Our Wool Restart
Published July 26, 2016
Over the past 10 months, we have been working diligently to develop a new wool supply chain that reflects high, and verifiable, standards for both animal welfare and land management. We’ve now reached some important milestones, and we’d like to update our customers on what we have accomplished so far and what we have yet to accomplish.
In 2011, we partnered with The Nature Conservancy and Ovis 21 in a new program to grow merino wool that, through the use of holistic grazing practices, helped restore long-degraded grassland to health. The revival of the grassland also promised to keep sheep ranching, a threatened way of life, alive in Patagonia, Argentina.
For restoring grassland, this was the best wool-producing program in the world for its time. It reflected what we had learned thus far about the compassionate treatment of animals. Patagonia, the region, did not have blowfly, so the sheep were not subjected to painful mulesing, they had room to roam, they were not fed hormones or antibiotics.
Although we had begun, in 2014, to work within the Textile Exchange on the development of a Responsible Wool Standard, our own wool supply chain did not previously take a holistic approach to the twin issues of land management and animal welfare.
We were dismayed when a representative of PETA, the animal rights organization, photographed ill treatment of animals on ranches supplying our merino wool. Although we took issue with many of PETA’s assertions, and to its tabloid tone, we were taken aback by what we saw in the video: callous indifference to animal suffering and a lack of compassionate handling.
We explained to our customers that we would cease buying wool from any supplier until we were confident that we could meet an appropriately high standard of animal welfare—without sacrificing regenerative grazing practices.
We’re glad we’ve had the opportunity to regroup, because we’ve learned a tremendous amount. The whole process—of consulting experts in animal welfare, engaging U.S. growers dedicated to humane treatment of animals, conducting in-depth field audits, and closely observing what it takes, in practice, to both revitalize the land and treat the animals well—reminded us very much of the days when we made the switch from conventionally grown to organic cotton. We’ve talked to the people who do the work, worked through what is actually possible, and put forth the highest possible standards in a new supply chain that involves the best possible partners.
The Challenging Realities of Animal Husbandry
This is as good a place as any to talk about the difficulties involved in this task. Wool, like down, is a by-product of an animal that is ultimately killed and sold for its meat. Vegans, like some who work at Patagonia or like activists who work for PETA, may opt out by avoiding any human use of domesticated animals. For the rest of us, those who produce and eat meat and wear wool, down or leather, the question is more complex. We can do everything we can to ensure that animals do not suffer before they are slaughtered, and to slaughter them compassionately. But there is much work we need to do to develop a 21st century moral standard for the ethical treatment of animals.
In the 20th century, our society adopted increasingly brutal methods of treatment for animals involved in factory farming, the penning and transportation in close, foul quarters, the wholesale administration of hormones and antibiotics, manipulation through targeted genetics that deprive animals of the ability to move or have a creaturely life. The actions of the ranch hands we saw in PETA’s video were more hands-on, less industrially cruel—but yet deeply ingrained in the way humans deal with animals, a product of culture centuries in the making. How does that change?
Step 1: Consulting Experts in Animal Welfare
To help answer that question, we initially consulted a number of experts who are engaged in a critical shift in thinking about the emotional and intellectual capacities of animals, and what constitutes compassionate treatment of those whose lives we take for food.
In addition to engaging directly with Four Paws and other animal rights organizations, as well as seasoned field auditors, we invited Dr. Temple Grandin to our headquarters in Ventura for a daylong meeting in which we absorbed the lessons of her lifetime spent advocating for the humane treatment of animals used for human consumption of all kinds.
Through this process, we grew to understand there are three major opportunities to make meaningful, accountable change for the welfare of sheep in our wool supply chain:
- Initial commitment from the ranchers who own the land and the sheep
- Education of ranch hands (who, when properly engaged, can exercise a deep responsibility for the health of both the land and the animals in their care)
- Adoption of clearly defined boundaries for noncompliance in critical areas—the bright lines in our approach that make up the highest possible bar for animal welfare—along with continuous reevaluation and improvement of our standards
Step 2: Defining Patagonia’s Standard for Animal Welfare & Land Management
Over the course of many months, we’ve developed a new Patagonia Wool Standard that we believe brings together from several important sources the world’s most stringent criteria for animal welfare and responsible land management.
Our standard provides strict guidance and accountability measures in key areas:
Animal Welfare: The standard adopts the provisions of the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS) as a baseline for animal welfare, but also goes above and beyond:
- Patagonia’s standard includes special animal welfare provisions covering transportation and off-farm slaughter, as well as stockperson training in compassionate handling, avoiding shearing injuries, acceptable age ranges for castration and tail docking, and consistent availability of food and water.
