simply purchase from providers that are open with information. Change can be slow, but look at what has happened in the beef, pork, and poultry industries over the past 20-years when individuals demanded better treatment of these animals. Those industries are still far from perfect but there is continued improvement.

There is no doubt, that sheep farmers are out to be profitable, but having poorly cared for animals that are neglected, starved, over crowded, stressed or abused is like a store owner smashing all of their inventory and attempting to sell it. From an economic standpoint it makes absolutely no sense to mistreat livestock. Stressed sheep will not grow a good fleece and a bloody fleece also impacts its value. A single video is not representative of a massive, worldwide industry. I am also not naive to the fact that once an animal can no longer grow a quality fleece it will often be sent to slaughter for its meat. Livestock, no matter the type do not have retirement plans, but as living beings should be treated with respect.

I’ve seen my share of fleece providing animals sheered, and all of those experiences have been very similar. The animal is lightly restrained but standing, or placed on its side, the sheering itself is quick and as soon as that’s over, the animal is released and off it goes a few pounds lighter. The animals don’t seem overly stressed but there has been the occasional animal that doesn’t want to cooperate. Those animals have been held more firmly but once again, nothing I would consider abusive. The recent comparison that wool collection is as evil as the fur industry are simply incorrect. Sheering, done correctly, does not harm the animal. The animal is free to go, live its life and grow more wool. The fur industry requires the death of an animal for its entire skin.

This is also one of those topics were the “shop local” mindset goes a long way. There is no doubt in my mind that small family farms will always treat an animal with more care than a large corporate entities.

What those that claim wool collection is abusive tend to forget is most sheep herds are not “natural” breeds. Like most types of livestock they have been bred to produce a consumable resource be it meat or fleece. Most sheep require sheering or they will overheat, risk skin infections, and maggot infestations. What do these groups expect to do with these millions of animals if wool collection was immediately outlawed? Allow them to suffer and then die in pasture? It is our responsibility as the humans that have modified these animals from their natural state to care for them ethically, and in this case, that requires sheering performed correctly and appropriate times of the year. Wool, as far as fiber goes, is a 100% natural, renewable, and biodegradable material. Many of the alternative fibers, such as acrylics, are not environmentally responsible.

I encourage everyone to do their own research and form their own opinions, but I will continue to use, wear, and knit wool.

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