With over 74 million sheep, Australia is the largest producer of wool used for clothing worldwide. Unfortunately, like all mass production in which farm animals are involved, there are major animal welfare issues associated with sheep farming and the production of wool, especially in Australia.
Sadly, Australian sheep are prone to a painful, and often fatal condition called “flystrike.” A major cause of flystrike is that much of the Australian Merino industry prefers to use “wrinkled sheep” types, essentially a sheep with excess skin. These types of sheep are preferred because it’s believed that a sheep with more wrinkles (skin folds) produces a higher volume of wool.
True to their name, wrinkled sheep can be covered in skin folds across their bodies, including around their butts. The excess skin in this area becomes particularly prone to retaining moisture, urine, and feces, creating the perfect conditions for fly larvae to grow by feeding on the sheep’s skin and flesh. As one can imagine, flystrike is incredibly painful and can lead to horrific suffering.
To make sheep less susceptible to flystrike, the painful practice of “mulesing” was developed. Mulesing is the process of restraining 6 to 12 week-old lambs on their backs in a metal cradle, in order to use shears, similar to garden shears, to cut away folds of skin around their buttocks.
Mulesing is currently performed on approximately 70% of Merino wool-producing sheep in Australia. Due to the suffering caused by this procedure, mulesing has been banned in New Zealand. However, it can still be legally performed in Australia and without any pain relief.
Wool in America
In the U.S., which is the third largest producer of wool¹, mulesing is unnecessary due to the breeds of sheep raised here. In addition, the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA), which represents companies that import wool, is "against mulesing because it is an inhumane practice." Along with other industry associations and businesses in the U.S., USFIA has called on the Australian wool industry "to find alternatives to mulesing and implement those alternatives as soon as possible."²
For wool production in the U.S., most is produced in the western part of the country, with the top states being California, Texas, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Legally, military goods must be made from domestic sources, so approximately 20% of American wool is used for U.S. military clothing, with the remainder used in other domestic products or exported.
FOUR PAWS advocates for responsible wool production
The good news is that there are viable alternatives to mulesing available, alternatives which have been used by well over a thousand Australian producers. They include using different breeds of sheep that are resistant to flystrike – like those without excess skin folds, along with enhanced overall farming practices and preventative chemical treatments.
FOUR PAWS is part of the “Responsible Wool Standards” working group and aims to lastingly improve the lives of sheep in the wool industry. One thing is clear: the textile industry is not about to stop using wool. However, fashion labels and companies that process animal products must take responsibility for the animals involved. An international standard can help to tackle animal welfare problems in wool production. FOUR PAWS is making sure that the highest possible requirements are met to ensure the well-being of farmed sheep.
Brands and consumers are also a crucial component of the solution to ending mulesing, and together we can send a signal that this practice needs to end. Encouragingly, over 220 brands including Hugo Boss, Adidas, GAP, Kathmandu and H&M, have now committed to stop using mulesed wool.
What you can do
Naturally, the most animal-friendly decision is not to purchase or use wool. Learn more about the use of animals in fashion and ways to make your wardrobe more animal-friendly here!
If you have decided to continue wearing wool, it is important to actively seek brands which ensure the wool they use is certified “mulesed-free.” It’s important to know the origin of the wool, how the animals are kept, and in which way the company supports an animal-friendly supply chain.
How you can help end mulesing
Sign the petition to call on brands to take responsibility for the animals within their supply chains and commit to stop using mulesed sheep wool.
Want to do more? Join the movement to make animal protection a priority for the fashion industry by signing our fashion pledge today!