If any of you know me well, or indeed just have me on Facebook, you will be aware that I’m a massive advocate of animal rights. Since becoming vegetarian 4 years ago, I have made a conscious effort to shop for products ethically sourced/made and to make people more aware of where every day products they buy come from. If you get annoyed about my regular posts concerning Animal Rights, I’d suggest actually reading one of the posts I share on social media, as mostly I believe people get annoyed with the subject of animal welfare through outdated and stereotypical representations of protestors, but also through ignorance of simply turning the other cheek. If we aren’t made aware as a world nation of the horrific activities that occur in animal trade, then there will be no stop to it. As with human rights, we need to be made more conscious of the fact that we as this lucky and lucrative nation, do indeed have the power to put an end to many unjustified situations occurring across the globe. Of course, you always have the option too, to ignore it and just delete people like me off Facebook.
Here is my latest article, which will also soon feature on the Hand Bag Fairy blog too, of which, you can check out here.
The Truth Behind Angora
Angora wool. We all know it as the soft, luxurious material used to make wonderful jumpers and cardigans and until around 2009, was only exclusively available on a designer budget. Nowadays, you can pick up an angora jumper for as little as £30 from high street retailers, but unbeknownst to many consumers, buying cheap angora wool products, is only funding the bloody trade that lurks behind it.
It has become apparent as of late that angora wool farming is unethical and does not comply with animal welfare standards. PETA have been highlighting the factors that play the biggest part in farming the animals and the shocking truth behind where angora wool is coming from. Animal rights group, PETA, (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released footage of their gut-wrenching exposé of the angora industry in China, which is responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s supply of angora wool. You can watch the footage here. [Warning: some viewers will find footage distressing]. On seeing the investigative footage, many retailers such as Spanish clothing company, Zara, halted their orders of angora fur products until its farms are verified to be in compliance with the company’s animal welfare standards.
ASOS also jumped on board the boycott, with a spokesman from the company stating, “ASOS firmly believes it is not acceptable for animals to suffer in the name of fashion or cosmetics. ASOS is a member of the Fur Free Alliance of retailers and recognises that the sourcing of angora and other rabbit hair products causes distress to animals. As such, we will remove all ASOS and third party branded product that fails to meet the policy and no new orders will be raised containing angora or other rabbit hair.”
Spokeswoman for PETA UK, Mimi Bekhechi applauded ASOS’s decision to “do the right thing”, and urges more companies to follow their example and “show that cruelty to animals has no place in their stores.”
The reason Angora is such a widely prized wool fur is because of the unique texture of the rabbit’s fluffy fibres. It is exceptionally fine and is much softer and more pliable than cashmere, and much cheaper too, often retailing between £30-£60 per jumper, which most of the time are only 50% angora wool and made under horrific circumstances in China.
PETA’s investigation revealed that these bargain knits are coming at an immense price to the welfare of the rabbits that produce this wool. Going to 10 different farms in an area of China known for producing the wool, an alarming discovery of appalling abuse of the animals in all 10 locations was made. In the footage, we can quite clearly see that the rabbits are treated inhumanely, being crammed into small, filthy wire cages where they are forced to spend their entire miserable lives standing on the thin cage wires that constantly cut into their sensitive footpads. They never have a chance to do what comes naturally to them and by being restricted to this deathly environment they don’t get to dig, jump or run around.
They are often barbarically plucked to remove the fur whilst struggling to break free from restraint. PETA spokesman Ben Williamson informed watchers that “After their fur is yanked out, the gentle, sensitive rabbits are left in shock, able only to lie motionless inside their tiny, filthy cages.”
Unfortunately, the animals also suffer through other torturous conditions such as being tethered with rope by their front and hind legs, stretched out and sheared carelessly by workers with metal scissors, often slicing and cutting the rabbits. Sometimes, rabbits that particularly struggle get caught with the blades so badly that they bleed to death. For those that do survive the first ordeal, the process is repeated every three months for the two to three years of the animal’s life.
