Do vegans wear wool?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Do vegans wear wool?” and will discuss the vegan alternatives for wool.

Do vegans wear wool?

No, vegans do not wear wool. Wool is not vegan, to put it bluntly. Vegans, by definition, do not participate in any kind of animal exploitation, whether it is for food, clothes, or any other reason. As a result, wool can no longer be considered vegan. Because wool is made from exploited sheep, there is substantial evidence that the animals suffer as a result.

Many people still believe that shearing a sheep’s wool is a safe and non-invasive procedure because of the common association between sheep-shearing and the childlike act of shaving a pet. The wool business, on the other hand, is a long way from it.

Compared with between 20–22% of the world wool output produced by both China and Australia, respectively, the UK produces approximately 2%. In the UK this equalled 29 million kg of wool produced from 22.9 million sheep and lambs in 2014 (6).  Wool production represents about 1% of the global supply of textile fibers (7).

How Come Wool Isn’t Vegan?

When a living creature is made into a commodity, the public’s perception of that being shifts. When it comes to business and profitability, the company typically comes before the individual. Wool’s commodification has resulted in a global industry that causes enormous suffering to sheep daily.

Mulesing

You’re not the only one who hasn’t heard of “Mulesing” before. Most people have never heard of it, and that’s for good reason. Young wool-bearing sheep are “mulesed,” meaning the skin is removed in huge sections. Many times, no anesthesia is used, and no veterinary treatment is given.

The Mules operation, also known as mulesing, involves the surgical removal of wool-bearing skin from either side of the breech and around the tail stump using straight or curved edge shears.Mulesing is performed mainly on the Merino breed of sheep and Merino crosses in Australia. Merinos and Merino crossbred sheep are prized for their fine wool but are predisposed to flystrike because skin wrinkles in the breech area trap feces, urine, and sweat. The number of cuts made and size of the wound depend on the conformation of the individual sheep and the techniques used by the person performing the Mules operation. The scarring that occurs as a result of the Mules operation flattens the skin around the breech and tail stump and reduces the build up of secretions that attract flies (1).

According to reports, this surgery is carried out to keep the animals healthy and free of diseases spread by flies that burrow into the rump skin. However, the animals go through great pain both during the procedure and for weeks thereafter while their wounds heal. This kind of slaughter results in the deaths of a large number of sheep.

Heat-Exhaustion

The exposure of sheep to elevated ambient temperatures induces an increase in the dissipation of excess body heat, in order to negate the excessive heat load. Dissipation of excess body heat is excluded by evaporation of water from the respiratory tract and skin surface via panting and sweating, respectively. Sweating in wooled sheep is much less effective due to the presence of the wool cover. With the elevation in environmental temperature to 36°C, a high proportion of heat is dissipated via the ears and legs. When the physiological mechanisms of the animal fail to negate the excessive heat load, the rectal temperature increases. At the same time, such exposure of sheep to heat stress evokes a series of drastic changes in the biological functions, which include a decrease in feed intake efficiency and utilization, disturbances in water, protein, energy and mineral balances, enzymatic reactions, hormonal secretions and blood metabolites (2).

In colder climates, wool is most commonly worn, yet it is not necessarily grown there. Australia, despite its notoriety for being oppressively hot, is a major exporter of wool. Sheep can collapse due to an abnormally large amount of wool on their bodies, and some do not make it through the summer.

The sheep’s wrinkles are a popular place for flies to lay their eggs. In hot regions, there is a buildup of urine and moisture. A sheep’s life can be taken by maggots once they’ve hatched out.

Living conditions

Many of these animals are raised in deplorable “living” circumstances at factory farms. These creatures are kept in cramped quarters for long periods with limited access to sunlight, fresh air, or fresh food. To produce the world’s “finest” wool, the sheep are restrained to prevent them from becoming overly unclean.

Poor ventilation, poor housing hygiene and high stocking density in sheep houses leads to stress and diseases. Insufficient volume allocation, causing a deterioration of bedding conditions, can be considered a direct source of infections in animals. Several studies demonstrated that sheep confinement in enclosures determined the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis with an increase in cortisol secretions and in the frequency of stereotypic and abnormal behaviors (3).

