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Is Wool Vegan? Is it Humane?

Is wool vegan?  And what’s the big deal about it anyways?  Isn’t it just like shaving your legs or trimming your beard?  Well, get ready to have the wool pulled off from over your eyes!

The vegan status of wool is a common question and I think it's an important topic to address. Recently I was asked by viewer ‘Vegan Jen' “why don't some vegans wear wool? my parents used to have sheep, so my mom could spin the wool, and the sheep seemed as if they really enjoyed the haircut.  I've always wondered but don't know any vegans personally to ask.”

The main reason people wonder if wool is vegan is that sheep don’t die from being sheared.  I’d like to address that concern first: Veganism, in general, is about opposing the use of animals for our personal gains in any form.  So even if we assume that nothing negative happens to sheep who are used for wool, we are still using them for our own purposes.  And that is the case regardless of how well the sheep are treated.

Now outside of the few individuals who might shear their own sheep, there exists the wool industry, which is far from idyllic and humane.  Just as the dairy and egg industries implicitly support the meat industry by supplying them with dairy calves for veal, “spent” dairy cattle and layer hens for meat, and the practice of grinding up male layer chicks alive, so it is with the wool industry.  When sheep get older, they stop producing as much wool and they're sent off to slaughter as they are seen no longer “profitable.”

However, even life before slaughter is inhumane for the sheep of the wool industry.  Regular shearing causes nicks and cuts, and in order to prevent the excess attraction of flies and a condition called flystrike, the wool industry practices “mulesing”.  This is a cruel procedure in which part of a sheep’s flesh is cut off of his or her hindquarters without anesthesia.  The most insane part of this practice is that it's used to prevent flystrike, or maggot infestation, but the resulting wound form the procedure can itself attract maggots and flies and cause deadly infections.

The whole reason that flystrike is an issue within the wool industry is due to the practices of industry itself.  The sheep are selectively bred to have wrinkled skin so that they have more skin and thus produce more wool.  This is more profitable for the industry, but detrimental to the sheep themselves.  That is the hallmark of exploitation–manipulating another being to suit one’s own needs, especially when doing so results in the suffering and death of that being.  This is the case within all the animal products industries: We manipulate the lives, living conditions, and even genes of these animals to better suit our needs.  And it's always at the expense of their quality of life and, ultimately, their lives themselves.

The shearing process in and of itself is terrifying for sheep.  During shearing, sheep are pinned down and, when they resist or struggle, shearers will hit and stomp on them and stand on their heads to keep them still.  Most workers who shear sheep are paid by the sheep and not by the hour.  They rush through their work, often nicking or completely cutting off ears, tails and pieces of skin in the process.  These gaping wounds are then sewn up without the use of any anesthetics. So tell me, is all of that really worth a sweater?

When we really look at the wool industry, it’s easy to see why wool would not be considered vegan.  There is just no way to use other beings for our own benefit without putting our needs above theirs, and thus compromising their lives.  And that is exploitation, pure and simple.

Luckily we live in a day and age where there exist a plethora of alternative fabrics to wool, including ones that look and feel the same.  Today we have eco-friendly alternatives as well like bamboo, banana tree fiber, hemp, flax, organic cotton, tencel, and recycled plastic.

Your fashion and comfort do not have to come at the cost of others’ lives.  So I hope this helped clear up the wool issue.  Please share this video and blog post along with the other Bites Size Vegan nuggets so we can spread the vegan message.

See ya next nugget!

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14 Comments

  1. Can Vegans Wear Wool? | on 01/14/17 at 12:33 am

    […] sheep for wool can be as brutal as any other kind of factory farming: animals are kept in cramped, stressful, dirty conditions, […]

    • Emily Barwick on 01/19/17 at 4:00 pm

      Absolutely! It is such a shame that so many do not realize they are kept in these conditions, let alone the practice of selectively breeding them to overproduce wool and then clipping off entire chunks of flesh to prevent infection and insect infestation that the selective breeding caused in the first place! Baffling!

  2. Lauren on 09/11/17 at 10:52 pm

    I had no idea! I’m a noob, only into my second week. I’m also an avid knitter. Hopefully I can find some acrylic yarns that are soft. So far, and my experience with them is limited, they’re always very rough. I don’t want to buy wool yarns again, but I love knitting! So gotta find an alternative.

