For anyone with a modicum of respect for life, it is upsetting to watch the PETA video about mohair farming in South Africa. The sound and visuals of goats in distress are powerful and emotive. The video makes a call for a ban on mohair. But is a call for a ban on mohair fair on workers, farmers and animals in South Africa?
Angora goats are farmed in rural regions of South Africa where unemployment can easily be as high as 66%. To make matters worse, some of these already dry areas have suffered multiple years of drought, causing stock death and financial stress.
The animal rights’ group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released the video last month causing outrage, for different reasons, amongst farmers, the fashion industry and the media. The footage – taken by an undercover cameraperson working for PETA who claimed to be interested in buying a mohair farm in the Karoo, and who gained access to 12 farms – shows bloody footage of shearers clipping goats and workers dipping and tattooing the animals. It shows dead goats and the slaughter of others. It is not pretty.
According to Bloomberg, PETA alleges that abuse in the mohair industry is “rampant and routine” and inflicts “unspeakable suffering”. The organisation advocates for veganism – both dietary and in clothing and fashion.
Since the film’s release, Mohair South Africa has launched an investigation into the issues raised in the video and has committed to third party audits of mohair farms to ensure that they are in line with their Sustainable Mohair Production Guidelines. Up to 70 retailers, including H&M and Zara, have committed to banning mohair as soon as possible. H&M, which promises to be mohair-free by 2020, released a statement saying, “No animal should have to suffer because of fashion… As a company, we want to act ethically, transparently and responsibly, which of course includes ethical treatment of animals.”
But is this wise?
Mohair is a soft, natural fibre that is breathable, odourless and biodegradable. Angora goats, according to Cape Mohair’s Denys Hobson, consume 40% less than sheep do, while the production of mohair fibre is a labour-intensive process, employing people in job-scarce rural areas. There are about 1000 Angora goat farms in South Africa, which supply more than 50% of the total mohair supply to the world. About 30 000 people directly or indirectly depend on the mohair industry.
Another farmer, who wants to remain anonymous and who unwittingly facilitated PETA’s visit to the 12 farms, says, “I stand aghast at all the misinformation and prejudice.” She says that the processes addressed in the footage are essential for goats’ wellbeing. Tattooing for animal identification is a legal prescription by the Animal Anti-Theft Act. If goats are not shorn they could get stuck in thorny vegetation, preventing them from grazing and unable to nurse their young or escape a predator. Without dipping, goats develop skin diseases, she says. Their heads need to be submerged for the dip to get to the lice and parasites behind and on their heads.
The lowest point in the video, she says, is the slaughtering process. “As a vegan you have the right to choose your diet and preferred method of nutrition. Nobody ever refers to the dark carbon footprint you leave on the environment with your food production methods because we respect your choice. What you taped there was the slaughtering of a goat for workers who traditionally eat meat as part of their diet.”
Denys says shearers earn R16 per head and for every 500 goats sheared, the team earns an animal to slaughter. Shearers travel long distances in teams of between four and six people, leaving home for months on end as they travel from farm to farm.
Frances van Hasselt who grew up on a mohair farm in Prince Albert, produces textiles, and works with ethical and sustainable designer, Leandi Mulder, on a handcrafted mohair knitwear range. Her family still farms, and, while she says that harmful treatment of animals is unacceptable, she argues that calling for a boycott on an entire industry will have devastating effects on the industry and all who depend on it.
Emma Longden, of ethical clothing brand, Sitting Pretty, says, “After watching the Mohair video, my first reaction is to stop using mohair BUT, I know that if the animals are stressed their hair becomes coarse and brittle, which is bad news for farmers. The yarn I get is very high quality, so I trust that what I am getting from my knitwear guy is ethical as claimed. I do think we all need to take responsibility and look into where our mohair is coming from. I’m going to look at sourcing directly from farms.”
Stephanie Bentum, who creates felted mohair for designers, says consumers find it “unpleasant to imagine that a beautiful jacket was perhaps made from a family of abused baby goats”. She says that the industry must quickly work itself out and continue to highlight the advantages of natural fibres over oil-based ones. “The role of manufacturers and consumers is to support traceability from the farm to product,” she says.
If any good comes from the PETA video, it is that those farmers who were not complying with the Sustainable Mohair Production Guidelines will be doing so soon. It makes no sense not to.
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- Photo credits: Main image is from Maxhosa by Laduma‘s show at AFI Cape Town Fashion Week (Laduma’s knitwear is a wool mohair mix). Other images supplied by Frances van Hasselt
- ADDITION: Emma Longden’s quote was added subsequent to publication.