Ad descriptionAn ad for PETA displayed on the side of buses, seen in February 2019, included the text “Don't let them pull the wool over your eyes. Wool is just as cruel as fur. GO WOOL-FREE THIS WINTER PeTA". Beside the text was an image of a woman with the neck of her jumper pulled over her face.
IssueTen complainants, who believed that sheep needed to be shorn for health reasons and therefore wool should not be compared to fur, challenged whether the claim “wool is just as cruel as fur” was misleading and could be substantiated.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said that over the last few decades the general public had become more aware of the cruelty that existed in the fur trade. However, the same abuses and suffering had also been documented in the wool trade but were not as well known by the public. They provided details of cruelty and abuse that occurred in both the fur and wool industries, which included genetic alterations and the mutilation of animals. For example, in the fur industry animals were bred to grow to a larger size and to become overweight so that their pelts would be larger and fetch more money. Likewise, in the wool industry sheep were bred with genetic abnormalities which compromised their welfare, such as merino sheep in Australia that were deliberately bred for the largest possible skin surface area which meant more wool per animal.
They said that not all domestically raised sheep needed to be shorn, and that included wild sheep such as the Asiatic and European mouflon species from which domesticated breeds were created, which grew enough wool in the winter to protect themselves from the cold and shed their coat naturally in the summer.
They stated that in nature, healthy sheep which had not been inflicted with disease, deformation, genetic abnormalities or stress would not need to be shorn as they would lose excess hair naturally. They stated that research indicated that the need to shear sheep was a result of selective breeding over the years by humans to increase the yield of wool for use in textiles. Sheep were being genetically altered to increase their wool production significantly and to eliminate natural shedding.
By transforming mouflon species into several breeds of domesticated sheep, the wool industry had created, via artificial selection and genetic manipulation, unnatural animals with a genetic condition which caused them to suffer as they may overheat and would undergo the pain and stress of shearing. PETA said this led to infections which in turn led to a process known as mulesing. Mulesing involved turning lambs upside down and cutting flesh from their hinds with shears. Another mutilating process to avoid infection involved placing lambs into a restraining device and cutting off a large portion of their tail using a hot blade or a tight ring. These were carried out without any pain relief to animals. They cited a PETA article which quoted an Australian government veterinarian who said that severing tails was an extremely painful procedure for sheep. They said that farmers justified mutilations on the basis of safeguarding sheep’s health, even though there were less cruel methods such as not breeding merinos or not breeding sheep for wool.
PETA provided links to reports from across the world detailing incidences of abuse to sheep carried out by farmers and instances where individuals had been charged for cruelty towards sheep as well as video links documenting workers abusing sheep, often during the shearing process.
They said that, as in the fur industry where minks, foxes, coyotes, and other animals were abused, the wool industry did not limit its cruelty to one species. For example, rabbits suffered for angora wool. The victims of the wool industry were typically biological “prey” animals that were naturally afraid of any unexpected movements and noises, which were commonplace in wool industry facilities.
They said that just as animals in the fur industry were killed for their skin, most animals exploited in the wool industry were ultimately killed. They also stated that as in the fur industry, many animals in the wool industry died far shorter of their natural life expectancy. Sheep would naturally live to around 15 years of age but in the wool trade, they were commonly killed between four and eight years old. Many died from exposure to extreme temperatures, while giving birth, or of injuries and illnesses that went untreated. The Australian meat and wool industry acknowledged that up to one in four lambs would die from exposure annually.They provided further accounts of cruelty towards sheep and the conditions in which they were exported. They said that while the public would have different ideas about what was cruel, it was undeniable that cruelty existed in the wool industry in the same way as it did in the fur industry.
The ASA considered that the general public were aware that in the fur industry animals were often kept in poor conditions and were killed for their fur, and that they would interpret the ad’s reference to cruelty in that context. We considered that people who saw the ad would therefore understand the claim “wool is just as cruel as fur” to refer generally to the conditions in which sheep were kept and the effects on sheep of the methods used to obtain their wool. We considered that although the public would recognise the ad was from an animal rights organisation and as such that the claim would represent its views, it was presented as a factual claim and a direct comparison between the two industries.
In terms of wool production in the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Code of Recommendations for the welfare of livestock had specific guidelines on the shearing process to ensure they were adhering to the standards of animal welfare which was required by law. Those guidelines stated that every mature sheep should have its fleece removed at least once a year by experienced and competent trained shearers who should take care in ensuring that the sheep’s skin was not cut. We considered that demonstrated that the main method of obtaining wool from sheep by shearing would not be regarded by consumers as being cruel.
The Code of Recommendations and additional guidance also included specific provisions for the health, treatment, transportation and living conditions that sheep should be kept in for the overall benefit of their welfare. We considered this demonstrated that in the UK, there were standards to prevent cruelty to sheep.
We considered people who saw the ad would interpret the claim “wool is just as cruel as fur” as equating the conditions in which sheep were kept and the methods by which wool was obtained with the conditions and methods used in the fur industry. However, sheep were not killed for their wool as animals were in the fur industry and there were standards in place relating to their general welfare including relating to the shearing process. We therefore concluded on that basis that the claim was misleading and in breach of the Code.The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear in its current form. We told PETA not to use the claim “wool is just as cruel as fur” in future.