Is it possible to enjoy wool fashion without supporting animal cruelty? Yes, if you make the effort to buy humane wool and wool products from ethical producers. Here I’ve put together some sources of humane wool to make cruelty-free living easier for you.
Inhumane treatment of sheep in the wool industry
Sheep often endure cruel pain and suffering in traditional wool farms, which understandably makes the wool industry a target for animal rights groups.
Perhaps the most inhumane and cruel practice of the wool industry isc mulesing. Mulesing is a technique in which wool-bearing chunks of skin are removed from the backside of sheep to prevent flies from laying eggs on their skin. This is often done without the use of painkillers. Mulesing is practiced mostly on Merino sheep since their wrinkly skin makes them especially attractive to flies.
Wool farmers are also known to spray toxic pesticides directly on sheep to prevent infestation by other pests.
Export of Live Sheep
Australia is by far the largest exporter of sheep. The majority of Australian sheep are exported to the Philippines, China, the Middle East, Mexico, and North Africa. The journey from Australia to the destination country can take weeks, inside crowded vessels where sheep often fall ill or starve to death.
In a 2012 incident, 20,000 sheep exported from Australia were left stranded in a Bahrain port for 40 days. When the sheep were finally released in Pakistan, thousands of them were beaten to death, stabbed to death, or buried alive. In total, 19,407 sheep died in 2012 during live exports.
Although sheep are also raised domestically in the United States, it is nearly impossible to know where the wool used in our favorite fashion items and home décor comes from. You could unknowingly be supporting this cruel export journey.
So, what can you do to help these innocent and docile creatures? You can make a symbolic statement by using only wool fiber and wool products from ethical farmers who make the humane treatment of animals a priority.
Humane wool certifications and labels
Humane wool certified by Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved works with family farms to promote and enforce the highest of animal welfare standards. They are the most stringent animal welfare certification in the United States and Canada.
Farmers that are AWA approved are required to raise their animals outdoors on pasture, and are audited annually by independent inspectors to ensure compliance to the standards.
Below I’ve highlighted some points that stand out from AWA’s sheep standards.
- Mulesing of sheep is prohibited.
- The health and well-being of sheep must be protected by ensuring the animals have appropriate wool cover at critical times of the year.
- Shearing of sheep must be carried out by a competent person who can minimize stress and avoid injury.
- Where extenuating circumstances requires shearing in colder weather, bedding and shelter must be provided for at least seven days.
- Use of chemicals that would cause the cessation of wool growth is prohibited.
If a sheep is cut or injured during the shearing process, the following set of standards apply:
- Any sick or injured animals on the farm must be treated immediately to minimize pain and distress. This must include veterinary treatment if required.
- Homeopathic, herbal or other non-antibiotic alternative treatments are preferred.
- If alternative treatments are not suitable or not effective or if a veterinarian has recommended antibiotic treatment, this must be administered.
- Withholding treatment in order to preserve an animal’s eligibility for market is prohibited.
- The discovery of untreated injured or ill animals may be grounds for removal from the program.
AWA does not have any imported sheep in their program as of the time of this post. But if they did, the ocean transport would need to meet the same standards to transport sheep to, from, and around the farm.
- All animals must be healthy, ambulatory and uninjured to be transported unless they are being transported to receive veterinary treatment.
- A competent individual must take responsibility for ensuring that animals do not suffer any injury or distress at any point immediately before, during and after transport.
- All subcontractors, handlers and truckers must adhere to Animal Welfare Approved standards.
- During transport, all animals must be protected from harm and thermal stress.
- Ventilation must be provided that allows the animals to breathe fresh air while on the transport vehicle.
- Overcrowding during transport is prohibited. Space requirements are defined. See AWA’s complete sheep standards in the link above.
- All animals must have continuous access to water until the point of loading.
You can buy AWA approved wool fiber and products from the following farms. You should contact the farms directly for details on how to buy.
Capella Grazing Project
Casari Ranch, LLC
Dew Dance Farm
Longest Acres Farm
Shepherds Cross Incorporated
Weirauch Farm & Creamery
You can also search AWA’s directory by selecting “Fiber” under “Product Type.” This directory may include shops that carry AWA approved sheep’s wool.
Humane wool certified by New Merino
New Merino is a certification for Australian Merino wool producers. Wool producers that meet all of New Merino animal welfare, land management, and infrastructure standards are awarded the “Merino Certified Grower” certification.
Fashion brands that source wool from Merino Certified Growers use a label similar to the image above with a QR code that allows the consumer to trace the wool back to its origins. At the moment, New Merino does not have a list of brands that are using their label but I’m trying to get one.
New Merino prohibits mulesing, and since the label is only available to Australian wool producers, sheep are spared from long ocean journeys in cramped vessels. However, unlike AWA which does annual onsite audits of its producers, New Merino does not conduct annual onsite audits. Desk “paper” audits are conducted annually.
Overall, my opinion is that AWA is a more comprehensive and complete certification than New Merino. But either is a vast improvement over the cruelty that unfortunately is the norm.