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Sheeps and lambs on a farm with mulesing practice

The suffering of the lambs: Mutilated for luxury fashion

FOUR PAWS criticises animal cruelty at international fashion brands

31.3.2021

31 March 2021With its current "Wool with a butt" campaign, global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS is calling on the fashion industry to stop using mulesed wool. In the painful procedure called mulesing, large pieces of skin are removed from the buttocks of Merino lambs a few weeks old using scissors and without anaesthesia so that flies cannot settle there. FOUR PAWS investigated 38 international fashion brands from the areas of high and fast fashion as well as outdoor clothing and sportswear for their efforts to exclude mulesed wool from their product range. The results are sobering. While outdoor brands, such as Ortovox and Patagonia, lead the ranking, high-fashion labels in particular show little or no interest in animal welfare. Bringing up the rear, Max Mara and Escada have neither taken steps to phase out nor are they willing to talk.

Jumpers, scarves, suits, sportswear and cloth nappies: The processing of merino wool is versatile and not seasonal. The current ranking by FOUR PAWS evaluates a total of 38 international fashion brands on the use of non-mulesed wool. The most consistent implementation is in the outdoor sector, where the two labels Ortovox and Patagonia clearly lead the ranking. Some brands such as Fjällräven, H&M or Esprit have already publicly committed to eliminating mulesed wool in the next few years and already offer certified non-mulesed products. Seven fashion manufacturers, including Calvin Klein, Vero Moda and C&A, have fortunately already committed to a phase-out over the course of the brand check with FOUR PAWS in advance. Unfortunately, however, almost half of the brands still lack clear objectives to reject the cruel and long outdated method. 

Brutal tradition

Over 75 percent of wool exports and as much as 90 percent of the popular fine merino wool used for the global fashion industry come from Australia - the only country in the world where the method of mulesing is still practised. The problem with the overbred Merino sheep is the many folds of skin that are particularly susceptible to blowfly infestation. If left untreated, this can lead to severe wounds and even death of the sheep. This is why a very painful method was developed in 1920 to reduce the risk of blowfly infestation. In mulesing, large pieces of skin are cut out of two to ten-week-old lambs with sharp scissors without anaesthesia. For the lambs, this means not only fear and stress, but above all great pain that can last for days.

Painless alternatives available

Every year, more than ten million lambs fall victim to this brutal and outdated method. Yet alternatives have long been practised. “Consumers can decide on non-mulesed clothing. There are strict certifications for this, like the RWS (Responsible Wool Standard). On the producer side, there are also solutions. Already more than 3,000 farmers in Australia show that it is possible to switch to sheep species that are naturally more resistant to parasites. Such a switch takes only two to five years. Therefore, FOUR PAWS calls on fashion brands to consistently exclude mulesed wool from their supply chains within the next five years and to exclusively process alternative materials and/or certified non-mulesed wool," says Picallo Gil.

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. www.four-paws.org

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