People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urged retailers to ban alpaca wool altogether, outlining ways it said Textile Exchange’s Responsible Alpaca Standard (RAS) fails to prevent animal suffering.
A letter by Laura Shields, PETA’s corporate responsibility manager, claims that Textile Exchange’s RAS was created in response to the animal welfare group’s undercover investigation allegedly showing workers hitting, kicking, tying down and mutilating pregnant alpacas.
“This abuse will not stop simply because meager standards are put in place,” Shields wrote.
The letter also claimed that farms are inspected only once a year and unless the farm is considered higher risk, these inspections are announced in advance. Even for “unannounced” visits, the auditor still gives up to 48 hours’ notice, according to PETA.
The RAS claims that the animals will be treated “responsibly” and that farms will respect the “five freedoms,” Shields wrote. These include freedom from hunger or thirst, from discomfort, and from pain, injury or disease, as well as the freedom to express most normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.
“Yet the RAS fails to protect the basic welfare of alpacas in substantial ways,” the letter states. “The RAS doesn’t require certification of transportation to or of off-farm slaughter sites, meaning that Textile Exchange has no supervision or control over slaughterhouses, where much suffering takes place.”
Textile Exchange said it has built a strong system to protect animal welfare in the textile and apparel industry. With input from its multi-stakeholder working groups, the organization said it has developed “well-respected standards for down, wool and mohair.”
“We are proud to add alpaca to this family of standards, which will keep the industry moving in a positive direction, while supporting the preservation of livelihood for smallholder indigenous farmers which represent the vast majority of alpaca production,” Textile Exchange told Sourcing Journal in response to the PETA letter.
“The role of Textile Exchange is to ensure that our standards continue to keep their promise of delivering the five freedoms and ensuring animal welfare,” it said. “We do that through a proven network of auditing, certification and additional confirmation visits to verify strong management systems, best practices and positive outcomes for animals. We firmly believe that animal-derived materials should only be used if and when the welfare of the animals involved can be protected.”
As for the inspection process, Textile Exchange said it is rigorous regardless of whether an individual farm or a group is being audited. If an audit is unannounced the auditor is likely to see less than if they arrange a time to visit, Textile Exchange said. If they turn up unannounced, they will not know where the animals are and may not be able to get access to records and other important documents relating to animal care.
“It is hard for farmers to hide bad welfare,” it said. “Auditors must be trained and competent to review the species that is being inspected and issues like poor nutrition and ill health cannot be fixed between an audit being arranged and it taking place.”
Shields states that while the RAS “technically requires the use of pain relief, the RAS User Manual acknowledges that there are currently no licensed pain relief products for alpacas in any country.”
Ear-notching, in which up to 10 percent of the ear is removed, and tattooing are also allowed under the RAS with no pain relief, Shields wrote. In addition, the shearing process “remains violent, “ with shearers only required to stop shearing at their discretion, when a cut or injury is considered “severe.”
Pain relief for shearing injuries is required “when suitable pain relief is available,” the letter acknowledged, “which means that an injured alpaca can be left restrained and without pain relief.”
Textile Exchange refuted many of PETA’s claims, but did acknowledge others. It said in contrast to PETA’s claim, if farmers are responsible for transporting alpacas, they must meet the standards on transport within the Responsible Alpaca Standard. These cover all aspects of transport from the condition of the vehicle, loading the animals, space in transport and transport duration.
On pain relief, Textile Exchange said while there is no therapeutic currently licensed for alpacas, it is “actively working on a project to address the limitations of licensed pain-relieving products for all fiber animals across the countries where these are not available through the work with our stakeholders on the Animal Fibers Round Table.”
Shields claimed that the language used throughout most of the standard is vague and leaves much of the requirements up to the farmers’ interpretation and “failure to be specific leaves the door open to the neglect that we know occurs around the world.”
The bottom line, Shields wrote, is that “standards…provide cover for retailers who know that consumers don’t want to buy clothes that involve cruelty to animals.”
“It is irresponsible to label clothes as ‘responsible’ when so much animal suffering is allowed to occur,” the letter concluded. “We hope you will be part of the shift toward kinder, cruelty-free sourcing–and that means buying materials that aren’t derived from animals. You can accomplish that with integrity if you buy vegan fibers.”
Textile Exchange said alpaca farming systems are generally located in South America–the origin of these animals–and are “very small scale with extensive ranging areas. This means alpacas have a high potential for positive animal welfare and good land management.”
“Diligent implementation of the standard, as required and confirmed by our certification protocols, can ensure that this potential is realized on farms,” it added. “Textile Exchange believes that creating material change to ensure positive outcomes is the responsibility of the industry. Companies working with our standards can be confident that they are helping to drive demand and ensure the adoption of best practices on the farm.”
William-Sonama last month stopped sourcing alpaca fleece across its brands, and Uniqlo and Valentino did the same last year. Genesco, owner of footwear chains like Journeys and Schuh, recently instituted its own alpaca ban as well in response to a PETA investigation. The Nashville company, which has more than 1,450 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., once carried a reversible vest made with alpaca via its Johnston & Murphy brand, though the item is now sold out or on final sale and the footwear giant is not currently developing any new products using the animal fiber.
Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.