- We will also exceed RWS baselines in the methodology for audits, which we require to be conducted in two phases: 1) during shearing, so that auditors can actually observe shearing practices and ensure standards are met, and 2) during lambing, so that auditors can witness the process of birth, tail docking, castration and all associated risks. (We are advocating that future versions of the RWS adopt two phases as well, based on feedback we received from Dr. Grandin and others.)
Responsible Land Management: Our approach includes the RWS’ strong land management provisions, which Patagonia played a lead role in developing based on our previous experiences with regenerative grazing practices. These requirements pertain both to grasslands and other biotic communities where sheep may be raised, including biodiversity protection, soil management, and pesticide and fertilizer use.
Quality: Quality has always been and will continue to be a major pillar in our requirements for any materials sourcing, including wool. Our quality requirements exist independent of the Patagonia Wool Standard, and we expect the quality of our wool only to increase in our new supply chain.
With these important pieces working together, we’ve built a rigorous standard containing strong accountability measures that—when coupled with strong supplier partnerships—will give us the greatest possible confidence that sheep in our wool supply chain will be assured:
- A compassionate end of life, whether through on-farm or off-farm slaughter
- Reasonable transportation times and appropriate safeguards for safe food and water consumption
- Careful, humane treatment by farm workers, including treatment during shearing and other practices
- All potentially painful procedures done under strict control
In the end, 33 individual pieces of criteria in the Patagonia Wool Standard came directly from Dr. Grandin, who also participated in a review of our near-final standard in recent months, and many more came from or were refined during a robust stakeholder review with Four Paws, independent auditors, farms in the United States and New Zealand, and other expert organizations and individuals.
You can view the Patagonia Wool Standard by clicking here.
Step 3: Choosing Partners Who Share Our Values
Once our standard for animal welfare began to take shape, we went to the ranches themselves—in the United States and abroad—in search of partners as knowledgeable and passionate about animal welfare as they are about restoring the health of the land. We then began conducting audits that put to the test many stakeholders criteria proposed in RWS, as well as our own independently adopted safeguards for humane transportation and off-farm slaughter.
So far, using our newly-formed criteria, we’ve initiated a partnership with the Imperial Stock Ranch in Wasco County, Oregon, whose owners in turn helped us identify additional like-minded suppliers—including the Red Pine Land and Livestock Company in Park City, Utah, who we’ve brought on board as well. These suppliers have undergone third-party audits during shearing and lambing to date and we’re confident they will be excellent partners in upholding the rigorous criteria in the Patagonia Wool Standard.
The two U.S. farms mentioned above will supply Patagonia with the wool we need for production of socks in future seasons. We continue to explore additional partners to round out our needs for merino baselayer and other products – all of which will undergo a full audit process under our new requirements.
We will continue to keep you posted on our progress—and on the availability of our first products to include wool sourced under these high standards for animal welfare and regenerative grazing.
Patagonia to Cease Purchasing Wool from Ovis 21
Published August 17, 2015
We’ve spent the past several days looking deep into our wool supply chain, shocked by the disturbing footage of animal cruelty that came to light last week. Patagonia’s partnership with Ovis 21 has been a source of pride because of the program’s genuine commitment to regenerating the grassland ecosystem, but this work must come equally with respectful and humane treatment of the animals that contribute to this endeavor.
The most shocking portion of PETA’s video shows the killing of animals for human consumption. Like those in the Ovis 21 network, most commercial-scale ranches that produce wool from sheep also produce meat. What’s most important is that we apply strong and consistent measures to ensure animals on ranches that supply wool for products bearing the Patagonia name are treated humanely, whether during shearing or slaughter. We took some important steps to protect animals in partnering with Ovis 21, but we failed to implement a comprehensive process to assure animal welfare, and we are dismayed to witness such horrifying mistreatment.
In light of this, we’ve made a frank and open-eyed assessment of the Ovis program. Our conclusion: it is impossible to ensure immediate changes to objectionable practices on Ovis 21 ranches, and we have therefore made the decision that we will no longer buy wool from them. This is a difficult decision, but it’s the right thing to do.
Re-building our wool program—with a partner that can ensure a strong and consistent approach to animal welfare, while also fostering healthy grasslands—will be a significant challenge. However, we reject the notion that cruelty is essential to wool production, despite what PETA claims. Patagonia will continue to make products from wool because of its unique performance attributes. We will continue to sell products made from the wool we’ve already purchased. And we will continue to offer excellent synthetic alternatives for those who prefer them, while constantly pushing to innovate and invest in new materials and better supply chains. But Patagonia will not buy wool again until we can assure our customers of a verifiable process that ensures the humane treatment of animals.
