COMMENTARY: For sheep’s sake, ditch wool this holiday season

COMMENTARY | Paula Moore

Sheep are such gentle individuals that children sing nursery rhymes about them and adults count them to help us doze off. Yet when we buy wool sweaters and winter coats, we are supporting a violent industry that leaves these animals broken and bloody.

Surprised? In the past four years, PETA and its international affiliates have exposed the global wool industry’s systemic cruelty to sheep on dozens of farms on four continents. After each exposé, industry spokespeople claim that they are “shocked” and “saddened.” But how can they be when each new investigation reveals similarly horrific abuse?

Earlier this year, an eyewitness worked on a sheep farm in Victoria, Australia — the country is the world’s top wool exporter — and found the farm manager and workers mutilating terrified lambs in assembly line fashion. This wasn’t a case of a few “bad apples” — the mutilations that were documented are actually standard procedure in the industry.

For example, workers punched holes in lambs’ ears and cut and burned off their tails with a hot knife — without painkillers — causing them to writhe in agony as flames shot up from their flesh.

To castrate male lambs, tight rings were placed around their scrotums — which is extremely painful — so that their testicles would eventually shrivel up and fall off. If they don’t fall off soon enough, shearers just cut them off with clippers.

Workers also cut chunks of flesh off lambs’ hindquarters with shears in a crude attempt to address problems that are caused by breeding them to produce excessive amounts of wool.

When PETA first exposed this gruesome procedure, known as “mulesing,” Australian wool industry officials promised to phase it out by 2010. Eight years later, most lambs in Australia are still subjected to this torment.

These mutilations took place in full view of the lambs’ frantic mothers. When they were done, workers dropped the lambs to the ground or a blood-spattered mat, and many landed hard on their bloody wounds. They cried out as they ran in search of their mothers amid the flock.

The abuse continues in the shearing sheds, where workers race against the clock. Since shearers are paid by volume, not by the hour, they lose their tempers over small delays and often take out their frustrations on the terrified, struggling animals. A previous PETA exposé of shearing sheds in Australia revealed that violent attacks left sheep bleeding from the eyes, noses and mouths.

On a farm in the U.S., a shearer repeatedly twisted and bent a sheep’s neck, breaking it.

In Scotland, workers violently punched sheep in the face, slammed their heads into the floor and beat and kicked them. In England, shearers stomped on sheep, squeezed their throats, kicked them in the stomach and jabbed them in the head with clippers.

In Argentina, lambs cried out, gasped and kicked even after workers sawed open their throats. In Chile, workers slaughtered fully conscious sheep by driving knives into their necks and skinned one animal alive.

All these exposés later, it’s clear that the abuse of sheep is entrenched in the wool industry.

Since the industry has failed to do the right thing and address its pervasive cruelty to vulnerable sheep, it’s up to the rest of us to end these gentle animals’ suffering. Fortunately, for every cruel choice, there is a kind one, if we care to look for it.

This holiday shopping season, please take a moment to read the labels on any blankets or garments that you consider buying. Look for warm and cozy options made from bamboo, hemp, modal, rayon and other vegan materials. But if a label says “wool,” for sheep’s sake, leave the product on the shelf.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation. Her commentary was distributed by the Tribune News Service.