Violence in the Wool Industry: Truth and Rhetoric in PETA’s Claims

Jona Weinhofen poses with a disturbingly realistic prop for PETA’s anti-wool campaign.

The image of a dying sheep wrapped in a man’s arms, beaten and bloody, resonated with millions of people worldwide — or at least until their eyes lowered to the logo in the bottom right-hand corner: PETA. The infamous organization known for going to the absolute extremes, from boycotting Pokémon for its supposed promotion of animal abuse to its notorious nude protests. And when people realized that this image is faked, the sheep in the image nothing more than a prop, it seemed to only bolster this organization’s reputation for profuse lying. PETA published an “international exposé” of the wool industry on their website, and with it, a few images that left viewers speechless. These pictures featured a person of relative fame holding a bloody — but fake — carcass of a lamb paired with the words “Here’s the rest of your wool coat.” These images were intended to shock viewers into realizing that violence exists in the wool industry, and to rethink purchasing wool products in the future.

As a vegan myself, many would assume that I am in support of PETA and its infamous hatred for meat-eaters and those who use animal products. However, this is false. Their belief system is similar to my own morals, as most animal lovers would be quick to join a group calling themselves the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but I cannot support an organization that relies so heavily on exaggeration and lies for the purpose of gaining media attention rather than of spreading factual information honestly. The skepticism of PETA that I feel is similar to the distaste that others experience, leading to the many critiques of this organization’s method of advertising their wool boycott.

The general reaction to these promotional images is disgust and anger. Many people who worked in the agricultural field, specifically with sheep, were insulted by PETA’s claims of abuse in the wool industry. Most farmers work dutifully to prevent doing any kind of harm to these animals. The process of shearing typically only put sheep at risk for mild anxiety, much less a violent beating or any kind of injury. Typically, these shearers are incredibly experienced and, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or RSPCA, are “trained and competent in the best practice technique to reduce the risk of cutting the sheep” (Medhora 2015.) Barnaby Joyce, the Agriculture Minister of Australia publicly slammed the campaign, accusing the people posing in these pictures as ignorantly “living in vegan splendor,” along with claiming that, “any shearer who played up or brutalized livestock would be sacked on the spot” (Medhora 2015.)

Barnaby Joyce discusses PETA‘s campaign during an interview.

He is put off by the fact that the images were faked, seeming to take this only as a demonstration of the falseness of the information PETA was spreading. However, this seems a bit strange, as an organization dedicated to eradicating violence against animals would certainly not harm a lamb simply for the purpose of a photo shoot. He does raise important concerns about the validity of the information that PETA has presented in their “exposé” of the sheep industry. It definitely seems bizarre that a seemingly non-profit industry would be inclined to campaign using inflammatory images designed to generate a response from viewers, rather than spreading truthful information. One has to entertain the thought that PETA’s methods are more for the purpose of getting publicity and funding rather than promoting a decrease in the use of wool products based on facts, evidence, and reason.

One shearer, Daniel Telfer, felt so passionately about the accusations that PETA was making about the wool industry that he and photographer Jacqui Bateman created their own counter-campaign. Mirroring the advertisement of a nude woman holding a bloodied lamb, Bateman posted a picture of him naked, shearing a sheep. This image, meant to show the true reality of the humane process of collecting wool, became wildly popular with other famers who were also enraged by PETA’s claims. She posted the picture with a caption that also slammed the organization for its use of a fake sheep — making her image much more believable than theirs. This image was an interesting juxtaposition of the stripped-down reality of sheep shearing, which is typically a completely harmless process, and the reworked image of a Photoshopped model posing nude with a fake animal. Bateman’s post spread like wildfire across the Internet, and although it did not gain as much fame, this image received much more support than PETA’s did.

Joanna Krupa’s nude ad for PETA’s anti-shearing campaign next to Jacqui Bateman’s version.

Most people felt that PETA was once again exaggerating their claims and using extreme incidences to generalize all wool farmers. However, in their exposé of the industry, they actually cite examples of violence against the animals and list many good reasons to stop using wool. Guilia Simolo, a blogger for the website The Flaming Vegan, talks about this as she discusses the campaign. She cites the footage (warning: graphic) that had been published online showing the rough handling of sheep while being sheared as evidence that actually justifies the use of these violent images. In fact, there had been so many incidences of abuse against these animals that “the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia (SCAA) [actually] backed PETA’s investigation and claimed that they would take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the horrid…cruelty that was taking place” (Simolo 2016.) This is incredible evidence that apparently violence during shearing does exist and is necessary to fight against. As put eloquently by Jason Baker, the Director of Campaigns for PETA Australia, the lamb that was used in the image was nothing more than a prop, but the wool industry’s abuses are “all too real.”

Baker cites an ABC Rural 2013 interview with Sam Beechey, the Australian Workers Union’s national pastoral industry coordinator, where he stated that, “some shearers take out their frustrations on the sheep…gouging [their] eyes and breaking their jaws” (Baker 2015.) The website Ecouterre summarizes PETA’s findings:

“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has obtained graphic hidden-camera footage that indicates widespread animal abuse in sheep farms across Australia and the United States…[including] observations [from] 19 shearing sheds in Victoria, New South Wales, and south Australia, as well as 14 ranches in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska [that] revealed farmhands violently kicking, stomping on, punching with clippers, mutilating, and even killing their charges…these so-called ‘attacks’ often leave petrified sheep ‘bleeding from their eyes, noses, and mouths’” (Chua 2014.)

