Between late 2012 and March 2014 PETA sent three undercover investigators into 19 shearing sheds run by nine different contractors across Victoria, New South Whales and South Australia. Between October 2013 and February 2014 these investigators shot alarming footage of sheep being “killed, punched, stomped on, and cut for wool” (PETA, 2015). Shortly after, PETA released this footage along with other promotional aids to the public. .
PETA have used a variety of mediums throughout this campaign (from videos to street performances) however the largest and most successful platform was their viral social media campaign. This campaign’s social media presence was based largely around the two most controversial posters, the first is an image of “I Killed the Prom Queen” guitarist Jona Weinhofen holding a fake, foam lamb covered in open wounds. The second featuring model Joanna Krupa, naked and holding a similar fake lamb. These graphic images sparked controversy across social media with offended replies arising from wool industry workers, some even challenged the campaign with comparison photos (the most popular I have shown below).
Throughout this campaign PETA used extremely generalised statements placing the entire Australian wool industry under this “cruel” umbrella. PETA visited the sheds of nine different contractors with approximately 70 shearers, which (according to the last census in 2006) accounts for only 1.68% of shearers in Australia (Jopson, D 2011). Therefore you can see just how dangerous and reckless it is to accuse and generalise an entire industry whilst only viewing a handful of (undeniably) awful behaviour. Especially when this said industry is worth 2.8 billion annually and supports approximately 25,000 farming families (Cox, L 2015).
I personally have grown up on my family farm in the Central West which runs Merino ewes for wool. In my 19 years on the farm I have NEVER seen that kind of behaviour in the shearing sheds. It was only 3 months ago that I was in the shed rouseabouting for my father, uncle and family friend who were shearing. Growing up I have been taught both respect and appreciation for these animals as they are not only gentle animals but also our livelihood. It wasn’t until I saw these outlandish posters that I realised how proud I am of the industry I have been raised in, as well as how offended I am that PETA would accuse all wool industry workers of this kind of cruelty.
Something I would like to point out is how PETA neglect to show what cruelty would be inflicted on the sheep if they were to go unshorn. Over-grown wool usually leads to a condition referred to as fly-blown. This is where the sheep’s wool becomes the perfect breeding ground for flies to lay eggs, eventually leading to maggots which literally eat the sheep’s flesh while they are alive. Unfortunately I am not exaggerating. Even if a sheep does not become fly-blown, odds are they will become over-grown to a point that affects there well-being in a negative manner. Take for example, Chris the rogue sheep in Canberra who set the heaviest fleece record.
Secondly, for logics sake, lets place ourselves in the farmers position. These sheep are your livelihood. They are the reason you have food on your plate. PETA accuses farmers of keeping sheep in dangerously crowded pens, however any smart farmer would avoid smothering and death at all costs. Any damage to the wool, blood or otherwise, drastically reduces the value of wool. So even disregarding the ethical stance, farmers STILL have it in their best interest to have cruelty-free shears.
To clarify- I am in no way denying that this abuse recorded is horrifying and appalling. I am not denying that this industry has its flaws. Something I found equally horrifying is that even if the people present in the sheds opposed to this behaviour, they did not vocalise their objections. I agree that it is problematic that shearers are being paid for volume rather than per hour, and that it has the potential to cultivate a fast and reckless culture within sheds.
In my opinion it is both damaging and absurd for PETA to call for a boycott on the wool industry. They present an extremely bias and generalised agenda that makes a lot of harmful accusations with hardly any solutions. I am in full support of raising standards in the sheds that protect the sheep’s welfare however throughout this expose PETA have not proposed one practical solution. They push their agenda and tarnish the reputation of all wool industry workers instead of creating logical and viable solutions to stop the cruelty recorded in investigated shearing sheds. Especially when this is (in my opinion) one of the most feasible and likely industry’s to achieve a cruelty free practice.
Bettles, C 2015, ‘Shear lies frustrate wool industry’, The Land, viewed 29th March 2016, <http://www.theland.com.au/story/3379101/shear-lies-frustrate-wool-industry/>.
Cox, L 2015, ‘PETA anti-shearing video a ‘pack of lies’: Barnaby Joyce’, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 29th March 2016, <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/peta-antishearing-video-a-pack-of-lies-barnaby-joyce-20150413-1mk0xb.html>.
Jopson, D 2011, ‘Shear numbers hit the hardest job in the land’, The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed 29th March 2016, <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/shear-numbers-hit-the-hardest-job-in-the-land-20110401-1crsy.html>.
PETA, 2016, ‘International Expose: Sheep Killed, Punched, Stomped on, and Cut for Wool’, PETA, viewed 29th March 2016, <http://investigations.peta.org/australia-us-wool/>.
Ryan G, 2016, ‘Shear Lunacy: Shearer’s Daughter speaks out about PETA Ad Campaign’, Daily Liberal, viewed 29th March 2016, <http://www.dailyliberal.com.au/story/3793491/shear-lunacy-shearers-daughter-speaks-out-about-peta-ad-campaign-photos/>.