Because of this, many of the sheep go wild, continually rocking back and forth or spinning in circles, and many of them die because they were never permitted to go outside.

Is it possible to have ethically produced wool?

While it’s encouraging that more upmarket brands are moving away from factory-farmed wool in favor of “ethically” produced sheep, even “free-range” sheep are subjected to exploitation and brutality for the sake of fashion.

Once wool ceases to be a commodity, its ethics become highly debatable. Is there any difference between shaving your pet dog and shearing a sheep in a way that produces no harm or long-term trauma to them? Is it wrong to profit from the same animal’s wool if it means exploiting the animal?

A possible alternative may be organic farming. In many aspects, the biological and ethological needs of animals in organic farming systems are better met than on conventional farms. Emphasis is placed on animal health and welfare. Practical experience shows that organic livestock production is certainly no guarantee of good animal health and welfare. Animals should have at least access to outside areas, and are largely fed through grazing on pasture. Housing conditions should allow farm animals to perform all aspects of their innate behavior (4).

Because of industrial farming, the amount of wool produced would plummet as well as its price as well. Another avenue to benefit from the wool trade would emerge as a result of this.

Vegan alternatives for wool

Organic Cotton

Cotton is a cellulosic fiber obtained from natural sources. Cotton fiber grows in a ball around the seeds of the cotton plant of the genus Gossypium (5).

It refers to cotton that has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides. Cotton is a shrub that naturally grows in tropical and subtropical regions all over the world, including the tropics and subtropics. People have worn cotton clothes for thousands of years because it is the most common plant-based fiber.

Linen

Linen fibers are extracted from flax plants and originated in the Mediterranean region of Europe (Swiss lake region). Linen fiber contains about 70 % cellulose. This fiber has anti-allergic characteristics, good moisture absorbency, and allows the skin to breathe. This fiber has low elasticity and resiliency, making the deformation of linen fabrics difficult (5).

The flax plant’s fibers are used to make linen, which takes longer to make than cotton. However, linen dries faster, making it a popular choice for people who live in humid regions.

Hemp

Hemp is a bast fiber extracted from the stalk of hemp plants that grow well in the soils which are well drained, rich in nitrogen, and nonacidic. Hemp plants are advantageous as they need less pesticide due to their very fast growth attracting fewer pests (5).

Fibers made from the Cannabis sativa plant, the same one used to make marijuana, are known as hemp. His original purpose was for ship sails, but hemp is today used in a wide range of products and apparel, from shoes to bags to skirts to dog collars.

Jute

Jute seeds are scattered by the farmers on cultivated soil to grow jute plants. Jute plants are harvested after four months when they flower but before the flowers go to seed. Jute stalks are then cut off near the ground, tied into bundles and soaked in water for retting for a period of 20 days (5). 

To create jute, plants of the Corchorus genus must be used. Jute is a coarse fiber that may be spun into yarn. Its fibers are second only to cotton in terms of production, but they may be used for a variety of things, such as sacks, curtains, carpets, and rugs.

Click here to learn about the history of the wool industry. 

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Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Do vegans wear wool?” and discussed the vegan alternatives for wool.

References

  1. Sneddon, J., Rollin, B. Mulesing and Animal Ethics. J Agric Environ Ethics, 2010, 23, 371–386.
  2. Marai, I. F. M., et al. Physiological traits as affected by heat stress in sheep—a review. Small rumin res, 2007, 71, 1-12.
  3. Caroprese, Mariangela. Sheep housing and welfare. Small rumin res, 2008, 76, 21-25.
  4. Von Borell, E., and J. T. Sørensen. Organic livestock production in Europe: aims, rules and trends with special emphasis on animal health and welfare. Livestock Prod Sci, 2004, 90, 3-9.
  5. Rana, Sohel, et al. Natural plant fibers: production, processing, properties and their sustainability parameters. Roadmap to sustainable textiles and clothing. Springer, Singapore, 2014. 1-35.
  6. Jones, Laura, Jesse Heley, and Michael Woods. Unravelling the global wool assemblage: researching place and production networks in the global countryside. Sociol Rur, 2019, 59, 137-158.
  7. Doyle, Emma K., et al. The science behind the wool industry. The importance and value of wool production from sheep. Anim Front, 2021, 11, 15-23.