BY BEN EAGLE
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have lost the plot. A couple of weeks ago a representative from their organisation appeared on ITV’s This Morning programme with Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield to ‘inform’ viewers that sheep shearing is an inherently cruel practice and should be banned. Elisa Allen called on viewers to stop buying and wearing wool and instead get hold of ‘more ethical’ garments, many of which happen to be synthetic and their manufacture raises a whole host of other ethical and environmental questions. Wool is a natural and high quality product. Further, shearing is a necessary practice for reasons of animal welfare. Without shearing a sheep a farmer risks attracting flies to the animal which would result in a whole host of health and welfare issues, potentially including fly strike, as well as the issue of heat stress.
My mouth grew wider and wider as I watched the short clip of the broadcast that had appeared on my social media feed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Thankfully ITV had invited a sheep farmer, Charles Sercombe, on to the programme to offset the lies coming from Ms Allen. PETA had filmed some shocking images of cruel practice on a farm in Australia, some of which was shown during the interview. Everybody who saw this clip would surely condemn it as an obscene ethical breach of animal welfare, but at the same time anybody with any sense would see it for what it is – a minority case within an enormous industry across the world. As Sercombe said ‘‘if they [the shearers] behaved liked that they would be thrown straight off my farm’’. In my view this would be the response of thousands of sheep farmers across the world. It’s not in anybody’s interest, including the farmers, to abuse animals. Despite this PETA felt able to condemn the entire sheep industry based on visits to just 30 farms across 3 continents.
Ms Allen went on to claim that sheep farmers exploited the animals’ wool simply for profit and that ‘if left in the wild sheep would simply lose their fleece ‘’naturally’’ [paraphrasing here]. I was left screaming at the screen as I heard her spout on numerous lies. Many people don’t know that most of the time sheep farmers (at least in Britain) actually lose money from wool. It usually costs more to shear a sheep than you get in return from the Wool Marketing Board. It is done for reasons of welfare, to avoid a host of health issues. As for sheep losing their fleece – well there are some ‘easycare’ breeds out there that drop their fleece without the need for shearing, but the majority need to be sheared with clippers. If left they would probably succumb to flies and eventually meet a nasty death.
If PETA wanted publicity from this stunt they certainly got it. However, I don’t reckon it’s the kind of publicity they were originally looking for. ITV’s audience apparently saw sense with a poll of viewers during the programme showing that 92% (of 5400) supported the wool industry and didn’t accept that shearing sheep is or could be inherently cruel. Willoughby and Schofield did a brilliant job of mediating, as Allen unravelled herself revealing a complete load of rubbish based on a tiny amount of evidence. Yes, there are minority cases of poor animal welfare, and sadly there always will be. We need to crack down on these cases and part of me is glad that organisations like PETA are out there to raise awareness of welfare issues, but there are ways and ways of doing so. Calling for an end to sheep farming because of a few cases of bad practice is not the way to do it. It is simply bizarre.
Here’s a clip of the interview if any of you have enough patience to watch: