ANIMALS AS FABRIC
When their level of production declines, virtually every sheep, goat, rabbit or llama used for wool, cashmere, angora or alpaca is killed and replaced with a younger, more "productive" victim. Like all animals used for human purposes, animals used for fiber are permitted to live only as long as they can profitably overproduce whatever it is we want to extract from them — be it wool, skin, fiber, eggs, milk, flesh, or babies. For many of the victims of wool production, the unspeakable horror of slaughter is preceded by weeks of misery on "livestock" ships to the Middle East.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH WOOL?
Wool often tends to be overlooked by many animal advocates because its cultivation does not necessitate the death of the animal, unlike meat production or leather, for example. However, the cultivation of wool is far from the pastoral idyll one might imagine.
Wool production is an industry. Like any other branch of animal agriculture, it thrives by commodifying animals and objectifying them as resources for human consumption. It converts sentient creatures into units of production, thereby consigning them to brief lives of neglect, abuse, and captivity in the service of increased profit margins.
Moreover, just as the dairy industry implicitly supports the meat industry by supplying it with veal calves and female cows whose milk production levels have dropped, wool funnels sheep who are no longer producing profitable levels of wool into the meat industry, often through live export which entails its own unique set of abhorrent practices. Ultimately, every shorn sheep will be brought to slaughter.
One might also mistakenly believe that a sheep needs to be shorn, but the reality is more complicated. Undomesticated sheep produce only the amount of wool that they need to survive in their climate. Again, as we have bred chickens and pigs to grow so large that their legs can no longer support them, we have used genetic engineering to manipulate the sheep’s wool production to meet our designs.
Today’s domesticated sheep will overproduce wool in the abundance that is required to support the industry. We have, in effect, turned the sheep’s body against the sheep. Shearing, which is, in itself, a brutal process in which frightened animals are forced into submission, occurs early in the spring, which leaves the sheep vulnerable to exposure. Deleterious breeding is certainly not the only way in which the sheep’s body is assaulted to further human interests.
About half of the world’s Merino wool comes from Australia, where the practice of ‘mulesing’ is ubiquitous. Because of forced, unnatural breeding practices, these sheep have wrinkled skin in order to increase wool production. This wrinkled skin also accrues excess moisture, which in turn attracts flies. The flies lay eggs in the skin folds and resulting maggots begin to consume the sheep’s skin in the extremely painful condition known as flystrike. To prevent this from occurring (or rather, to maintain their product using the most cost-effective means at their disposal) the wool industry cuts off the skin and flesh from around a lamb’s hindquarters, generally without anesthesia.
Mulesing is likely the most widely protested aspect of wool production and, while it is certainly one of the most pronounced travesties of the industry, let us not forget that we cannot reduce the gross immorality and injustice of a thoroughly corrupt institution to only its most heinous acts. If we were to reform the industry by outlawing mulesing, we would still be left with a corrupt industry that subsists on the commodification of sentient animals. In other words, mulesing is a symptom of a larger problem: consigning a sentient being to the status of an item of property, so that he or she may be used in whatever manner benefits the owner. This cultural paradigm produces the very social conditions that make mulesing and other extreme rights violations possible.
Wool is widely used in textile production. Even in some cases where wool is not the primary fiber, you are likely to find it in clothes, bedding, and even carpets and mattresses in some parts of the world such as New Zealand and other countries where wool production is prevalent. If you knit or crochet, wool is very frequently used in yarn. Alternative fabrics are widely available and include hemp or bamboo yarn, organic cotton, polyester fleece, synthetic shearling, soft acrylic and faux fur.*
Note: Sheep are not the only animals used for their wool. Cashmere is derived from goats, and Angora from rabbits. Alpaca wool is also increasing in popularity. If you do not want to contribute to the abusive industry of wool production, check clothing tags for any of these terms before buying.
By Christine Wells, Gentle World
WHAT'S WRONG WITH LEATHER?
Unlike some animal ingredients, leather can usually be spotted quickly, but since it’s also so ubiquitous it can just as easily be overlooked. You’ll find leather in clothing and personal accessory items, like shoes, belts, gloves, and handbags. It can show up unexpectedly on some of these items, such as in the case of leather buckles on a canvas messenger bag, or a leather tag on a pair of denim jeans. Leather is also frequently used for upholstery, so you’ll likely find it in furniture and car seats as well.
Since animal use is the dominant paradigm throughout the world, vegans generally cannot make assumptions about the products we use. It can be surprising and upsetting to learn how much of our material culture is literally built from the bodies of animals and, while being a more active and vigilant consumer can seem daunting for new vegans, when weighed against the death and suffering of billions of animals, it is surely the least we can do.
By far, most leather is sourced from cows. Leather production shares a common misconception with dairy: that it is incidental to the meat industry. In other words, it is often assumed that leather is a mere byproduct of meat and that purchasing and wearing leather does not contribute to a brutal industry and a profoundly immoral institution. This is a false assumption. Not only is leather highly profitable for the meat industry (as explained below), much of the leather sold worldwide comes from animals killed primarily for their skins.
Unlike fur, which has become highly controversial thanks to the now widespread awareness about the cruelty involved in its production, the use of leather (which is also the skin of an animal) continues to be overlooked, even by those who identify as vegan and would never consider buying or wearing fur.
