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What’s Wrong With Wool?

Written by Ashley Palmer | January 13, 2012

As a vegan, one of the questions that I get a lot from perplexed people concerns wool. Many people have an idyllic image of happy sheep roaming green hills, but as with any industry that profits from animals, money always comes before the animals’ well-being. Below are some of the most shocking facts about the wool industry:


The world’s largest exporter of wool is Australia, where mulesing is a common practice. This barbaric procedure—in which farmers carve huge chunks of skin and flesh from lambs’ backsides using tools resembling gardening shears in a crude attempt to prevent a parasitic infection called “flystrike”—is typically performed without any painkillers.


Shearers are usually paid by the sheep, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the animals. Sheep commonly suffer from injuries ranging from nicks to complete amputation of their udders, ears, penises, and other body parts. Says one eyewitness: “[T]he shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep’s nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off …”

Export and Slaughter

When their wool production begins to decline, most sheep are killed for meat. Many are sent on a long journey in a severely crowded, multitiered ship to countries that have few if any animal welfare laws or regulations. These sheep—millions every year from Australia—are often slaughtered by having their throats cut while they’re still conscious.

What You Can Do

Luckily for my fellow vegan fashionistas, there are plenty of cruelty-free fabrics to choose from, including cotton, cotton flannel, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, and many others. You can skip the cruelty—and that icky itchy feeling—by choosing vegan options the next time that you go shopping.

You can also help sheep by taking action via PETA’s action alert asking the Australian government to require the wool industry to stop systematically mutilating millions of animals every year.

Commenting is closed.
  • Raina says:

    This is why I thrift most of my clothes.

  • Trish Donley says:

    When choosing plant-based fabrics, consider also the human abuses that take place in terms of poor working conditions and less than fair wages. Hemp and bamboo are more sustainable than cotton.

  • tahti says:

    I have been a vegan for 20 years this year. I work as hard at my vegan clothing as I do my food. One thing that isn’t adequately discussed when switching to non-animal clothing is the huge amount of resources that is used in the dying of cotton, to say nothing of the petroleum used to create nylon and poly. I read somewhere recently the amount of clean water that is used and dumped away to make one pair of denim pants is over 100 gallons. reports that it takes 750 liters of clean water just to stone wash one pair of jeans. And research the petrochems and coal used to create polyfibers. As we move to a cruelty-free wardrobe, we must think of other aspects of our orb, as well. My best suggestion is to become an expert thrift-shopper. The amount of barely-used clothing taken by middle-class americans to goodwill every year is appalling, but a great blessing to us vegans. Wearing them means one less pair of levis run through the dying vats. Keep up the fight!

  • Kelly says:

    I visited a sheep farm in New Zealand and it seemed very humane….it was also privately owned, so I’m sure that made a difference. But I guess that’s always the image I had in my mind when I thought of wool. I can imagine that the US is not so kind, which is very unfortunate.

  • Victoria says:

    I am quite shocked to learn about this. In Norway where I live, wool is a huge part of our culture. Ideally a mother dresses her newborn in wool from inside out throughout the winter. Sadly, our Norwegian sheep does not have a desirable wool-quality, as it is considered to be stiff and itchy. I think most of the Norwegians use merino wool now. I thought that a modern country as Australia had the same laws for animal welfare as Norway, or at least something quite similar. I cannot imagine that all wool-farms in Australia (and the rest of the world) abuse their animals? Instead of discarding wool completely (which is quite unrealistic), there must be another way? Like some kind of “The PETA-approved farm-mark” or something in the like of that?

  • Katie Long says:

    we can save all of the animals one step, one day, one year, and one decade at a time if we stick together and spread the word: STOP ANIMAL CRUELITY!!

  • Cassandra says:

    Wonderful explanation of facts aaivlalbe here.

  • Dee Orvalho says:

    As an Australian -albeit living in Portugal- I’m ashamed at my country’s continued barbaric practice of live animal export to the Middle East. I belong to an action group called People Against Cruelty in Animal Transport (PACAT) and we’ve been campaigning for years to end this trade, but the Aust. govt. still puts dollars before animal welfare and world condemnation…and it’s a supposed “civilised” country!

