One of the industries that people have a lot of questions about is the wool industry. For many, it brings to mind images of sheep bouncing around in grassy fields and having their wool sheared before continuing with their carefree lives. Unfortunately, as with many animal related industries, this simply isn’t the case. Many with a vegan lifestyle, myself included, do not purchase or wear wool due to the practices in the industry.
On their own, sheep grown enough wool to keep themselves warm. Wool was once obtained naturally when the sheep would shed extra wool in the springtime months, similar to how cats and dogs shed their winter coat. It was a natural process that the animals went through once a year. To support the wool industry, they have been bred to over produce wool. This causes the sheep to grow more wool than they would naturally. This overgrown wool is forcefully sheared off of them several times per year.
This unnatural extra wool growth causes animals to die from heat exhaustion during warmer months (when they would naturally not have a thick coat) and also leads to infections and diseases because the sheep are unable to properly clean themselves. In many cases, these infections attract flies. The flys will lay eggs in the sheep skin, which will hatch into maggots. To prevent this, many lambs go through a process call “museling” where thick strips of skin are removed from their back legs and around their tails in order for layers of scar tissue to form. The strips of skin can be up to the size of dinner plates. This process is done without any sedation or pain killers provided. These wounds are not treated and many lambs often die because of infection due to this process.
When it comes time to shear the sheep, they are often forcefully sheared. In many markets, the people who shear the sheep are paid by volume. This means that the more wool they shear, the more they get paid. Rushing through the process leads to all sorts of injuries to the animals. From small nicks and cuts, to broken limbs, and even to death. These cuts and injuries go untreated and can become infected, causing the sheep to suffer through the season.
As sheep get older, they often stop producing enough quality wool to be an asset. At this point, they are either slaughtered by the farmer or sold to a slaughterhouse. Sheep meat is eaten in many countries worldwide and the demand is supported largely by the wool industry. Many sheep die during shipment to slaughter. For the ones that do make it to slaughter, they are often tortured before being killed, and killed in terrible ways while still conscious.
Many argue that there is such a thing as cruelty free wool, but I urge you to not buy the hype. This is an unregulated term and there are no requirements necessary in order to claim that a brands wool is cruelty free. Often “cruelty free wool” just means that the animals may not be subjected to museling as lambs or have access to the outdoors. It also may not mean anything. Everything else about the process stays the same, including the eventual shipping off to slaughterhouses.
Lanolin, which is oil from sheep wool and found in many beauty products, is a by-product of the wool industry.
The reality of the wool and lanolin industries is terrible. Having a creamy lotion or a fluffy sweater just is not worth supporting the wool industry. Especially with so many cruelty free alternatives out there. You can find high quality beauty items made without lanolin and that use animal-based substances instead. It’s also just as possible to find warm, high quality sweaters and socks made from plant-based materials as well.
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