For almost 90 years of cruelty in the Australian wool industry, the only end in sight was a bloody lamb’s bottom, but after just 30 months of hard-hitting PETA campaigning, animal advocates can celebrate what just might be the beginning of the end of mulesing mutilations in Australia.
PETA, others in the litigation, and industry group Australian Wool Innovation reached an agreement in which AWI promised to withdraw its pointless lawsuit, which has already cost the wool industry millions of dollars.
In response to the withdrawal, PETA promises that the boycott of Australian wool will continue at full throttle as long as any lambs are still forced to endure the painful mulesing mutilation or one sheep boards a cruel live export “death ship.”
PETA’s Australian legal representation described AWI’s decision to drop its lawsuit as “a clear lesson to other industries that it is extremely unwise to try to silence their critics by using heavy-handed litigation, rather than sensible dialogue.”
Major international retailers—including H&M, Perry Ellis, Adidas, and dozens of other major retailers—have announced that they will boycott mulesed wool.
These companies made their decisions despite the Australian wool industry’s efforts to placate retailers and consumers by phasing out the conventional mulesing mutilation in favor of a new mulesing mutilation, “clip mulesing,” in which farmers clip clamps onto lambs’ skin so tightly that the skin dies and falls off.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), an Australian wool-industry trade group, seems to have hoped that since clip mulesing is less bloody, retailers might overlook its obvious problems. AWI director Chris Abell went so far as to say, “There’s a very big difference, there’s no bloody back end of the animal to display to shock the retailers with a clip.”
But a lack of blood does not make a procedure painless. Animal welfare experts have condemned clip mulesing as painful and inhumane.
“Animal abusers—sue us at your own peril. As long as a single sheep is mutilated or herded aboard an export death ship, we will continue to urge the boycott of Australian wool.
“AWI has had to make concessions under the agreement, including a pledge to fast-track the development of a genetic alternative to mulesing by seeking the transition of overly woolly merino sheep to the bare-breeched breed, something that PETA has pushed for since its campaign began.
AWI has also agreed not to stand in the way of any labeling program whereby wool would be identified as coming from nonmulesed or mulesed sheep, a system that would give less-cruel farmers an advantage in the increasingly popular “compassion-aware” marketplace.
AWI is also bound to provide quarterly reports detailing its investments and its progress in genetic alternatives to mulesing, as well as to encourage the development, approval, and use of pain relief products.
The only concession that PETA has made, if it can even be called one, is to abandon a strategy that we had decided was no longer the best one anyway, i.e., targeting just one retailer at a time. Rather, we will make sure the whole retail industry knows why it is wrong to buy wool from mulesed or live exported sheep.
Lambs and sheep in Australia still face grave misery, and compassionate citizens must continue to pressure the government and industry to end the horrific practices of mulesing mutilations and live exports.
Top American fashion designer Marc Bouwer had already fired off a letter to previous Australian Prime Minister John Howard urging him to stop two of the Australian wool industry’s abusive practices—cutting huge chunks of skin and flesh from the backsides of sheep and exporting millions of animals to the Middle East, where they are cruelly slaughtered in ways that would be illegal in Australia.
“I recently learned from my friends at PETA how sheep are treated in Australia and am so appalled that I will be cutting all Australian wool from my future collections,” writes Bouwer.
“Your government’s failure to take steps toward enforcing an end to these crude practices reflects poorly on Australia’s standing as a wool supplier in the global fashion marketplace.”
In Australia, where more than a quarter of the world’s wool comes from, farmers use tools similar to gardening shears to cut huge chunks of skin and flesh from lambs’ backsides—without giving them any painkillers—in a crude mutilation called mulesing.
Each year, millions of Australian sheep who no longer produce enough wool are crowded on export ships and sent to the Middle East, where they are cruelly slaughtered.
Sheep who survive the terrifying voyage are dragged off trucks by their ears and legs, tied up, and beaten, and they have their throats slit while they are still conscious.
A growing number of prestigious retailers and top fashion designers—including Abercrombie & Fitch, Limited Brands, and Timberland—have pledged not to use cruelly obtained Australian wool.
Millions of sheep who are less profitable to wool farmers are discarded for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa, where sheep are crammed aboard multitiered open-deck ships. Nearly 800,000 sheep enter the live export trade from the U.K. and are slaughtered abroad.
Australian and New Zealand sheep are slaughtered in the Middle East, after enduring a grueling, weeks- or months-long journey on extremely crowded, disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water through all weather extremes.
Many sheep fall ill, many become stuck in feces and are unable to move, and many are trampled to death by other sheep trying not to fall or trying to reach water when it is available. Shipboard mortality ranges up to 10 percent.
In 2002, 14,500 sheep reportedly died from heat stress while in transit to the Middle East. Their carcasses were thrown overboard.
Between August and October of 2003, more than 50,000 sheep suffered aboard the MV Cormo Express when the Saudi Arabian government refused to accept the sheep because too many of them were believed to be infected with “scabby mouth,” an infectious disease that results in sores and scabs around the animals’ mouths.
After nearly two months aboard this ship, with very little food and water, often in temperatures exceeding 100°F, the African nation of Eritrea accepted the sheep for slaughter.
When the survivors arrive at their destination, they are dragged from the ships and thrown into the backs of trucks and cars, eventually to have their throats slit while they are fully conscious.
In the Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East, ritual slaughter is exempt from humane slaughter regulations. Some sheep are slaughtered en masse in lots, while others are taken home, often in the trunks of cars, and slaughtered individually by the purchasers.