There are ruffled feathers among the Australian wool community. This is because Woolnews’ latest update (March 19) asks: is it acceptable for a non-wool product to market itself as vegan wool? The product is three parts cotton and the balance a weed called calotropis. The claim is it’s 100% organic and PETA-approved vegan. Of course the sheep growers down under are rigorously shouting no!

I agree with them but, on this subject, would like to raise another issue. And that’s the widely held perception that cotton production and harvesting is animal friendly, as opposed to the view of some who say sheep shearing is cruel.

Obviously, gone are the days of hand-harvested cotton as the farmers bring in the huge combine harvesters, often multiple machines simultaneously advancing side by side. The result is that there is guaranteed loss of life among the small animal populations that live in and around the crop. This is true not only for cotton but any intensely cultivated crop – wheat, corn, sugar, rice, any grains etc. The problem is we simply do not know the scale of the problem, not only the mortality rate but, more complexly, the species affected which varies between different crops. For example, it stands to reason that the harvesting of crops favouring wetter, more tropical environments (rice) will adversely affect more reptile and amphibian species than crops grown in drier climes. But we just don’t know the scale of damage.

This makes the argument difficult because the direct comparison obviously is the numbers of animals going to the food chain, for which the world has pretty accurate numbers. But the lack of statistics should not allow us to turn a blind eye and ignore the problem or justify as animal-friendly the use of the resultant produce.

So let’s not kid ourselves. The sad conclusion is that Mankind’s presence on the planet leaves a damaging footprint. Whatever we wear, eat, use to furnish our homes or transport us from A to B impacts negatively somewhere, something along the line. And we need to stop finger pointing at other interest groups – we are all in this together. Surely the secret must be a heightened awareness and an honest attempt to reduce that impact as much as possible?

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