Obviously this kind of behavior is disgusting and should not be tolerated in the wool industry. This information, along with other documented incidences of animal abuse against the sheep led PETA to publish their exposé. Knowing that the public likely had no idea that animals are subjected to such mistreatment in the process of collecting wool, one can argue that they decided to create an advertising campaign with a shock value to open up viewers’ eyes to that reality.

PETA clearly has found staggering evidence that supports their cause to boycott the wool industry, especially because it appears that some workers in this industry are not trained properly to be performing shearing or become frustrated enough that they take out their anger on the animals. This abuse should not be tolerated in the industry and is a completely valid reason for boycotting wool, especially when there are many easily accessible vegan alternatives to this material. However, many people refuse to make this transition to animal-free, and by extension, cruelty-free products because of the campaigning method that PETA has chosen for their cause. By promoting this wool boycott using falsified images and exaggerated claims of abuse, they discredit all of the information that could bolster their cause. Their marketing strategy completely failed to generate the kind of support that they seemed to have been hoping to gain by publishing the exposé — instead ending up reinforcing their reputation for lying and producing even more hate for their organization.

An example of the general reaction to PETA’s campaign.

If PETA’s aim was simply to gain more publicity or funding, they obviously succeeded. Not only did these images receive an immense amount of media attention, the organization received $43,532,264 in donations alone in 2015, the year after the exposé was published (Financial Reports 2015.) Even though they may have gained more members who were determined to end animal suffering, many people in the population will turn their eyes to the very real abuse that occurs in the wool industry because organizations like PETA attempt to release this information in an incredibly suspicious and inflammatory way. If their aim was to eradicate ignorance surrounding the way sheep have been treated during shearing, then, unfortunately, they failed. Sensitive subjects like these must be approached delicately, and supported with documented evidence from trusted sources in order to brew trust in an audience. PETA’s success lies in being inflammatory, pejorative, and outrageous but fails to provide the well-cited information that many people would require to feel comfortable with making such drastic lifestyle changes.

References

Baker, Jason. “PETA ‘lamb’ Was Fake, but Wool Industry Abuses Are All Too Real.The Age Comment. The Age, 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Bateman, Jacqui. “Status #706035571563474944.Twitter. Jacqui Batemen Photography, 5 Mar. 2016. Web.

Birl, Matthew. “Wool Farmer Sticks It To PETA’s Disturbing New Ad In The Most Incredible Way Possible.” BroBible Life. The BroBible, 30 Mar. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Chua, Jasmin Malik. “PETA Exposé Shows Sheep Killed, Punched, Mutilated for Wool.” Ecouterre. NBC, 9 July 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

Financial Reports.” PETA. N.p., 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.

Medhora, Shalailah. “Peta Anti-shearing Activist Is a ‘spiv’ in a ‘vegan Wonderland’, Barnaby Joyce Says.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Scantre, K. “PETA Against Popular Media (with Images).” Storify. KScantre, Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Simolo, Guilia. “PETA Anti-Shearing Activist Gets Under Farmers’ Skin.” The Flaming Vegan. N.p., 15 Apr. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

Acknowledgements

I would first like to thank my group members, Caila Scarpitta and Toan Tran, who helped me develop this essay in terms of direction and editing during class time. Caila suggested that I elaborate on the fact that there is some truth to PETA’s campaign in discussing some specific instances of abuse that have occurred in the wool industry. Toan gave me some fantastic ideas for the direction I could take my essay, specifically in discussing the fact that PETA’s methods are likely more for attention and funding rather than spreading information or encouraging people to switch to a more cruelty-free lifestyle. I also want to thank Tiffany Sewell for helping me edit and polish this essay during the creation of the final draft. My boyfriend was incredibly supportive throughout the process of writing this piece as well, and I want to thank him simply for patiently sitting through hours of me rambling passionately about this subject.

Author’s Note

Long before I decided to transition into a vegan lifestyle, I had heard horror stories about the ridiculous lies and propaganda that PETA actively spreads. This more recent campaign to boycott wool products spread wildly across the Internet, mostly by enraged critics determined to expose the organization for its lies. However, I have done hours of research about most animal industries, including the wool industry, and wanted to write an informative piece that described the incidences of abuse that have occurred in order to show that PETA did actually have some evidence to support their cause, even though their methods of promotion were completely unsuccessful. My goal was to find evidence that some sheep have been mistreated during the process of shearing, showing that the wool industry is not totally cruelty-free, but still arguing that PETA’s campaign was inflammatory and ineffective. My original intention was to show that the reality of such mass-produced wool is that animals can and sometimes are harmed, but this grew into an exposé of PETA itself, as I had to question the organization’s intentions in using this type of propaganda. My essay was shaped into a piece that basically states: decreasing one’s consumption of wool products has its benefits, especially for the animals involved, but one should not make this lifestyle change because of PETA’s drastic and embellished claims, without understanding that sheep are not as brutally harmed as this organization would have him or her believe. I am most proud of the language I utilized in this essay; my group members said that I was able to create some powerful and attention-grabbing sentences, especially in the beginning paragraph. I also take pride in the fact that I was able to dismantle PETA’s claims simply by citing specific incidences and facts.

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