THE latest People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) anti-wool campaign has been slammed by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who said it contains allegations that are “completely and utterly false”.
The campaign features an emotive image of “I Killed the Prom Queen” guitarist Jona Weinhofen holding a fake, foam lamb with blood and open wounds.
The image accompanies a short video of the Australian musician saying he’s been vegan for 15 years and he chooses not to “associate with any animal cruelty or animal products and wool is one of those”.
“The wool industry is very cruel; shearers are usually paid by volume not by the hour, which encourages fast work without regard for the welfare of the sheep,” he said.
He also refers to the practice of mulesing conducted on Australian “ranches” while urging people to not wear wool in promoting other products like acrylic knits, “like the sweater I’m wearing”.
But Mr Joyce said he was encouraged to speak up by shearers he worked with over the weekend who felt slighted by Mr Weinhofen’s false accusations about genuine industry practices.
He praised the efforts of a counter-campaign that’s gone viral on social media featuring a picture of farmhand Sean Harrison from Jamestown in South Australia holding a real sheep that’s been shorn.
That image is contrasted with the one of Mr Weinhofen, along with a caption saying: “Notice that the lack of studio lighting and a nice ironed shirt looks a(lot) more realistic”.
Completely insulted: Shearers
Mr Joyce said the shearers he worked with felt “completely insulted” by what Mr Weinhofen was alleging about their industry.
He said the musician’s use of a “prop” to represent a shorn sheep had “completely disparaged” the whole shearing industry.
The Nationals deputy-leader said wool was the nation’s third largest rural export, worth about $2.8 billion a year, supporting about 25,000 farming families and underpinning the “economic growth and development of our nation”.
“These are our animals and if someone plays up in a shed and brutalises an animal well we just sack them on the spot – that’s where it stops and it’s just not accepted,” he said.
“So this idea that the whole industry is just a morass of brutality to animals is a lie.”
Mr Joyce said the shearers he worked with are sick of people lying about their industry and “besmirching their character when they’re out earning a buck for Australia”.
He said shearers are also performing what most people around the world acknowledged as being one of the hardest physical jobs on offer.
“Then they see some spiv in California telling them that they’re all a bunch of brutal psychopaths – and they say to me, ‘why don’t you say something about it, why don’t you go into bat for us, why do you let them get away with it, you know it’s a lie, you know how much it annoys us, what are you going to do about it?’,” he said.
Mr Joyce said the world view promoted by Mr Weinhofen, “living in vegan splendour in California” had to be taken to its logical extent.
He said that included having no wool industry and no cotton industry as they don’t believe in genetically modified cotton, which represented 99 per cent of the nation’s crop.
Mr Joyce said they were also opposed to oil-based synthetics and supported veganism but did not offer any alternative ways for 25,000 wool-producing families to actually earn a dollar.
But he said wool producers, who had been doing it tough for a long period of time and were now starting to experience better returns, “deserve a bit of respect”.
“And the first form of respect that they should get is that people shouldn’t lie and make allegations which are just completely and utterly false,” he said.
“It’s incumbent upon me after talking to shearers on the weekend that they want something said about this.
“They’re sick of just having their noses rubbed in it by someone living in a resplendent vegan wonderland in California.”
WoolProducers Australia also issued a statement refuting “ridiculous claims” made by animal rights activists PETA regarding the Australian wool industry.
It said Australian woolgrowers protect the health and welfare of their sheep through a variety of animal husbandry practices that are suited to the sheep type and the environment.
“Sheep producers are continually investing in sheep health and welfare. Over the last five years, more than $50 million has been spent on research and development, biosecurity, health and welfare programs,” the statement said.
“Woolgrowers tend to their sheep every day, using appropriate and often world-leading husbandry and management practices.
“However, animal extremists wilfully ignore and misrepresent wool growers’ strong desire to protect their sheep from harm.
“This recent campaign by PETA has seen them resorting to using a fake lamb supposedly showing the after-effects of shearing, which is clearly deceitful and misrepresentative of the usual practice of shearing.
“Animal rights groups also ignore the large body of scientific evidence that confirms the major advances in animal welfare made across Australia in recent years,” it said.
“Wool remains an environmentally friendly, sustainable, renewable resource that is low allergen.
“It is fire resistant, thermo-regulatory, and durable and of course is a naturally beautiful fibre.”
Morrissey's meat ban
Mr Joyce also took a thinly-veiled swipe at British rocker Morrissey who has declared he wants to ban meat form his upcoming concert series at the Sydney Opera House.
The former Smiths lead singer is a well-known vegan and has requested a ban on meat in all backstage catering and food and beverage bars associated with the four concerts in May.
Morrissey fronted the Smiths when they released “Meat is Murder” about 27 years ago and has continued on with his animal rights activism.
On his last tour of Australia in late 2012, PETA displayed and promoted its animal rights views at those concerts, in various capital cities.
Mr Joyce said meat may have been banned at the concert venue but a lot of people would be turning up in leather shoes and belts and “maybe they borrowed them off the beast”.
He said large sections of Australia’s rural based economy would be inoperable without a wool industry.
But he said PETA and their supporters don’t believe in the wool industry, the treatment of fly-strike with mulesing or the castration of animals.
“Everything they do is not based on a premise of logic,” he said.
“It’s not based on any knowledge of the industry and it’s not based with any empathy for the people who are in it and obviously it’s a cloud cuckoo-land world they want to take us to.
“We’re always trying to refine practices to make them better but their campaign is to stop the wool industry – but as one nation on earth, we should be standing behind our wool industry.
“It’s always sad to see when it’s one of our own who goes overseas, lives in a vegan splendour in California and then preaches back to the country that brought him up.”
'Ranting celebrity' opinion
Parliamentary Secretary to the Agriculture Minister Richard Colbeck said the use of celebrity opinion in the latest PETA anti-wool campaign fell into the category recently highlighted by Australia's chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb.
In a National Press Club address last month in Canberra, Professor Chubb said the general public needs to understand the difference between an expert and a “ranting entertainer” especially on issues like GM crops.
Senator Colbeck said Mr Weinhofen was yet another “ranting celebrity” whose views should be ignored.
“I’d take the views of an informed, qualified scientist or industry expert over those of a ranting celebrity any day, as per Professor Chubb’s advice,” he said.
“Those presenting these narrow views are not just ranting entertainers but also ranting celebrities who are just as misinformed on these issues.
“But quite frankly, who cares what they have to say?
“Why should their voice be any more important than a scientist or someone who relies on a particular industry for their income and livelihood or the average man on the street?
“PETA is just an organisation which doesn’t want animals used by humans for any purpose, even pets.”