  • Ashley-P says:

    Kyle: In nature, there is no need for sheep to be sheared – without human interference, sheep grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes. Sheep exploited for their wool have been bred to produce more wool than is natural. The best way to help animals exploited for clothing is to leave their body parts out of your closet.

  • Ashley-P says:

    Terri: Organic plant-based fabrics are great animal and earth-friendly options. Raising animals for food and clothing contributes significantly to pollution, climate change, and natural-resource depletion. Waste from animals on sheep and other farms can seep into the groundwater, and run-off from factory farms often ends up in local rivers and lakes. The most effective way to help the environment and animals, is to choose animal-free foods and clothing.

  • chander kumar soni says:

    so shameful and painful.

  • Carol Wight says:

    This morning I read about mulesing for the first time in the message I received from PETA. I can’t beleive that such a heartless action can be routinely perpetrated against lambs. Most of my wardrobe consists of cotton garments already. In the future, I will be sure to exclude wool from my clothing purchases.
    Best wishes,

    Carol L. Wright

  • Kyle says:

    @Kallum – your whole comment comes from the mentality that the sheep are your property to do with as you please. You feel like you should get a pat on the back because you sacrifice some profit for the well-being of your property.

    I raise humans in my backyard to “produce” hair and meat. Don’t worry though, I refill their water bowls and give them enough to eat every day even though it costs me more money 😉

  • Kyle says:

    Wool itself is not bad, right? Because shaving wool off of sheep actually helps them, right? And then we can either use or throw away the wool that was shaved off, right?

    So, it is not the wool or the shaving of the sheep that is bad – it is the method that it is done, right?

    I’m try to get clarity on the real issue here…

  • Helen Gryparis says:

    We’ve reached almost perfection in technology but we still haven’t improved our behavior as civilized and compassionate human beings towards others and to animals.We are not only experiencing a huge financial crisis but the largest ethical crisis all over the world because some people are so greedy that in order to earn more and more money they abuse people and animals.

  • Terri Sue says:

    it always amazes me that some people who are concerned about animal rights seem not to care about the earth. petroleum based fabrics are not a substitute! you need to look into organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, or linen. i believe in animal rights. i became a vegetarian in 1981 and then later a vegan. i choose not to eat fake meat because i gave up meat for a moral reason. i do not need to replace it a fake version. i gave it up. but animal rights are not my life there are equally important needs out there. have you noticed that winter hasn’t hardly come to most of us this year. ecology is very important. polyester does not belong on careing people. i knit and i use wool. i buy organic wool from america that is humanely sheared. i do not use unrenewable sources when you can buy other products that are renewable.

  • Carol says:

    These practices have to end TODAY it is beyond and above horrible and if people really understood what was going on they would STOP buying wool.

    I never have liked wool because it is to itchy and to me it really doesn’t keep you that warm as heavy cotton at least it breaths and doesn’t itch and no animals are hurt by growing cotton and that is so so important.

  • Ashley-P says:

    @Kallum Blake: By refusing to phase out mulesing even though experts estimate that they could do so in less than two years, the Australian wool industry has demonstrated that it puts profit above animal welfare. In addition to mulesing, sheep sheared for wool suffer from rough handling and severe injuries inflicted by hurried workers who are often paid by the sheep, not by the hour. After their wool production wanes, sheep are sent to a horrific death in a slaughterhouse, where many have their throats slit while they are still conscious and able to fell pain.

  • Ashley-P says:

    @Kallum Blake: By refusing to phase out mulesing even though experts estimate that they could do so in less than two years, the Australian wool industry has demonstrated that it puts profit above animal welfare. In addition to mulesing, sheep sheared for wool suffer from rough handling and severe injuries inflicted by hurried workers who are often paid by the sheep, not by the hour. After their wool production wanes, sheep are sent to a horrific death in a slaughterhouse, where many have their throats slit while they are still conscious and able to fell pain.

  • Ashley-P says:

    @Bradley: Happy to hear that you choose vegan foods! Australia, where cruel mulesing is widely practiced, is the world’s largest producer of merino wool. Other significant wool producing countries include China, New Zealand, and Argentina, where sheep are subjected to rough shearing in which they often suffer cuts and even complete amputations to some of their most sensitive areas, including their udders, scrotums, and penises. Please visit our compassionate shopping guide [] to learn more about the hottest cruelty-free fashions.

