PETA targets Aus woolgrowers

10 Jul, 2014 09:50 AM
PETA is claiming the video footage is evidence that animal abuse is widespread

UPDATED 2pm: ANIMAL rights group PETA has released damning video footage in a new campaign targeting the Australian wool industry.

PETA released the footage overnight, claiming endemic cruelty in shearing sheds. The footage is understood to have been taken in undercover surveillance of shearing operations in Australia and the US.

“The industry is infested with violence and PETA documented cruelty in nearly every shearing shed that we entered,” a PETA official was quoted as saying.

“Activists expose underbelly of Australian wool trade,” the five minute video says, which shows shearers, with faces blocked out, stomping on the heads of sheep.

The video, provided to NBC News by PETA, also shows shearers hitting sheep in the face with wool clippers, while another is beaten in the head with a hammer.

Wool Producers Australia (WPA) president Geoff Fisken said the behaviour shown in the PETA video (below) was “unacceptable and unsupportable”.

But he also said it showed isolated incidents “by a few shearers and we’re sure it doesn’t portray the 99.9 per cent majority of wool shearers and those shearers would be appalled by it as well”.

Mr Fisken said industry groups held an emergency phone-hook-up meeting this morning to raise awareness of the issue and discuss a response. He said they were also trying to make contact with shearing groups, including the Shearing Contractors’ Association of Australia.

Mr Fisken said contractor he’d been using on his own farm, Central Shearing in Victoria, was “very professional” and would also be appalled by the content of the PETA videos.

“Woolgrowers condemn this treatment of animals; we’re not in the business of treating animals like that and nor are shearers,” he said.

“We want that type of behaviour to be removed from shearing sheds in Australia.”

PETA Australia’s Claire Fryer said her group was publicising the PETA US campaign locally to ensure it reached Australian audiences.

Ms Fryer said the video highlighted some of the cruelty observed in the 19 shearing sheds visited by investigators, who documented the activities of 70 workers employed by nine shearing contractors, who allegedly abused sheep in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

She said PETA US had submitted the “extensive evidence” to authorities in the three Australian States where the video was filmed, in the hope of having criminal charges filed for violations of animal cruelty laws.

“Obviously we want people to realise Australia is the top wool exporter in the world - if you buy wool then the chances are good it came from Australia - and this video has highlighted some of the systematic suffering of sheep that goes into the production of that wool,” she said.

“We’re asking people to leave wool out of their wardrobe and to choose some of the more stylish and warm, cruelty-free materials available.”

NBC NEWS reported that PETA sent three undercover investigators to the shearing sheds between late 2012 and March 2014, and shot video between October 2013 and February 2014.

“Australia is the source of about 20 per cent of the world’s wool, including 80pc of the merino wool, the report quotes.

“PETA estimates that the shearing contractors it investigated may account for more than 5pc of Australia’s annual output, it said.

“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also said that it believed specific US companies had probably purchased wool produced by the ranches visited by investigators in Australia and the US - but NBC News was not able to establish that any of the named companies had bought wool sourced directly from those ranches.”

PETA is claiming the video footage provides evidence that animal abuse is “widespread”.

Mr Fisken said WPA had spent $2.8 million in the last year alone on shearer training, focusing on temperament and sheep-handling techniques to prevent injury of cruelty.

He said WPA was “extraordinarily disappointed by this isolated behaviour", but had not verified the age of the footage as yet or other details.

“Some people don’t even realise this footage is ‘out there’ so we need to inform them,” he said.

“There will be a fair bit of attention focused on the industry now and we’re disappointed because we’ve come a long way in the last 10 years with animal welfare standards and we’re continuing to put a lot of resources into that area of our business; it’s a high priority.

“We don’t want to be fighting bush fires all the time – we want to be able to highlight best practice - where sheep shearing is done in a manner that’s acceptable to the majority of the community.

“We’ll never make PETA happy – they want us to stop farming – but we have standards and they’re the same (standards) as they are for how people treat their family pet.”

However, Mr Fisken conceded there could be a degree of brand damage, given PETA was now wearing customers against wearing Australian wool products.

“It’s always an issue that our customers are will see this video and won’t be over the moon about it, so we are concerned that (brand damage) is a possibility,” he said.

“I do stress the video does show some people involved in acts that we believe are very isolated but we’ll keep working to ensure this behaviour is non existent.

“I’ve worked in and around shearing sheds for the best part of 50 years – since being a kid old enough to hold a broom – and have seen improvements in standards and the professional behaviour of shearers in that time.”

Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) - the research, development and marketing body for the Australian wool industry - said in a statement it “categorically and unequivocally condemns the mistreatment of animals”.