Many of the factory workers are not trained in trimming the fur with clippers and instead are seen to wrench the fur from the follicles, causing bleeding, sores and raw patches of skin that will never quite heal due to infection based on filthy conditions, not to mention causing incredible pain to the rabbits. So why are the rabbits not trimmed? Why are they confined to a life of torture? The main reason of course of which, is simple economics.
Angora is one of the highest earning trading wools, with a value of £22 to £28 per kg, but this is based on shearing the animal in a humane manner. When the animal is plucked, longer hair becomes available, wash the blood off the ends and it can be sold for double the price of shearing. It can take over an hour to shear a rabbit, whereas plucking the animal can take less than 10 minutes as shown in the harrowing footage.
Breeders of Angora rabbits in the UK told UK newspapers that it can take up to two weeks to gently remove the loosened hair of the rabbits as opposed to mere minutes of tearing chunks of fur and flesh as shown in China. Also, the UK once flourished from a vibrant angora industry, which unfortunately diminished after the Second World War, only remaining as small companies that simply cannot compete with the demand that countries such as China are able to supply.
Sarah Paul, a breeder from North Yorkshire has bred rabbits for angora products for the past 30 years and states how she is one of the only commercial producers left in the UK. Speaking fondly of the animals, Mrs Paul described angora rabbits as “lovely, very easy to keep and their fibres are absolutely gorgeous.”
The rabbits that Sarah Paul looks after are all tended to in a loving fashion, mostly living on the barn floor, regularly combed and clipped every 16 weeks to collect the rabbit’s natural regular moult. If a rabbit is not clipped, she says, its fur can become matted, ‘almost imprisoning’ the animal. But the animals enjoy the hour long combing and clipping sessions, where they are petted and groomed, often falling into calm and soporific states.
Ex breeder, William Sichel and his wife Elizabeth farmed around 100 angora rabbits for 20 years, often giving demonstrations to tourists. Mr Sichel described how the rabbit would always be unrestrained; making sure the animal underwent no stress, enabling a full grown rabbit to be clipped of its excess fur in a little over 30 minutes. The catch however, highlighted by Mr Sichel, is ‘British Welfare Standards’. Naturally as the rabbits start to age, they yield less and less fur. In horrific standards like those in China, rabbits only tend to live for up to 2-3 years owing to horrific treatment and conditions. However, if properly cared for, Angora rabbits have one of the longest natural life spans of the rabbit species, often reaching up to and beyond 10 years.
PETA does argue that it is impossible to farm rabbits in a commercial manner and be kind to them too. Nevertheless, Mr Sichel argues that the process may be able to be done, if certain sacrifices are made, but not any sacrifices of life. Each of Mr Sichel’s rabbits were kept according to British welfare standards and produced around 1kg of wool each year. When this yield of wool was mixed with an equal quantity of lamb’s wool, it made about 3 or 4 jumpers. If each jumper was sold online for £200, this would create revenue of £60,000 annually.
Unfortunately, rabbits have to be kept in clean, wire cages, in view of each other but not allowed to interact, which leads to over-breeding, fighting and dirtying of their fur. Mr Sichel reiterates that “free-range angora rabbit-keeping would be just about impossible.”
As the debate carries on, the horrific images and footage released by PETA is enough to give many British shoppers a pause for thought when stopping to stroke the fluffy angora jumpers on offer at many high street retailers this New Year.
So is ethical angora available or not? That’s probably a matter for your own conscience. Some luxury items are luxury because of the extensive ‘behind the scenes’ processes that go into making a top quality animal product, in a completely humane and protected manner. Unfortunately until this option also becomes available for those wishing to purchase Angora for high street prices, the best rule for now is: only buy it if you can afford it. If you can’t, opt for a synthetic version instead.
Comments are welcome on this topic, but please don’t just tell me I’m a raging Animal Rights wannabe do gooder with a chip on my shoulder. If you want to be ignorant to this topic, be so, but not with ignorant and pointless comments to match.