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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.