In an effort to increase the price of wool worldwide, Prince Charles has announced the Wool Project, an initiative to revitalize the industry and promote wool as a sustainable, eco-friendly material. Prince Charles hopes to establish a new green label for woolen goods and is counting on British High Street shops to champion the products. The initiative would include Wool Week which will take place before London’s Fashion Week in September and be used to promote wool as a fashionable option for winter wardrobes.
Over the years, wool has fallen out of fashion and the price has dropped drastically. The Prince hopes his efforts will increase the popularity of the product for use in clothing and rugs.
“The future of the fiber was looking very bleak indeed,” said Prince Charles. “The sad truth is that around the world farmers are leaving sheep production because the price they get for their wool is below the costs of actually shearing it.
“The wool industry is truly international and I am glad that the Wool Project is now a partnership that includes the wool-growing organizations of Australia, Britain, and New Zealand.”
Unfortunately the Prince of Wales is getting into a business which has been deemed cruel by animal welfare advocates worldwide.
When one thinks of sheep, visions of Mary and her snow white fleeced creature may come to mind. After arriving home from school one day, Mary notices the Little Lamb needs a haircut, so the dutiful owner takes her electric wool shears (with noise reducer, of course) and clips away excess wool. Mary, who learned to spin wool into yarn from videos on YouTube, makes a beautiful sweater for the teacher who knew how much the young girl loved her lamb.
Juxtaposed against reality, it really is a sweet picture. The truth however, lends a very different picture to the wool production industry. Speaking from an animal well-being standpoint, wool is considered a cruel product with the practice of mulesing at the forefront of the controversy.
Flystrike is a major problem for sheep especially in Australia which produces 25-30% of the world’s wool. Attracted to moisture that has collected in the folds of a sheep’s skin, flies lay eggs in the wrinkles. The eggs hatch into larvae which feed on the sheep’s tissue causing inflammation, toxemia, and death.
In order to prevent Flystrike infestations farmers in Australia implemented the mulesing procedure which involves cutting crescent-shaped chunks of skin from each side of the animal’s rump. [see picture here] The surgical procedure performed with metal shears is often done without anesthesia, antiseptics, or pain killers. It is standard practice to do the operation simultaneously with other procedures such as tail docking and castration.
Mulesing is illegal in other countries where alternatives have been established to fight incidents of Flystrike.
In 2004, after international pressure, the Australian wool industry agreed to phase out mulesing by the end of 2010. However in July of 2009, industry leaders reneged on the agreement claiming alternatives were not sufficiently developed. Instead, half of the 20-30 million mulesed lambs now have topical analgesia sprayed on the wound. The relief lasts only 8 hours. Studies show that sheep endure pain from the procedure for at least 3 weeks.
In addition to the painful mutilation endured by flocks in Australia, sheep in the wool industry worldwide are subject to unnatural breeding, rough handling during shearing and, for those not producing enough wool, an imminent trip to the slaughterhouse.
As with any industry that depends on the mass production of an animal product, wool production is a brutish business that has been riddled with controversy. It is to be expected that international animal welfare agencies will keep close eye on Prince Charles and his plan to increase the popularity of the fiber.