PETA has a history of campaigning against the Australian wool industry, with mulesing (an on-farm surgical procedure performed on lambs to remove wool-bearing skin from the tail and breech area to prevent flystrike) an issue that dominated headlines for almost a decade.

In 2004 PETA threatened the industry and major global retailers with an international boycott of Australian wool if mulesing continued.

AWI filed an application against PETA in 2007 for contravening the Federal Trade Practices Act with the campaign but also agreed to phase out mulesing. That June, the case was settled out of court after PETA agreed to a moratorium on wool campaigns until December 2010. AWI committed in return to fast-track mulesing alternatives, and both groups counted the settlement a victory.

While PETA continues to call for federal legislation outlawing the practice, the industry continues to fund research into alternatives. These include selective breeding to exclude the breech wrinkle, and Flyboss - a program which allows producers to manage the relative risk of flystrike based on rainfall, humidity, temperature, wrinkle and dag.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Paul Cox
10/07/2014 10:19:26 AM

Yet more proof that agriculture protection laws are need and quickly. "shot video between October 2013 and February 2014. " If PETA thought it an animal welfare issue, their lack of prior action is disgusting, if the footage is not out of context and given their record it is highly likely it is out of context, they should face charges as well as being forced to compensate any producers or companies which suffer a financial loss. How long until our legislators protect our rural industries and people from these highly selective and self serving attacks?
Sam Trethewey
10/07/2014 11:56:26 AM

The shearers who behave like this are too regularly tolerated by contractors and farmers. They need to be fired, on the spot. No way are all sheds like this, and certainly not all shearers are either.... BUT I've come across some who are and have often been frustrated by the resistance in pulling them up for fear of things like stirring the pot and compromising getting the shed cut out. A wakeup call that suggests some heads need to be pulled in.
10/07/2014 12:08:30 PM

Paul rails on about PETA, but fails once to comment on how these sheep are being treated - does this mean he condones the cruelties shown?
Fed Up Farmer
10/07/2014 12:14:40 PM

When will our lame representative body - the AWI stop playing PETA's game. Why not challenge them on their rates of euthanasia compared to rehoming at their shelters? Local councils do a better job. Why not cast them to the irrelevant vegan position they truly hold. Engaging them validates them. As a farmer you do see the odd rogue shearer we have a word to the contractor and we don't see them again. All increased regulation will do is kill an already struggling occupation. Which is PETA's aim. Animal free products are almost all environmentally unsustainable.
Bruce Watson
10/07/2014 12:21:35 PM

The trouble with reports such as this is that the people collecting the information have next to no clue about the business. Yes, tired men will sometimes react badly with a struggling animal. But it is not an endemic behaviour, even in one shed. When I used to shear at odd times in my youth, I was quickly told that I was not holding the animal correctly. Losing my temper was not helpful. Far more common were the sheds where nothing untoward occurred. I wonder if the PETA mob have ever been under enough pressure to lose their tempers. Or are they content in their moralising cocoons?
10/07/2014 1:10:27 PM

Engaging them validates them. Exactly so and not in our national interest. Injuring animals is an economic drain on a business and is usually avoided - and last time I looked it was impossible to have perfect employees too.
10/07/2014 1:30:44 PM

Do we realise that it's the same people throughout the video? If this was endemic throughout many sheds, wouldn't footage from different places be shown to prove this? Being in the rural industry for twenty years, I have never seen shearers treat animals to this extent. If a sheep was made to be that injured - as the sheep was in the final shot - that is not what the farmer would want. Farmers need their animals to be healthy. This looks entirely staged
10/07/2014 1:38:44 PM

What happened to Bioclip?
Luke C
10/07/2014 1:49:10 PM

Good point Bruce Watson, I think PETA are far too quick to throw stones from their high horses about a behaviour acted out by the minority, we all lose our temper at times and their may be some physicality while handling of animals, but contrary to PETA's views no farmer enjoys hurting livestock, and this behaviour is the exception not the norm. How about some PETA folk do a day in the sheds shearing and see how they manage their tempers?
Paul Cox
10/07/2014 1:55:13 PM

Cruelty can never be condoned. If footage shows fair dinkum cruelty and can be verified it should be passed to the relevant body to be dealt with. If PETA or anyone else has such footage it should be a crime not to pass it on right away. PETA failing to give such footage to an authority for 9 months is clearly not interested in Animal welfare assuming of course that the footage is genuine. Given the history of such groups that is far from certain. Some ARA groups are far from trustworthy. ARA organisations are not and cannot be judge and jury. They are agenda driven NOT Animal welfare driven.
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