A few days ago a video was shared by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) featuring Joanna Krupa entitled “Wool: The Naked Truth” to convince consumers not to purchase wool products by comparing the shearing of sheep to domestic violence. After Krupa introduces herself upbeat elevator music is cued and the theatrics of this campaign are revealed as you see faux blood being dabbed onto a faux lamb as well as the speaker who is described as having ‘stripp[ed]’ down to share her message. PETA who often uses women portrayed in overly sensationalized way with minimal clothing to share their view upon animal rights.
Here are 6 things to know if you’ve seen this video in your newsfeed and aren’t quite sure what to think:
- The piece of foam they substitute for a lamb is inaccurate.
This is what an actual lamb looks like. So when Krupa states “It looks like it’s so real,” this should probably be clue number one that she hasn’t spent a significant amount of time around sheep. Clue number two is that this is her ‘fifth ad’ with PETA.
Furthermore – lambs aren’t sheared. Sheep are sheared. You’re probably wondering, “What difference does is make?” The fact is this video is misleading and PETA probably used a younger animal to model because we are naturally more empathetic to younger and more vulnerable seeming animals. Sheep are classified as one year or older and actually significantly larger as Ewes (female sheep) can weigh between 90 and 300lbs.
- Shearing does not cause the mutilation inflicted upon the model that has been curated or what is seen in the undercover video.
Though this isn’t the first time misrepresenting how wool is obtained (they inferred an animal must be slaughtered to enjoy wool garments in their Wool Free Winter campaign this time last year) their tactic is still not truthful. Krupa describes how the sheep lamb model became hypothetically injured ultimately losing its life stating “This poor little sheep in my hand died because a wool farm abuser sheared it to death, skinned it alive [had] beaten it, cut it open.” I have personally sheared a sheep before and it is anything but this traumatic for them. Essentially the sheep get a haircut. If you’re wondering what shearing actually looks like you can check out this video from the University of Kentucky. Everyone of us have picked out a nifty new hair cut from a catalog because that’s what we’re more comfortable in. That’s all this is. There are a few different ways to shear a sheep in so far as what type of utensil you use – but the basic concept is the same. While sometimes even with the most care an animal may be nicked in a small way with a pair of clippers many shearers may choose to have an antiseptic spray on hand just in case. Depending on the size of the sheep farm a shearing crew may be hired and the people that are on these crews are selected because they are knowledgeable about how to do it right making animal welfare a priority while still doing their job and using standardized handling techniques. Karoline Rose of KRose Cattle Company who judged wool and served as the assistant coach to the team at Montana State University also sheared on a crew for two years that she described as “amazing, … smooth and methodical.” She wanted to share this rhetoric: Sometimes a sheep may be accidentally cut with a pair of clippers to the point of needing to be stitched up but this is discouraged as shearers are paid per animal shorn and time spent stitching an animal represents a loss in productivity and thus an economic loss for the shearer in addition to discomfort for the animal.
Ultimately regardless of how great a job the shearers are doing animals are unpredictable and accidents can happen though they are not as common practice as the video leads the viewer to believe.
- Animal abuse is not common in the sheep industry.
In fact after digging through PETA videos about wool (#howIspendthursdaynights) I discovered the video is sourced from two different locations on two different continents and had been aired before in 2014 which just goes to show you how limited the actual instances are. In the undercover video we see rough handling and animal abuse, which is never okay. However, you need to understand that this is not tolerated by any stretch of the imagination in the American wool industry. In fact in 2005 the American Sheep Industry Association updated an already existing Sheep Care Guide to help farmers continue to improve their already stellar management with the latest research. Wool growth will occur on sheep but is primarily determined by the level of care they receive in addition to the environment they are raised in. For example without proper nutrition wool is not grown in the volume that it could be or if an animal becomes sick (experiences stress) this is evident as the fibers will show a defined ‘break’ which is economically unfavorable when selling this product. Additionally it would be incredibly expensive for sheep farmers to invest in raising more sheep each year like this video implies. Sheep farmers care too much about animal well being to condone this, but if you’re looking purely from an economic standpoint animal abuse and even poor animal care are not options.
- The sheep industry provides more than just wool.
When Krupa says “There’s so many amazing alternative places that have beautiful sweaters” Sure one sheep can produce up to thirty pounds of it annually – but I think she’s forgetting about how else we benefit from sheep that are raised. Wool contains lanolin which is a naturally occurring grease that is removed from wool when it is cleaned after it has been shorn (this is called scouring). Lanolin is used in items like some motor oils and pharmaceuticals, shampoos and conditioners. Lanolin is also found in nearly all cosmetics (except if explicitly labeled vegan). Eventually there comes a time in a sheep’s life where they will be processed for meat humanely – which has nothing to do with the process of shearing. Once a sheep is processed there are lots of byproducts we may use without even a second thought like gelatin desserts, crayons, candles shoe creams and even rattlesnake anti-venom that all come from them.
- Shearing promotes animal welfare.
A heavy wool coat would also make it harder to exercise your fight or flight response (definitely flight if you’re a sheep) and will make sheep more vulnerable to predator attacks. If sheep are not sheared it is harder for them to maintain a body temperature that is healthy for them. I mean if you were walking around in a wool coat in the summer, it’d be uncomfortable for you too right? Shearing is also usually done right before lambing (when they give birth to lambs) in an effort to help them take better care of their offspring – specifically to help them remember to seek shelter in adverse weather conditions. Finally, when sheep defecate this can become caked upon their wool which can be incredibly unhygienic. Shearing is necessary for them to be healthy.
- We’ve already established that Krupa isn’t a reliable source of information – but who is?
If you have questions about how your wool is grown, please talk to someone who raises sheep for a living, like Marisa Linton who blogs over at Rural Ris or someone who has spent a significant amount of time around them like Karoline. When asked to describe how her family raises sheep Marisa says “Raising sheep is a passion of mine, and providing the best care possible is really important. Part of that care involves shearing. Shearing day is intense. It is exciting to see what the wool looks like this year, and what the sheep looks like under all of that fiber. It is also really hard work. By the end of the day, the sheep are 10-20 pounds lighter, have a new haircut, and essentially had a spa day. Me? I get really dirty, a sore back, and even a few cuts and bruises. But, it all so worth it! Especially when those little lambs arrive.”
Don’t feel guilty about enjoying your wool before the spring weather warms up, know it comes from a place where the animals are valued and cared for in the best way possible.
Thanks for reading,