Australia’s wool industry this week continued its defence of shearers after video footage of sheep being abused was released by animal rights group PETA.
PETA US last week released video footage showing shearers kicking, punching and throwing sheep in shearing sheds in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.
The video footage was taken by PETA US investigators in 19 shearing sheds between August 2013 and March this year, allegedly documenting abuse by 70 workers employed by nine contractors. The animal rights group has urged consumers to stop buying wool garments.
The incidents are being investigated by RSPCA Australia in New South Wales and South Australia, and by the Department of Primary Industries and Environment in Victoria.
PETA Australia campaign coordinator Claire Fryer said the authorities had been handed “all available evidence” And it was inaccurate to suggest the abuse was isolated. The evidence included footage of 235 incidents in Victoria and 40 pages of formal legal complaints. She defended the footage collection and release delay as necessary to collect evidence and stop abuse.
“PETA doesn’t believe that animals are ours to wear.
“We don’t believe there is any such thing as humane wool.”
However, WoolProducers Australia president Geoff Fisken today said the footage aired was not indicative of the vast majority of Australian wool growers who were doing the right thing and urged a zero tolerance policy from growers.
“The majority of woolgrowers are not in the business of treating animals like that and nor are professional, fully-qualified shearers.”
Victorian Farmers Federation livestock president Ian Feldtmann said any cruelty in shearing sheds should be dealt with by the owner or contractor, with workers abusing animals being dismissed.
Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce has said the footage was not representative of how the industry operated, but of an individual mistreating sheep.
“There is no doubt these images are disturbing, but it is important we do not tarnish the whole industry based on the practices of a few and select pieces of footage that are yet to be investigated.
An emotional response to the footage without proper investigation reinforced the belief that PETA is an extremist group that wants to end livestock production and to irreparably the economy and the reputation of Australian farmers, he said.
The Shearing Contractors Association of Australia has applauded the PETA investigation, asked members for zero tolerance of cruelty and will review training procedures and materials to ensure trainees are aware this behaviour is intolerable.
SCAA president Jason Letchford said Australian wool producers were striving to improve their industry to be compliant with international animal welfare standards. Wool was still one of the most environmentally sustainable mass-market fibres on the planet and to choose synthetic fibres over wool is causing greater harm to the planet’s ecosystems and the environments, he said.
The research, development and marketing body Australian Wool Innovation said it categorically and unequivocally condemns the mistreatment of animals, and has invested $2.8 million in training more than 4000 shearers and shedhands in animal welfare world’s best practice, and more than $7 million in the past five years.