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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Alternative to Animal Wool: Vegan Wool. A World Vegan Day Special!


Poster courtsey: EVOLVE! Campaigns

Merino wool, angora wool, shahmina wool, shahtoosh wool, vicuña wool, "pure" wool... behind the colors, the softness, the expensive tag, the brand, the style… there is ONE story: the story of confinement, of loneliness, of trauma, of bereavement, of illnesses, of deliberate physical hurt, of loveless touches, of being used, of being abused, of suffering in the cold, of suffering in the heat, of suffering without food, of suffering without water, of smelling death, of suffering in silence…

Myth: When sheep shed their fleece naturally or are shorn to relieve them of too much of it, it is collected and converted to wool.

Fact: Sheep do shed their fleece naturally. Nature’s wisdom provides for sheep to retain or shed just enough fleece to protect them from different weather conditions – heat, cold, or rain. However, they do not need human intervention to shear them to relieve too much of their fleece, they can maintain themselves. Therefore, sheep do not “give us” wool as our primary school text books teach us. Their fleece is extorted from them and converted to “wool” as part of a profitable and cruel industrial process. The wool industry cannot sustain itself or make profits if it were to depend on the fleece that the sheep would naturally shed.

Forty-five percent of the world’s wool comes from Australia, followed by China, New Zealand, and UK. The Merino, Australia's most commonly raised sheep, is selectively bred to have wrinkly skin to produce more wool. The Merino carries fleece equal to their body weight, with what consequence, we shall find out. The unnatural breeding of sheep has the following impact on the animals:

  • The overload of wool causes many sheep to collapse and even die of heat exhaustion during hot months.
  • The overload also causes farmers to shear sheep before they would naturally shed their winter coats and consequently millions die during the cold months from freezing temperatures.
  • Fly strike is common. The flies seek out the moist areas of the animal (such as around the backside) and lay their eggs. The maggots, when hatched, initially live and feed in the moist skin of the sheep and slowly move out to feed on the healthy skin. In an attempt to prevent this, when they are still lambs, sheep are subjected to mulesing, a cruel mutilation in which farmers carve skin and flesh from the animals' backsides, often without anesthetic.
  • When sheep begin to produce less wool, millions are loaded onto extremely crowded, multi-tiered filthy pens inside cargo ships and sent on terrifying long journeys to the Middle East or North Africa, (where there are no animal protection laws) with little access to food or water and through all weather extremes.

When the sheep finally arrive at the destinations, if they have not already perished on the journey due to suffocation, trampling, or starvation, they are taken to unregulated slaughterhouses where their throats are cut while they are still conscious. They are slaughtered for “meat” while a last attempt is made to extract wool from their slain bodies; this wool is known as “skin wool”. The skin wool is named such because it is closest to the skin and the skin must be torn to extract the wool.

    Along with wool, an oily substance from the sheep’s fleece called lanolin, is also extracted from the animal. Lanolin is used in the preparation of cosmetics and vitamin D3. Therefore, vegans do not use cosmetics that list lanolin as an ingredient or purchase supplements and food containing vitamin D3. (The best source of vitamin D is sunlight that Nature meant to provide us without harming animals.)

    Besides the procedural horrors, the shearers treat sheep very roughly since they are paid by the volumes and not hours. The shearers are known to kick, injure, and cut off parts of the animal’s body in their hurry to extract maximum fleece from them.

    The wool industry is comparable to the dairy and egg industries where the animals may not be killed at the time of extracting marketable substances and portions from their bodies; but the manner and scale at which the extortion is done causes them a few cycles of immense suffering before they are finally destroyed at the slaughterhouse.

    Did you know that sheep are gentle, sensitive animals who are emotionally complex and highly intelligent creations of Nature. To reiterate, sheep does not “give us” wool as our primary school text books teach us just like the cow, the hen, and the goat do not “give us” milk, eggs, and meat. Any industry that depends on raw materials from animals cannot be anything but cruel because in order to make profit, which is the primary reason for their existence, they will have to exploit the animals to extract maximum from them. 

    Source: EVOLVE! Campaigns and The Vegan Society.
    For an in-depth story on the bloody, cruel wool industry with eyewitness accounts, you can click this link on the Animal Liberation Victoria website.

    For an informative article on the wool industry in India, you can click this link on the Beauty Without Cruelty, India website. It is a similar story of torture, mutilation, and eventual execution.

    Vegan wool/Cruelty-free wool/Synthetic wool/Alternative wool

    When you purchase “pure” wool, it is likely that the wool used for the garment is from the Merino breed of sheep in Australia. Would you want to keep yourself warm after learning about the multiple ways in which the intelligent animals suffered for it and if given a chance would have fled from the humans responsible for mutilating them?

    Well, guilty-free, kind woolens are not only possible, they exist. Vegan woolens are warm without being bulky and besides are easy to maintain, less costly, environment-friendly, colorful, and stylish. Vegan warm clothes are made from humane fabrics such as cotton, acrylic, polyester or polar fleece, orlon, gore-tex, polarguard, polartec, thinsulate, and any other wool fabric preceded by the term “synthetic”. (source) The labels clearly indicate which.


    Just as when we select edible products, we read the labels; similarly, to ensure that the woolens we purchase are cruelty-free, we need to read labels. Gone are the days when there was a stigma attached to the word, “synthetic” as though it were not the “real” thing. With paradigm shifts already happening on Earth, the word “synthetic” is slowly and steadfastly becoming the second name for the words, “compassion” and “justice”.


    Where to buy vegan woolens?

    You can check with any shop or company that sells animal-derived woolens because many of these companies have a “synthetic” wool selection as well. We have preferred to buy from large retail formats such as Westside, Lifestyle, Shopper’s Stop, Globus, and the like because one can find a variety of brands under one roof. This way it also becomes easy to compare both the price and merchandise across brands.
    To get some tips on how to buy vegan clothes in general, you can click this link for an informative Wiki article.
    To get a glimpse into the breathtaking world of vegan yarns, you can click this link on Fake Sheep, a fantastic website on vegan knitting.  

    Acknowledgments:
    We thank EVOLVE! Campaigns (http://evolvecampaigns.org.uk) for sharing their poster for this story and for their valuable inputs to develop some of the viewpoints.

    You can also read:

    “This is dreadful! Not only the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity—that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself—and by violating his own feelings become cruel.” ~Leo Tolstoy, Writer and Philosopher~

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