Is wool vegan? Isn’t it just like shaving your legs or trimming your beard? This is a common question about veganism and an important topic to address. Does the wool industry really align with vegan ideals?
Is wool vegan? And what’s the big deal about it anyways? Isn’t it just like shaving your legs or trimming your beard? Well, get ready to have the wool pulled off from over your eyes!
The vegan status of wool is a common question and I think it’s an important topic to address. Recently I was asked by viewer Vegan Jen: “Why don’t some vegans wear wool? My parents used to have sheep, so my mom could spin the wool, and the sheep seemed as if they really enjoyed the haircut. I’ve always wondered but don’t know any vegans personally to ask.”
The main reason people wonder if wool is vegan is that sheep don’t die from being sheared. I’d like to address that concern first. Veganism, in general, is about opposing the use of animals for our personal gains in any form. So even if we assume that nothing negative happens to sheep who are used for wool, we are still using them for our own purposes. And that is the case regardless of how well the sheep are treated.
Now outside of the few individuals who might shear their own sheep, there exists the wool industry, which is far from idyllic and humane. Just as the dairy and egg industries implicitly support the meat industry by supplying them with dairy calves for veal, “spent” dairy cattle and layer hens for meat, and the practice of grinding up male layer chicks alive, so it is with the wool industry. When sheep get older, they stop producing as much wool and they’re sent off to slaughter as they are seen no longer “profitable.”
However, even life before slaughter is inhumane for the sheep of the wool industry. Regular shearing causes nicks and cuts, and in order to prevent the excess attraction of flies and a condition called flystrike, the wool industry practices “mulesing”. This is a cruel procedure in which part of a sheep’s flesh is cut off of his or her hindquarters without anesthesia. The most insane part of this practice is that it’s used to prevent flystrike, or maggot infestation, but the resulting wound form the procedure can itself attract maggots and flies and cause deadly infections.
The whole reason that flystrike is an issue within the wool industry is due to the practices of industry itself. The sheep are selectively bred to have wrinkled skin so that they have more skin and thus produce more wool. This is more profitable for the industry, but detrimental to the sheep themselves. That is the hallmark of exploitation–manipulating another being to suit one’s own needs, especially when doing so results in the suffering and death of that being. This is the case within all the animal products industries: We manipulate the lives, living conditions, and even genes of these animals to better suit our needs. And it’s always at the expense of their quality of life and, ultimately, their lives themselves.
The shearing process in and of itself is terrifying for sheep. During shearing, sheep are pinned down and, when they resist or struggle, shearers will hit and stomp on them and stand on their heads to keep them still. Most workers who shear sheep are paid by the sheep and not by the hour. They rush through their work, often nicking or completely cutting off ears, tails and pieces of skin in the process. These gaping wounds are then sewn up without the use of any anesthetics. So tell me, is all of that really worth a sweater?
When we really look at the wool industry, it’s easy to see why wool would not be considered vegan. There is just no way to use other beings for our own benefit without putting our needs above theirs, and thus compromising their lives. And that is exploitation, pure and simple.
Luckily we live in a day and age where there exist a plethora of alternative fabrics to wool, including ones that look and feel the same. Today we have eco-friendly alternatives as well like bamboo, banana tree fiber, hemp, flax, organic cotton, tencel, and recycled plastic.
Your fashion and comfort do not have to come at the cost of others’ lives. So I hope this helped clear up the wool issue. Please share this video and blog post along with the other Bites Size Vegan nuggets so we can spread the vegan message.
— Emily Moran Barwick