ANIMAL rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been ordered not to use the claim “wool is just as cruel as fur” by the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority.
The ASA upheld complaints against PETA for an advertisement displayed buses in February 2019, that 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”.
The advertisement included an image of a woman with the neck of her jumper pulled over her face.
The ASA said ten 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.
The authority ruled that the PETA ad breached Committee of Advertising Practice code (Edition 12) rule 3.1 to be misleading advertising and rule 3.7 for substantiation.
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 the ASA with details of cruelty and abuse that occurred in both the fur and wool industries, which included genetic alterations and the mutilation of animals. PETA said 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.”
PETA said 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.”
PETA also 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.
PETA said just as animals in the fur industry were killed for their skin, most animals exploited in the wool industry were ultimately killed. The group also stated that as in the fur industry, many animals in the wool industry died far shorter of their natural life expectancy either from exposure, injuries or illness.
The ASA said 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,” the ASA said.
The ASA said that in the UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Code of Recommendations for the welfare of livestock had specific guidelines on shearing state 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, the ASA said.
“We considered this demonstrated that in the UK, there were standards to prevent cruelty to sheep.”
The ASA said it considered people who saw the PETA 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.”
Click here to read the full ASA statement.