Why Vegans Don't Use Animal Products

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What's Wrong with Wool? Why Don't Vegans Wear Wool?

sheep
Sheep being sheared in Australia. Note the red drops of blood on the white wool. Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

My friend came up with a new word for people wanting to maintain a vegetarian diet but don't have the willpower: limitarians. This way, she says, people can choose what to limit from day to day. I'm a little more hard core, the word vegan suits me just fine. However, the word can be somewhat confusing to outsiders. To be clear, being a vegan means more than simply avoiding the placement of the remains or the products of animals into your body. The argument that animals are not killed  for their eggs or milk means diddly squat with vegans because the animal exploitation itself is a crime against nature and decency. Vegans extend their passion for compassion to the clothes they wear, the shoes they buy, the briefcases and purses they carry, and the cream they smear all over facial wrinkles. Sun-worshipping vegans can get 'em too. The drugs, both prescription and OTC they ingest, inject or deliver transdermally are all cruelty-free and free of animal products.  They choose cloth seats over leather in new cars. Home furniture can be easily made of pleather. 

Just the taking of an animal’s milk or eggs, even if done in a relatively benevolent manner, is against real animal ethics. Bees, for example,are not usually killed when their honey is harvested. Yet vegans avoid honey just because it's an animal product. Anytime an animal is exploited for profit, the opportunity for abuse is real.

However, when the taking of an animal’s product is done in a particularly cruel manner, it raises the argument to real next-level shi…..er.stuff. Wool, for example, is a product of abject cruelty.  Breeding, keeping and shearing sheep for their wool is an exceptionally cruel form of exploitation.

Slaughter

Like many other mammals, sheep do not produce as much fur when they get older. When the sheep are no longer profitable as wool producers, they, too, get shipped off to slaughter. This is very similar to the milk and egg industries.When cows and chickens stop producing, they get sent to the slaughterhouse.

Mulesing

Mulesing is a cruel practice in which pieces of skin and flesh are cut off of a sheep's hindquarters in order to prevent flystrike, a/k/a myiasis. The procedure is usually done with the sheep restrained, and without anesthesia. The resulting scar tissue is smooth and grows less wool, so it is less likely to become dirty and attract flies. This isn't protection from the agony of biting flies, it's a convenience for the farmer. Myiasis is a maggot infestation affecting profit margins and expensive to control.

Even ordinary shearing causes nicks and cuts on tender skin. Note the red drops of blood on the white wool of the sheep in the photo above. These small cuts from shearing are common in the industry.

Selective Breeding

The reason sheep are so susceptible to flystrike, a problem usually found in rabbits, is because they've been selectively bred to have wrinkled skin, which gives them more skin and allows them to produce more wool. They have also been bred to have unnaturally thick wool that can become soiled, and wrinkled; dirty skin and wool attract flies.

Selective breeding is a whole new level of cruelty. Breeders of sheep, pigs, poultry and cattle engage in messing around with genetics to make their lives better while adding misery to the animals. Even domestic animals are genetically mutated to better serve the breeder's purposes.. Does anyone still believe a goldendoodle is a purebred dog worth over $1200? Because the public demanded a smaller Chihuahua, the breed's head is bred down so small they suffer a painful condition called hydrocephalus. And then there are the Munchkins, cats so odd looking some people swear they're a cross between a cat and a Dachshund.

The farmers have selected traits most profitable and pleasing to them, even though these genetic mutations cause suffering and harm to the animals. Any time an animal is used commercially, their interests take a back seat to the interests of those who exploit them.

Grazing

Animal agriculture is inherently inefficient, because it takes more land, water, fertilizer and other resources to produce plants to feed to animals compared to the producing plants directly.

Some may point out that sheep graze in fields instead of being fed grains on factory farms, but raising free-roaming animals is even more inefficient than raising animals in a factory farm. Factory farms are environmentally efficient because the animals are kept in close quarters and their movements are severely restricted. They are fed a high-grain diet, which is efficient because the animals reach slaughter-weight faster on grain than on grass, and because the grain is raised in an intense monoculture that minimizes the resources required to grow feed for the animals.

Even if the animals are grazed in an area that cannot be used for producing crops for human consumption, grazing is environmentally irresponsible because of the effects on the environment.

What to Do About Used Wool?

Some vegans have no problem buying and wearing used wool, because the money does not go back to the wool industry to support the exploitation of sheep. It's also environmentally responsible to buy used items instead of buying new items, the manufacturing of which uses resources and causes pollution. However, some vegans try to avoid used wool because they believe that wearing used wool coats or sweaters sends a mixed message - Do vegans abstain from wool, or don't they? Wearing used wool items also promotes the view that wool is a desirable fiber for clothing.

If you are vegan and still have some wool items from your pre-vegan days, whether you continue to use these items raises similar issues. Each person needs to decide for themselves whether they should give the items away or continue using them. Animal shelters, especially those where the weather conditions can be harsh, will happily accept old woolen items of clothing or blankets. The animals  living there will surely appreciate them and the sheep sacrificed for their wool will have enhanced the life of another animal.

This article was updated and re-written in part by Michelle A. Rivera.