We will also continue our efforts, initiated in 2014, to lead in the industry’s development of strong, new verifiable standards for wool production we can all be proud of. We will take this as an opportunity to push even harder for the strongest possible animal welfare standards to be integrated into the forthcoming Responsible Wool Standard.
We apologize for the harm done in our name. We will continue to update you on our progress to do better.
PETA’s Wool Video
Published August 12, 2015
PETA has shown us video footage from within the Ovis 21 farm network that supplies merino wool for Patagonia’s baselayers and insulation. It is as disturbing as anything PETA puts out. Three minutes long, the video contains graphic footage depicting inhumane treatment of lambs and sheep; of castration; of tail docking (the removal of a sheep’s tail); and slaughter of lambs for their meat. We’ll go into detail below.
It’s especially humbling to acknowledge responsibility for the practices shown because the impetus for our original involvement in this project was, in addition to restoring grassland, improvement of animal welfare. In 2005, we became aware (through PETA’s campaign against Australian wool growers) of the painful practice of mulesing sheep to reduce the damage from flystrike. We worked to stop sourcing wool on the open (and untraceable) market as quickly as we could, and even delayed a major product launch of merino baselayers until we could find reliable sources for non-mulesed wool in New Zealand and Australia.
PETA has targeted Patagonia because it holds us responsible for practices done in our name: wool from the farms shown in the video is spun, knit and sewn into clothing that bears our label. We accept responsibility for everything done by our suppliers at any level, but especially in this case. Beginning in 2011, we embarked on a close partnership with Ovis 21 to develop a radical new way to grow wool—one that regenerates rather than depletes grassland, keeps alive a way of life in the Patagonia region, and produces wool of unprecedented quality for our next-to-skin clothing. This has been a significant and engaging project for us.
When we began our initial discussions with Ovis 21, we were happy to learn that blowfly does not inhabit Patagonia, so mulesing is not an issue there. We were also pleased to learn the Ovis 21 farmers took steps to ensure that animals have sufficient fleece to maintain warmth through the winter. In addition, Argentina does not permit the export of live sheep, a dangerous practice. And we noted that to achieve certification by Ovis 21, participating ranchers must adhere to strict protocols for grazing and land management; flock improvement; and shearing, all of which favorably influence animal welfare. We have worked closely with Ovis 21 on its progress toward holistic grazing; however, beyond verifying that no mulesing occurs, we have not audited its animal-welfare practices and were unaware of the issues raised in the video.
PETA does not believe in the use of animals for any human purpose; this is a belief we respect but do not share. Nevertheless, PETA plays an important role in raising awareness of harmful practices involving animals, and we listen when legitimate concerns are uncovered, even if we become a target of their activism.
For our part, we do offer alternatives to down and wool for our vegan friends and customers. In addition, we’ve devoted considerable resources toward the development and implementation of the world’s most stringent standard to ensure that goose and duck down come from animals that have been neither live-plucked nor force fed to produce foie gras. Our requirements were incorporated by the independent certification body NSF International into its Global Traceable Down Standard.
We’ve also been working on wool. In early 2014, we began working collaboratively with numerous other brands and the Textile Exchange to develop the forthcoming Responsible Wool Standard for treating sheep and lambs that meets 21st century moral standards for the ethical treatment of animals. It is our hope that this global standard, when completed, will protect animal welfare, influence best practices, ensure traceability, and ultimately give consumers clear and trustworthy information that will allow them to make responsible choices. PETA was invited by the Textile Exchange to join this process, but declined. The process did include the participation of other animal-welfare organizations.
Two practices highlighted in the video, it should be noted, are standard across the wool industry, for good reason. Castrating select members of the flock helps keep it manageable and eliminates overcrowding, while tail docking reduces instances of infection in sheep and facilitates hygiene. What’s critical is that these procedures be done humanely, in a way governed by enforceable, uniform standards.
For those who are interested, you can watch the video here (warning: graphic footage). We are not immune to shocking images. There is no excuse for violent shearing methods and inhumane slaughter. We are investigating the practices shown. We will work with Ovis 21 to make needed corrections and improvements, and report back to our customers and the public on the steps we will take.
We apologize for the harm done in our name; we will keep you posted.
Timeline of Patagonia’s efforts to build a more responsible wool supply chain
We learn about the painful mulesing process as a result of a PETA campaign against Australian wool growers, which also decries the “live export” of animals (shipping and selling of live sheep from Australia to the Middle East for fresh consumption).
