Is wool harmful to the environment?
Wool, as such, is a natural, renewable, and biodegradable fiber, so it could have been considered a clear environment-friendly option. Unfortunately, the extensive sheep farming practiced to meet the global demand has had disastrous consequences on the environment.
Sheep survive by grazing, which can have a positive impact on certain types of ecosystems when it is well managed. But when the land is grazed too heavily, this leads to overgrazing.
Overgrazing means that the vegetation does not have enough time to grow back before it is consumed. The soil becomes weak and vulnerable to erosion and desertification. For example, a large part of the region of Patagonia in Argentina is affected by desertification, mainly due to overgrazing by sheep, primarily raised for their wool.
Sheep also release methane, a gas that is 25 times worse for global warming than CO2. Additionally, the animals are often subjected to insecticide baths that contain substances hazardous to them and the farmers. Residues of those harmful chemicals can remain in the wool and make their way into our clothes.
Is wool production harmful to sheep?
Many reports have shown that when a sheep’s fleece is removed (shearing), the shearers often hurt the animals, cutting their skin or hitting them to keep them quiet.
Furthermore, the practice of mulesing has been widely denounced by animal rights activists. Mulesing involves removing the skin of the Merino sheep around the breech to prevent parasitic infection. According to a report from 2021, “it’s estimated more than 10 million lambs continue to be mulesed annually” in Australia only.