Ethical Wool?

Below is a letter Helen wrote to a customer who was concerned about animal welfare and the ethics of wearing wool.

Dear xxxx,

Thank you for your email and it is always good to know our customers are concerned about ethics and better ways to live.

I share your concerns about the issues raised in the article regarding animal welfare. First of all, the majority of our wool is certified organic. This is not simply about avoiding potentially toxic chemical and hormonal sheep treatments but also about raising sheep in a humane way, and about holistic management practices. Secondly, none of our wool comes from farms that practise mulesing - we specifically check this with every supplier. Thirdly, at present none of our wool comes from the USA or Australia which do have histories of poor management practices, although I believe they are improving in response to lobbying which is good news. Most of our existing suppliers are small companies also concerned about the ethics running through their supply chains and we are confident that they act on their principles, and we ask for an ethical statement from new suppliers which includes questions about animal welfare as well as social issues (working conditions) and ecological issues (environmental footprint, organic/eco status etc).

While I think it's great that organisations such as PETA campaign for animal welfare, I don't think it's good to take a blanket approach. It is better to support those farms and farmers that engage in good practices and boycott those who don't. In terms of ecology, we know that are many parts of our moors and mountains that benefit ecologically from managed grazing which increases biodiversity, both here and in New Zealand and South America, for example, whereas monocultures can be exceedingly environmentally damaging as highlighted recently by theWWF and Greenpeace.

I take issue with the article stating that

"With so many humane fabrics, including rayon, cotton, hemp, acrylic, nylon and microfibre..."

as these may only be humane at one level - the use of petrochemicals in the unnatural production of man-made fibres is in my opinion disastrous - not only is it polluting, it is unsustainable and also these things are not biodegradable - who would want their old skirt or t-shirt knocking around our planet in 1000 years time? The production of acrylic and nylon is highly chemicalised and damages our planet and therefore the animals within it - not only this, but it uses an number of carcinogens and a recent study found that women working in acrylic factories were seven times more likely to develop breast cancer. I know it is hard to make good ethical decisions because there is so much to look into - but it should be looked into by organisations like PETA if they are promoting alternatives as ethical which clearly aren't.

While hemp may be ecological, cotton isn't on the whole. We stock organic cotton because of the damage caused to people's health in the use of chemicals on cotton - this is widely documented, and to call cotton humane when it kills human beings and causes ill-health in children in developing countries is very narrow minded. Furthermore the high levels of pesticides used in conventionally grown cotton must, if they are causing death and hospitalisation of humans, be exceedingly toxic to animals too. Even organic cotton is troublesome in that it does require a lot of water, problematic in many countries. But we still feel at Cambridge Baby that we want to support organic cotton and organic agriculture generally.

Finally, microfibre... what can I say? The sea is swimming in microfibre fleece particles as they are not filtered out from your washing machine and end up as minuscule ubiquitous pollutants in landfill and in our oceans. FAR better to have a wool vest, wool top, wool fleece...

Wool is unarguably sustainable, natural, and it bio-degrades naturally. It is healthy for the skin as it is designed to clothe mammals and therefore needs less processing, and organic rearing of sheep is humane, does not pollute the ground, sea or other animals, and is of no danger to farmers and their families.

Clearly everyone has different values but for me there is no question, I strongly advocate using wool over the alternatives - but yes in doing so making sure that the wool is organic if animal welfare is your overriding concern.

I hope this is helpful.

Best wishes,

PS we are currently looking into hemp again and may be stocking it in the future.

> Cambridge Baby Team

> Cambridge Baby - discover natural, organic clothing for your little explorers (aged 0-100).

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