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 12:19 pm

      There are many alternatives out there. And so glad to hear you’re wanting to change (and that you’re vegan!) I may have more alternatives on my newer wool video post (for kids). Still working to update older posts that were made before I knew how to use the citation software. (Kids vids don’t have citations, but there should be links at the base of the post). Thank you so much for your comment and so sorry for the delay!

  3. Maya on 11/12/17 at 7:22 pm

    Hey I absolutely love your videos! I was hoping you could provide some sources for you information since many folks might just think you are making this stuff up, even though you’re obviously not.
    Thanks!

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 12:27 pm

      Maya, thank you for your comment. This is one of the things that bugs me to no end! I made my older videos before I knew how to use citation software (I had absolutely no experience with video, technology, blogs, etc). Now, every video has rigorous and thorough citations (with speech videos having even 200 or more!)

      Returning to old posts and adding in citations has been something I’ve wanted to do for years now. I have so very many videos, though, and so much on my plate as I’m still a one-person operation, that it’s not been feasible as of yet. I did at least have some links to references (not at all ideal), and I think maybe more even on my kids wool video? (But I purposefully do not do citations on the kids videos as I don’t want them to click on something that leads them to a graphic image).

      This is a huge priority for me (back-citing) and as I said it’s always in the back of my mind driving me nuts! I absolutely value backing up what I say, and now do so to an almost insane extent (which is also why the time-per-video went up so dramatically). No one should have to take my word as gold. That’s not realistic nor logical, and I’d never expect nor want someone to.

      Anyways, long story short, YES! You’re totally on-point. Time is my greatest enemy atm and I’ve had to prioritize the thousands of things needing my attention. This will never fall off my radar, I just can’t say yet when I’ll be able to back-cite older content.

      Many thanks!

  4. Dave on 12/22/17 at 10:24 am

    I have heard that if sheep are left untamed in the wild and unsheared that they will die. The wool gets too long and the poop gets stuck in it and they die of infection and if not that then it will grow over their face until they cannot see or eat. They have evolved over thousands of years so that the o not way they can live is with us shearing them. Is this true and if so would that not mean that even an cut sheep is better than letting them all go extinct by never shearing them?

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 12:39 pm

      That is another myth. The sheep we breed would be overrun with wool, yes, but only because we breed them to produce an unnatural and excessive amount of wool to up production rates. That’s also why they are bred to have wrinkled skin. Both of these things harm and endanger the sheep. Wild sheep aren’t genetically manipulated/selectively bred to produce such an insane amount of wool and do not need any human intervention.

  5. Austin on 12/25/17 at 9:56 am

    Thank you Emily. Just received some wool ski wear for Christmas from my family and wasn’t sure how to react. Hopefully I can still return them. My family are extremely supportive and are dropping many animal products from their own diets, but animal abuse is so pervasive that it can be difficult to avoid in some cases despite our best intentions.

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 11:41 am

      Austin, so glad to hear this was helpful! And that’s incredible and very promising that your family is making changes. It certainly does take time to understand and grasp the full scope of our exploitative practices—I don’t think we ever fully do. I’m always learning more and more ways in which we oppress and exploit non-humans. Going vegan is just the start—it’s a lifelong process of increasing our awareness and adjusting our actions to match our values. thank you for sharing, and I hope the videos and articles here can continue to be of help in your vegan journey. Much love!

  6. Trevor on 01/5/18 at 8:30 am

    Should I give up playing tennis due to the fact that ‘quality’ tennis ball nearly always, if not always, have wool in their felt?

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 01/25/18 at 11:32 am

      I’d investigate and research alternatives. I haven’t done this yet myself, but it’s something I’m sure there are options for. As I’ve not researched the specifics nor am I familiar with the range of tennis ball quality, I can’t say for sure what there is and if/how alternatives may compare. Apologies for not having a solid answer for you, but I would definitely encourage you to do some digging online. Appreciate your question and again wish I had something more concrete for you! If I do find a moment to investigate myself, I’ll be sure to reply again here.

  7. Laura on 03/21/18 at 6:55 am

    Thank you, I didn’t know this so you’ve enlightened me. Xx

    • Emily Moran Barwick on 03/21/18 at 7:33 pm

      So glad to hear this! And always grateful to hear my content is doing exactly what I’ve intended it to do :D

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