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Wrong with Wool?
Is wool considered non-vegan? I have
several woollen sweaters and a winter coat.
On the surface, it appears that wool
is a benign product because, at least theoretically,
it can be obtained without harming the sheep. However,
upon closer inspection, we find that the wool industry
is actually very similar to the egg and dairy industries.
While animals such as laying hens, dairy cows, and wool-bearing
sheep are not immediately killed to procure their salable
products, they suffer tremendously for years prior to
their ultimate and unavoidable slaughter.
Most people believe that sheep are overburdened
with too much wool and therefore need to be shorn. Although
today's wool-bearing sheep have thick, heavy coats,
it is the result of selective breeding over thousands
of years. These animals are descended from wild mountain
sheep, still found in some remote regions of the world,
which shed their fine woolly hair naturally. Wool provides
sheep with warmth and protection from inclement weather
and sunburn. Because our "modern" wool-bearers are extremely
vulnerable to the elements without their wool, many
sheep die of exposure shortly after being denuded.
From the earliest of times there was
complicity in the use of wool. Merinos, which were originally
from Spain, are the most efficient wool producers. Mutton
breeds, which primarily originated in England, are used
predominately for meat. Cross-breeds are raised for
the dual purpose of meat and wool. Nevertheless, Merinos
also yield mutton and mutton breeds also yield wool.
No sheep escapes either function; it is just a matter
of emphasis. Essentially, all wool is a slaughterhouse
Wool is classed as either "shorn wool,"
that which is shorn from sheep annually, or "pulled
wool," that which is taken from sheep at the time of
slaughter. Horrors abound on sheep farms, including
mutilating, painful surgical procedures that are performed
without anesthesia. These entail mulesing, the cutting
of large strips of flesh off the hind legs to reduce
fly problems, and tail docking, designed to preserve
the salable condition of wool surrounding a sheep's
anus, among others. A large percentage of the world's
wool is produced from Merinos exported from Australia.
These sheep are crammed onto ships by the tens of thousands,
crowded into filthy pens, and packed so tightly they
can barely move. As a result, thousands of sheep die
each year from suffocation, trampling, or starvation.
Sheep shearers are paid by piece rate,
meaning that speed not precision guides the process.
Consequently, most sheep are roughly handled, lacerated,
and injured during the process. The production of wool,
as with all industries that consider animals as mere
commodities, is rife with cruelty and abuse. In addition,
the purchase of wool supports the continual slaughter
of millions of lambs and sheep each year.
Vegans do not use wool or any other
materials obtained from animals. Fortunately, there
are many alternatives to wool that are cruelty-free,
nonallergenic, quick-drying, easy to clean, environmentally-sound,
and provide warmth without bulk. Therefore, for most
new vegans, the question is usually not what can they
substitute for wool but what should they do with the
woollen items they already own. In many instances, this
is a matter of economics.
It can become cost prohibitive to replace
an entire wardrobe of sweaters, slacks, suits, and coats
all at once. Some new vegans continue to wear their
wool clothing until it wears out and then replace it
with non-woollen items piecemeal. Others feel that wearing
woollen garments, regardless of how old they may be,
lends credence to their acceptability. Often new vegans
sell their animal-based attire to thrift shops or donate
items to shelters for homeless or battered people. Some
people choose to donate any money they collect from
the sale of their old animal based goods to charitable
organizations that support vegan-related causes. What
you do with your woollen clothing is a matter of personal
choice. There are many conscionable options that can
help align your apparel with your ethics.
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