  • Ashley-P says:

    @River Fischer: Yes, flystrike is truly horrific, but mulesing is not the answer. The mutilated sheep often get flystrike in their maimed flesh before it heals. More humane and effective methods exist, and many farmers have had great success in using them to phase out mulesing. The most effective way to prevent flystrike is to breed sheep who have less wrinkly skin and are therefore resistant to it. Experts estimate that the Australian wool industry could transition to the less wrinkly sheep breed within just two years if an aggressive breeding program were implemented immediately.

  • Ashley-P says:

    @Pruthvi: We hope you will join us in calling on the Australian government to require an end to cruel mulesing []. Unfortunately, whenever animals are exploited for profit, the producers’ bottom-line comes before their well-being. Once their wool production wanes, sheep used for wool are sent to a terrifying and painful death in a slaughterhouse, long before they would live out their natural life-span. As more and more people choose cruelty-free fabrics [], the wool industry will fade out.

  • Vianey says:

    they should feel the pain that those poor sheep feel

  • Kallum Blake says:

    As a sheep producer for both wool and meat. I find the above coments offensive, especially the comment that profit is put before the welfare of the animal. We spent thousands of dollars every year on improving animal welfare and some years this means that we make no profit from them. I think you will find that 99.9% of people that have sheep are animal lovers because the people that do not like animals don’t have them they are 100% cropping

  • Bradley says:

    this is not a very balanced argument. it is full of bias and propoganda. I am vegan and quite happily endorse wool. I am fairly sure China has more sheep (and more merino sheep to be specific) than australia anyway.

  • River Fischer says:

    I agree that mulesing is cruel and painful, but has anyone looked into flystrike? I looked into it and it’s horrible. Flies lay their eggs in warm, wet, (and often dirty) areas of the sheep, such as the breech (the rump), where the sheep can’t clean. I won’t get into the details, but the infection is usually fatal to the animal if left untreated.

  • Pruthvi says:

    if we wil stop useing wool than sheep wil be of no use than they wil suffer more than nw so its btr to change the way to get wool without cruelty

  • Lea H. says:

    I have no problem with wool things if the sheep are well cared for and not injured in the process. But the large corporations described are awful!

  • chris says:

    i cant believe how cruel people can be with getting wool and fur, who said we are so much better then animals? i would pay extra money for a lot of things to ensure that the animals being eaten for food, or for wool were treated with care and were killed in a very human way, its awful how our world turned into this.

  • bert says:

    stop this nonsense!

  • Heather says:

    Those poor things,i don’t understand people, how they can hurt any animal

  • ruth says:

    really sorry for those animals. used to be a less cruel once upon a time when we were not massive and so comercialized. God help us all.

  • Whats wrong with wool says:

    first they showed a slauter house re; the cruel treatment of cows.I believe hpw horrible people are.Now it’s almost the same for sheep, my heart goes out to the animals who are abused.I have a hard time thinking that humans can be so bad.Something must be done,these animals are living things. They cry when it hurts,they suffer this terrible treatment.I would like to see the same thing happen to the people who does this to them

  • BlueSkyMoonBeam says:

    I am in absolute disgust now that I know whats really involved in the manufacturing of wool. I can’t believe how inhumane people are, if we did that to cats & dogs in America it’s considered animal abuse so why’s it ok to do this to sheep & other animals???

  • annie says:

    I have read about mulesing before. It is barbaric and cruel.No animal should suffer so much pain for the sake of humans. Shame on everyone involved.

  • Gisele iwersen says:

    Dear Sirs,
    Does the shearing have to be done so carelessly as well as mulesing?
    Why on earth people injur animals for the sake of money?? You can make lots of money without this atrocity!!!
    Think about it, please!

  • Parul Shandilya says:

    I think sheeps are also living beings . They too feel the pain . We buy a bandage for a minor cut even to supress pain then how can a man go beyond the limits of cruellity 🙁 Its a very shameful act in my openion !

  • annette bailey says:

    if they stop shearing the sheep they kill them, so for the poor sheep its a no win situation 🙁