The beginning of the winter season will often send many of us searching for a warm puffy jacket or woollen jumper. Unfortunately, there are a number of animal welfare concerns that are associated with the production of winter clothing, such as down and wool production. With more Australians looking to shop ethically, it can be difficult to know the red and green flags to look for when it comes to animal welfare. The good news is that there are a growing number of animal-welfare-friendly options available. Here’s what to look for when you shop.
Who doesn’t love being swaddled inside a big puffy jacket to get you through those frosty days? Jackets containing down have often been considered as one of the best options to keep you warm during winter. But is this really the case, and at what cost?
Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to a duck or goose’s skin, primarily located on birds’ chest and belly. Ducks and geese are mainly farmed for meat production, with the down feathers considered a valuable by-product of these industries. China is currently the largest producer of ducks and geese, supplying a significant portion of down to the rest of the world. Although in most cases down feathers are collected after birds have been slaughtered (due to the practice being illegal in most countries including Australia), in some parts of the world, down may be collected through live plucking. Live plucking involves birds being individually caught and having their down forcibly removed, which results in skin damage and other injuries. The process of live plucking exposes birds to inherent suffering, pain, and distress due to poor management and handling, and results in skin and tissue damage from plucking.
The RSPCA is opposed to the collection of down while ducks and geese are alive, as live plucking exposes the birds to unacceptable negative welfare outcomes (which can be avoided when down is collected as a by-product after slaughter. Conscious consumers can help reduce this unnecessary suffering by making informed purchasing decisions. For example, consider the growing number of synthetic options often made partly or wholly from recycled materials from many well-known brands that can be just as, if not more, insulating than down. Or, if you are still considering buying a down-lined jacket or bedding, then make sure you look for products where the down is collected as a by-production after birds have been slaughtered. Responsible Down provides a detailed list of companies certified to the Responsible Down Standard, or alternatively, ask the retailer about their certifications and standards for animal welfare.
Woollen jumpers are another sought-after winter favourite, however not all woolly jumpers are created with equal welfare practices.
Many wool products produced in Australia may come from sheep that have been mulesed. Mulesing is a painful husbandry procedure that involves cutting crescent-shaped flaps of skin from around the hindquarters and tail area of a lamb using sharp shears to prevent flystrike. In Australia, it is legal to perform mulesing without pain relief in every state and territory other than Victoria, where pain relief after mulesing is mandatory.
Mulesing causes significant suffering, pain, and distress to lambs. Even where pain relief is provided, lambs may experience acute to long lasting pain for several days to weeks after the procedure. Routinely conducting a risky surgical procedure like this is just not acceptable when there are alternatives available. Australia is the last country in the world to still practice mulesing.
Merino sheep are a wrinkly breed that were originally thought to grow higher quality wool and more of it, which has led to an over reliance on using Merinos for wool products here in Australia. We now know that the number of wrinkles sheep have has little effect on the amount of wool they produce, and that in fact, their wrinkly skin makes the Merino breed highly susceptible to flystrike. So, it makes sense for Australian wool producers to transition their flocks to other breeds of sheep that are resistant to flystrike, this is a pain-free solution that could be achieved by the wool industry in a few short years.
The RSPCA encourages the expansion of breeding programs for flystrike-resistant sheep as an alternatives strategy to mitigate flystrike. While mulesing is still practiced, the use of pain relief should be mandatory, and producers should have to declare their mulesing status via the National Wool Declaration.
Conscious consumers can do their part by choosing to only purchase non-mulesed wool products. Many brands, such as Country Road and David Jones, have pledged to move away from using wool from sheep that have been mulesed. If your favourite brand hasn’t already disclosed their position on mulesing and sheep welfare, we would encourage you to contact them directly to find out about their animal welfare policies.
As brands are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of animal welfare, it is becoming easier for caring and conscious individuals to shop and support brands that make animal welfare a priority. The RSPCA has produced a range of Responsible Sourcing guides to help consumers know what to look for when purchasing products, and how to recognise some of the red flags on product labels. Remember, every purchasing choice has the power to speak up for animals and impact their lives for the better.