I never thought that the process of obtaining wool could be associated with the massive suffering of animals. How naive! Recently, I’ve spent a good hour on the phone with my mom discussing the practice of mulesing. We were both shocked by how little we know about it. Though it’s a phenomenon occurring mainly in the Land Down Under, I think it’s crucial that (as conscious fashion consumers) we are all aware of it.
Let’s talk about animal ethics today
Australia is the world’s largest producer of the wool, especially fine merino wool (around 88% of the total world production). Merino sheep are specifically bred to have wrinkled skin in order to grow more wool. More wool equals more money and at the end of the day it’s the ultimate goal for the majority of farmers.
The side effect of the excess of skin is the accumulation of moisture and urine between the wrinkles. It creates the perfect environment for flies, which lay the eggs in this area of the sheep’s skin. This often causes infections (called Flystrike) and can even lead to the death of the animal. Yikes!!!
Here comes mulesing – a procedure performed since 1923 by many Australian farmers in an attempt to produce smooth, scarred skin to prevent the flystrike. It is performed on lambs between 2 to 12 weeks of age.
It’s a very painful surgical procedure. Mostly, it’s made without any painkillers or anaesthetics. The pain after this surgery is compared to this after the castration however, it can last longer – up to 48h. Moreover, the wounds take up to 4 weeks to heal. In the busy and crowded breeding conditions, without proper aftercare, wounds can get easily infected.
It’s a bloody procedure, but I highly recommend you to run the google image search or check this PETA article for the extra visuals.
The good: From the 1st of October 2018, mulesing in prohibited in New Zeland. Moreover, a lot of popular brands (especially in US and Europe) pledged to move away from mulesed wool.
The bad: Mulesing is still a common practice in Australia. Even though the woolgrowers in 2004 promised to get rid of mulesing by 2010, the deadline has been postponed to the indefinite time.
According to The Australian in Sheep farmers flocking back to mulesing :
“Farmers are returning to the controversial practice because buyers are refusing to pay more for their fleece.”
Now that you know about mulesing
If animal welfare is important to you, remember that as a consumer you have a great impact on this topic! If you like merino wool products, before buying, always check the source of the wool and choose the non-mulesed one.