We begin to move our wool fiber source from purchase on the conventional open market, where wool is untraceable and mulesed, to non-mulesed regions in New Zealand and certain specific Australian supply chains where the practice does not occur. This requires delaying the introduction of our wool baselayer program until we had a traceable supply chain in New Zealand and Australia where we could be sure mulesing wasn’t used.
We launch our Merino Performance Baselayer line, sourced from non-mulesed sheep in New Zealand.
Our materials and environmental teams visit Ovis 21 network farms in the Patagonia region of Argentina to determine the viability of nominating yarn from their program in order to a) support an important grasslands conservation effort and b) maintain our policy of avoiding the mulesing of sheep in our supply chain.
Because blowfly infestations do not occur in Argentina, we confirmed mulesing is not occurring but did not audit the farms specifically for other animal welfare concerns. We are aware that tail docking, which reduces instances of infection in sheep and facilitates hygiene, is occurring. We do not explore castration practices.
We move our Merino Performance Baselayer program to Australian traceable, non-mulesed wool.
We continue with planning, quality testing, volume, and supply chain trials surrounding the Ovis 21 wool—adopting their fiber into more of our products over time.
We introduce Ovis 21 wool in all of our socks and some baselayers.
We begin work as part of a public task force on the industry approach to a Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), led by the Textile Exchange. The standard will ensure a responsible, consistent approach to treating sheep and lambs that meets 21st century moral standards of the ethical treatment of animals. It is our hope that this global standard, when completed, will protect animal welfare, influence best practices, ensure traceability, and ultimately give consumers clear and trustworthy information that will allow them to make responsible choices.
For Patagonia and the Ovis 21 network, RWS will emphasize animal welfare as a clear priority alongside grasslands restoration.
We convert the entire Merino Performance Baselayer line to Ovis 21 wool.
We begin moving to correct the small part of our wool that is still bought on the open market (some wool hats, and the wool lining of our wetsuits) by changing suppliers.
Through our Social and Environmental Responsibility team, Patagonia continues to help lead the industry effort to develop the Responsible Wool Standard—participating in the Textile Exchange Working Group Steering Committee.
We hold several internal meetings to decide how to begin the work of implementing the Responsible Wool Standard in anticipation of its completion in 2016.
PETA releases a video containing graphic footage depicting inhumane treatment of lambs and sheep; of castration; of tail docking; and slaughter of lambs for their meat.
While we previously understood the need to adopt a strict standard to ensure animal welfare and worked toward that goal, we were not aware of any animal welfare issues with Ovis 21 farms until now. We begin an urgent investigation into the practices shown in PETA’s video and commit to working with Ovis 21 to make needed improvements, reporting back to our customers and the public on steps we are taking.
Overview of Ovis 21 protocols involving animal welfare
To be certified as Ovis 21 Sustainable Wool, ranchers must adhere to strict protocols for grazing and land management; flock improvement; and shearing—three pillars that all include major provisions to ensure animal welfare.
In short, these standards stipulate:
- Sheep are bred in natural grasslands.
- There is no mulesing.
- No antibiotics or hormones are used.
- Medical treatments are limited to vaccines and piretroids to control external parasites.
- There is no “live export” of animals.
- Castration and tail docking, industry standard practices that promote responsible flock management and hygiene, are done at an early age with techniques designed to minimize pain.
In detail, the three pillars contain the following provisions:
1. GRASS Standard
Land management is a key issue for animal welfare. With our adaptive management, and principally by using holistic planned grazing, we achieve the following outcomes:
- Produce under extensive open paddocks, in conditions that mimic natural grazing and recreate the herbivore-predator relationship (no confinement or artificial feeding).
- Increase the forage available, and ensure that every animal has enough feed for the whole year.
- Increase grassland biodiversity, which improves the quality of the diet.
- Increase the manager skills and attention to be responsible for the animals.
- Risk reduction and better management in case of drought or heavy snow that may cause animal losses.
- Better water supply and distribution.
- Use of guard dogs to help to avoid predation by foxes and pumas in a friendly manner with the predator.
2. Flock Improvement Standard
- Breed open face, plain-bodied animals, which are better adapted for extensive grazing systems. Open faces ensure clear vision throughout the year, and correlate with fertility and fitness.
- Breed for high fat deposition that correlates with the ability to survive and breed under climatic stress conditions.
- Breed solely using natural methods (no artificial gene manipulation)
3. Wool Classing and Shearing Standards
- Comply with Argentina’s National Standard in all procedures involving shearing, classing and packing of wool (above the standard for advanced flocks).
- Shear using snow combs or blades to reduce cold stress and leave more wool on the skin in order to increase insulation.