A flock of fleecy sheep invaded Bryant Park yesterday as part of The Prince of Wales' Campaign for Wool to promote the natural fiber. In addition to a visit from these fuzzy friends, the celebration transformed the popular midtown green space into a yarnbombed woolen wonderland that most passersby seemed to enjoy - but there were some critics. Care2 pointed out that there is a dark side to the wool industry, and while we still stand behind the material as a long-lasting, renewable resource, we also wish the campaign did more to specifically promote wool from sheep that are treated humanely and with dignity.
The Campaign for Wool is a pro-wool campaign that was initiated in 2008 when the Prince of Wales noticed a decline in the wool industry. With the prevalence of synthetic (and often petroleum-based fibers), wool has been losing popularity, and as a result, many of the family wool farmers who produce it have been suffering. With the Campaign for Wool, His Royal Highness is hoping to remind the public of the many benefits of the natural, durable, and renewable fiber.
While there were a few small signs at the event indicating that sustainability was a consideration for wool farmers, we didn’t see anything referencing the humane treatment of animals. What many people might not know is that although shearing fleece from sheep is not inherently harmful to them, some wool farmers end up injuring the animals while shearing since they are paid by volume and need to work quickly. In other cases, the sheep are simply neglected and may even be left for dead without proper medical treatment if they are maimed. The most disturbing form of animal cruelty in the wool trade takes place in Australia and is called mulesing. The surgical process is meant to prevent flystrike (myiasis), which is common in the area, and involves putting a lamb under restraint, and cutting or shearing away part of its buttocks. The surgery is performed with no anesthesia.
The fact that there are animal mistreatment issues in the wool industry is undeniable, but as Ecouterre Managing Editor Jasmin Malk Chua explained, “It really depends on the farm. There are lots of responsible and animal-loving farmers and brands out there too like Izzy Lane and The North Circular, who use wool from rescued and rehabilitated sheep. There’s really no such thing as a bad fiber, just bad humans.”
Other companies like Icebreaker even put “baacodes” on their garments to allow buyers to trace the wool their clothes are made of back to the farm it came from.
We wanted to know more about whether the Campaign for Wool was doing anything to promote the farms that do use better practices, so we asked Rita Samuelson, Marketing Director of the American Sheep Industry Association, Inc., at yesterday’s event. While she couldn’t speak for all sheep farmers around the globe, she did tell speak about farmers in the U.S. “In the United States, we take care of our animals and we don’t participate in some of the practices that are being publicized by some of the animal rights groups” she told us. “Our farmers are great stewards of the land and are concerned about the health and well being of the sheep. If we don’t take care of the sheep and their medical concerns and safety, growers don’t make money.”
We also inquired about mulesing. “We don’t have the type of sheep that are susceptible to blowfly (the fly that mulesing is meant to protect against),” Samuelson said. “We don’t have the blowfly in the United States so it’s not an issue here in the United States.”
We’re glad to see that the American Sheep Industry Association advocates the proper care and treatment of sheep, but animal rights violations will continue to occur on individual farms unless the industry shows more support for responsible farmers. We also hope that consumers will do their part to look into where their wool comes from and purchase wool garments from clothiers who source from farms where animals are treated well. Lastly, we hope that His Royal Highness considers including a stronger message in The Campaign for Wool about buying wool from farms where sheep can live happy lives. At yesterday’s event, thousands of people looked in lovingly on the sheep that came to Bryant Park, and there would have been an outcry had there been any incidences of cruelty against them. We urge everyone to let sheep farmers know that their animals are being watched over just as they were in that public park yesterday by buying wool from farms that don’t harm their sheep and lambs.