As with dairy, leather and meat are mutually sustaining industries. In economic terms, a cow’s skin is roughly 10% of her total “value,” which actually makes the skin the most profitable portion of the cow’s body. Three pounds of leather, for example, is worth considerably more than three pounds of flesh. Leather helps make the meat industry—and animal farming—profitable.
Many people are already familiar with the brutality involved in factory farming, but these industry standards only compound the immorality of killing an animal for our completely unnecessary and frivolous purposes. Leather is also sourced from other animals in lesser quantities. Pigs, goats, sheep and lambs, cats and dogs, deer, elk, buffalo, oxen, yaks, horses, kangaroos, snakes, alligators, elephants, ostriches, fishes, sharks, and even stingrays are all among the victims of the leather industry. The products that result from their deaths are generally used for clothing and will usually advertise themselves, since the “exotic” source of material is considered desirable. Slink, an exceptionally soft form of leather that is one of the most highly prized, is actually made from the skin of unborn calves.
Despite its ubiquity, leather is easily replaced with both natural and synthetic alternatives. The list of vegan textiles available is too numerous to list in full here, but includes cotton, denim, hemp, rubber, acrylic fiber, etc. If you really want the look and feel of leather, synthetic pleather is an option.
Note: There is some debate as to whether vegans should be promoting or endorsing textiles that approximate the products of violence, and this is certainly a question worth considering. As with faux meats, it is likely that pleather will be most useful as a transitional product.
What should new vegans do with their pre-owned leather items? We here at Gentle World are firm believers that the only appropriate action is to give these items a decent burial. They are, after all, someone’s body parts.
As always, when replacing these items, we recommend buying all items second-hand, to lessen the environmental impact of even your vegan purchases.
However, if you are unable to do this, it has become much easier to find vegan clothing at virtually any apparel outlet, although reading labels is always well-advised. As people evolve toward greater awareness and sensitivity to the rights of non-human animals, there is a greater demand for these products.
For those of us who feel strongly about supporting businesses that specifically promote nonviolence and veganism, there are several choices here as well, including online stores like MooShoes, Alternative Outfitters, VauteCouture, Herbivore Clothing, Vegan Essentials, and an ever-growing number of others.
By Christine Wells, Gentle World
WHY VEGANS DON'T USE SILK
From blouses to sarongs, suits to ties, and lingerie to pajamas, silk is still widely used by the textile industry, finding its way into sheets and pillowcases as well as handkerchiefs and headscarves. What some people may not be aware of, however, are the less-obvious places silk shows up, including parachutes, bicycle tire casing, cigar bands, replacement heart valves, and sutures for surgery.
We tend to associate silk with the silkworm due to the fact that, in its production, silkworms are killed by the hundreds of millions every year. However, silk is a fiber naturally produced by a number of different insects, including spiders, whose silk reserves have also been exploited in medical and military experiments.
Although synthetic silks made from lyocell (a type of cellulose fiber) can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing, sadly, the archaic practice of using silk from insects remains as common as ever.
Just prior to their metamorphosis into moths, Bombyx mori pupae spin silk fibers to weave their cocoons. In nature, the moth chews his or her way out of the cocoon once the transformation is complete. But in the fabric industry, silk is mass produced through the breeding and domestication of silkworms on what are essentially moth factory farms. When the caterpillars enter the pupa stage of their development, their cocoons are plunged into boiling water. This kills the silkworms and begins to unravel the longer fibers.
Approximately 15 silkworms are killed to produce a single gram of silk. Although it is very occasionally harvested after the moth has broken free, the strands are considerably shorter and the finished product is not commercially viable on a large scale.
There are other methods of producing silk that do not result in the death of the insect; however, there are still ethical issues to be considered. “Ahimsa silk,” for example, is made from the cocoon of the Bombyx mori moth after the moth has chewed through and discarded it. The silkworms used in this method of production are still domesticated and, just like other domesticated farmed animals, are bred for the purposes of production at the cost of their own health and well-being. The adult moths cannot fly because their bodies are too large and the adult males cannot eat due to underdeveloped mouth parts. The same would be true of moths in large commercial operations, but they are killed before reaching adulthood.
Abstaining from silk, like honey, may draw pause from new vegans. Do insects feel pain? Is it important for humans to consider the interests of insects against our own? Do insects have interests? It’s true that the depth of our understanding is limited about these issues, but that does not mean that we should ignore the moral concerns such questions present. Surveying the opinions of “experts” will yield mixed results, but any objective observer can see that insects react to stimuli, pursue pleasure, and flee from threat.
We should not remove insects from moral consideration just because our knowledge about these tiny beings is incomplete. Being vegan is about embracing a worldview that is starkly different from the dominant premise that other beings exist simply to fulfill human desires. The reality is that we do not need to exploit insects, and there is no justification for using them as a resource for our own ends.
By Christine Wells, Gentle World
Be Fair Be Vegan is an animal justice campaign run by Be Fair Be Vegan in partnership with Gentle World. The first high-profile vegan campaign in the US to present the end of all animal use as a prerequisite for a fair and just society, it was launched in New York City in August of 2016. Campaign designer, Joanna Lucas. Campaign spokesperson, Angel Flinn. All content subject to copyright.