Before starting this article which happens to be high risk (one must be on the 9th on the ladder of thorny topics to be tackled currently), I want to say that I am not vegan, I do not criticize habits or thoughts of people who are vegan (or are not). I would like all concerned parties (vegan or not, vegetarian, flexitarian and others) to respect each other. We are only discussing topics. I do not want to convince anyone to do or stop anything, because it’s up to everyone to make a living out of it. We are all intelligent beings and everyone deserves respect.
That’s it! Now that all this is said, we will be able to get to the heart of the matter. Some time ago, I had a discussion with a vegan about wool. She was not very understanding from my point of view, which I found unfortunate, because we can always enrich our argument by listening to what others have to say. I wanted to share my point of view and the knowledge that I have gathered so far on this subject that is particularly important to me as I am an integral part of the consumer chain. I begin with the basics and then develop my argument as and when. I hope you will take time to read my opinion to fully understand the articulation.
What is veganism ?
Veganism ranges from specific dietary restrictions to the philosophy of life that rejects the ownership and exploitation of animals. Vegans do not eat meat, eggs, dairy products, or honey. They do not carry products that may be related to animal exploitation such as leather, skins, furs … and wool. This is our starting point!
Many people are confused as to why wearing wool would be an unethical choice. After all, just remove the wool from a sheep, right? It does not kill.
The vegan philosophy is to refuse to use animals or insects for anything. Using animals and insects for their skin, their production or otherwise, in their view, is a form of exploitation because the animal has no choice but to do so. For some, the discussion stops there. Since animal fibers come from animals (which do not choose to give them), they are not vegan and committed vegans should never use them. Others have a more nuanced view and that if animal fibers are not vegan, it may be vegan in some other way.
Are animals killed for their wool ?
It is never necessary to kill an animal to obtain its fibers. This does not mean that this never happens: most breeders of silkworms boil caterpillars by transforming their cocoons. In New-Zealand, “wool” is harvested from dead opposums (which are considered a very invasive species in this country). Animals also die from the indirect consequences of their maintenance and reproduction. For example, although they are not raised for meat, aged sheep whose wool production has decreased are often slaughtered for consumption by humans and other animals, as most male lambs that approach the adult size.
Are the animals injured ?
Of course, “cruelty” can be taken in a broad sense. Some vegans claim that animal ownership is cruelty itself, even though the barn is hot and meals are regular, you will also get food and shelter in jail. It is true that even the most conscientious, the most attentive and the most gentle breeders benefit from the use of animals that have no valid means to consent or oppose their living conditions and their treatment. That said, the living conditions of animals vary greatly depending on the scale and purpose of the operation.
Sheep farms for wool can be as brutal as any other type of factory culture: the animals are kept in dirty, stressful, neglected, abused, physically modified conditions to facilitate handling (castration procedures, dehorning, usually without anesthesia or analgesics), and at the end of their short “useful” life they are brought to the slaughterhouse with dairy cows and laying hens. These industrial fiber plants value volume, efficiency and profit well beyond animal welfare, and can safely mutilate healthy animals to make them easier to process.
Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to treat their livestock as pets and take care of them with overwhelming love. With patience, love and respect for their animals, entrepreneurs with small herds may choose not to practice violent interventions to ensure that animals receive appropriate care and minimize pain and stress during all their lives.
Is not shearing a cruel act ?
Not in itself. Mowing may seem violent because it involves sharp blades and animals held by restraints, but this is no more detrimental than a haircut, if it’s done well. Here again, there is a big difference between compagnie who hire shearers who must reach quotas for mowing , must hurry up and are, therefore, more likely to hurt the animal or to be brutal with it. Do not forget the smaller farms that choose the “luxury” to take the time to do the job well without hurting the animal. Nevertheless, even without rushing, it can happen that a shearer hurts the animal unintentionally, and even “well-behaved” animals probably do not like the process very much.
Anti-wool activists are right to say that sheep can die of hypothermia after mowing if the weather is bad, but this is relatively rare and taking the right precautions can greatly reduce the risks. For animals that can not lose their wool naturally, such as standard sheep and alpacas , spring mowing is necessary to prevent heat stress and the health problems it can cause. But you do not always need scissors or clippers to get animal fibers! Goats ‘s cashemere can be picked up by brushing (although mowing is preferable for the care and to relieve the goat from its fleece before the summer heat).
So vegetable or synthetic fibers are better ?
It depends on what you mean by “better”. Indeed, all fibers, whether plant, animal or synthetic, have ethical and environmental considerations that we must be aware of.
In addition to the alleged and actual abuses related to animal fiber, there are, like all forms of livestock farming, problems of space, water and fossil fuels that generate a significant amount of methane. Too intensive grazing can strip vegetation areas, contribute to desertification. Leaving room for animals can also encourage deforestation and kill the local fauna and flora.
Animals owners can use toxic chemucals, such as the organophosphorus insecticide baths that have poisoned British farmers for decades, the use of hormones in food chains, not to mention the antibiotics that contribute to the appearance bacterial foci resistant to drugs.
The ecological records for vegetable and synthetic fibers are not so clean either, so do not make too quick conclusion 😉
Synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester are derived from petrochemicals, are not biodegradable, require large amounts of energy and water to produce and generate dangerous greenhouse gases, such as nitrous oxide. “Semi-synthetic” fibers of plant origin such as bamboo and viscose, created by chemically decomposing and reconstituting plant material, are also greedy for water and energy and can encourage the destruction of forests to make way for pulp mills. Not really glorious. Conventional and non-organic cotton does not really have a say either, because it is an environmental nightmare, due to their huge water, the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals who stay in the fiber (and therefore also in your clothes after).
What is my opinion about this ?
I think racing for the one with the least environmental impact is too tight to be able to give a definite winner or loser. I never liked the extreme views. In life, everything is not black or white, there are no good guys, no bad guys sliced down like in cartoons: everything is much more nuanced and complicated than that.
Personally, I always pay attention to the wool I buy. I try to take in small producers who take care of their animals, love them and pay close attention to their well-being.
Everyone is free to function as they wish, but we can all learn to live in good conscience and in the most ethical and sustainable way possible. In my opinion, I prefer to use wool from a small company that treats its animals rather than using “vegan” pinned wool from products processed by unknown processes and products or products. petro-solvents-thingummy whose name is often unpronounceable.
For my part, I thought a lot about his questions, read a lot, listened to diverse and varied people. I made my choice and I prefer to live with the least processed products possible raw raw materials whose origin and treatment I know, even if they are not stamped “vegan”.
And even if I still buy wool from big companies, I will not scourge myself. If we try to live as best we can, while doing the best we can to protect our environment, we have already taken a good step towards a slightly better world. de grosses entreprises, je ne vais pas me flageller pour autant. Si l’on essaie de vivre comme on peut, tout en faisant du mieux que l’on peut pour protéger notre environnement, on a déjà fait un bon pas en avant vers un monde un peu meilleur.
And what do you think ? 🙂