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It’s time for Ethical Wool to Become a Reality

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Many people think that the wool industry is made of sheep gamboling in pastures. That no animal are abused or killed. That placid sheep stand in line quietly and men with large electric scissors shear their hair off.

Not true.

Before you buy wool see the PETA video, released in 2017, of the treatment of sheep in the shearing sheds of the main wool farms across Australia. The undercover video showed workers violently punching frightened sheep in the face, stomping and standing on their heads and necks, slamming their heads on the floor, beating and jabbing them in the head with electric clippers. The violent shearing process left large, bloody cuts on their bodies and workers stitched up gaping wounds with a needle and thread without any anesthesia. Says one photographer "The shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals … I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or their fists until the sheep's nose bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off …"

Three years before this, in 2014, Peta exposed similar abuse in the top wool exporting farms. Many owners and workers were arrested and given cruelty convictions. The industry vowed to reform. The secretary of the Shearing Contractors’ Association of Australia said that the 2014 footage had been a “wake-up call” to the industry and vowed to implement a zero-tolerance policy on cruelty to animals

After a few weeks it was business as usual and the cruelty was resumed.

Shearers are the bottom of human evolution - illiterate, impatient, insensitive farm labour, who are paid per sheep. It doesn’t matter whether they cause the frightened animals distress and injury, they simply want the numbers done and their wages.

Is this the only country where such terrible things are done by shearers? Similar exposés have been done in Argentina, Chile and the United States, and they show the same brutality.

If the wool farms are not going to stop this, it is upto us, the consumes, to do it. Go wool free (God, thank you for acrylic !). You could write to wool retailers across the world to demand better conditions. You could start a shaming process through social media.

But, let us look at another way which has worked beautifully in another sector – and which I am very proud of.

Twenty years ago carpet importers, from Europe and America, were under pressure to stop doing business with India because we had been accused of using little children to make them. I was not in government. We made a group called Rugmark, moved into Varanasi and Bhadohi, and went from carpet maker to carpet maker and removed the children. We sent some back to their parents in Bihar where they had been kidnapped from, we put others in orphanages and schools which we established. By the time the exercise was over, children were out of the production system. Carpet exporters signed a pledge, which holds good till today, that they would never use them again. They were then allowed to buy labels from us called Rugmark, and Germany took the lead in promoting the label, which meant Childfree. Soon Pakistan and Nepal followed suit with the same label. The label was paid for by the foreign importers – Rs1 per label at the time and it went to the upkeep of children and their schooling. Rugmark solved an ethical problem and the industry was a willing co-operator.

We need to solve this problem with a similar label. Australia and New Zealand are the largest exporters of wool. Australia alone accounts for one fifth of global wool production. India is one of the top importers of wool from Australia. 60% is imported by China (and they couldn't care less about cruelty). They buy the worst wool. Then comes Italy with 20%. They buy for high fashion designers like Armani. We are the third largest with 15%-18%, and growing at 17% every year. In 2018 Australia exported 152 million dollars worth (41.47 million kg) to India. We import carpet wool, greasy wool, scoured wool, clipped wool, tannery wool, lamb's wool, merino wool and wool waste

We use this wool to make carpets, handloom fabrics, yarn, hosiery and knitwear - cardigans, pullovers, socks, gloves, mufflers and suit material. Carpet manufacturers blend domestic with New Zealand wool. We export the finished products. In 2014 our raw wool imports were 96.13 million kg, 8% higher than the previous year. In 2014 we imported 356 million dollars worth and exported 1.05 billion dollars. In 2019 it is 1.14 billion. Every year we export more because knitwear has a huge market, and our clients range from South Korea, UAE and Japan and, of course, Europe and the United States. Most of the main wool companies are in Ludhiana. From 2014 we have become the highest importers of wool from the United States, with 1.16 million kg.

We are big enough to influence the way sheep are kept, and treated, all over the world.

India’s wool industrialists need to develop a label that says Ethical Wool. Consumers now object to buying things which are not made by paying ethical fair wages, millions have gone vegan or organic, most designers have given up fur. Why not apply this new morality, and distaste for wickedness, to wool ?

Companies like Patagonia have already stopped using wool from the general market, and source it from wool farms that have ethical practices.

Our companies should refuse to buy wool from farms that have cruel shearing practices. There is a hideous practice called mulesing. Sheep are grown to get more and more wool on their bodies - some cannot even walk any more. Because sheep hair is oily, and the area round the anus is warm, and full of faeces and urine, sometimes blowfly lay their eggs on the skin, and the larvae feed on the sheep’s tissue. This, of course, makes the sheep sick and the quality of hair goes down. So, what the industry does is even worse. They cut the skin from the buttocks without anaesthesia. What would you do if some sick individual tried to cut large chunks of skin and flesh from around your anus? Flystrike, as the problem is called, can easily be avoided with better management and the use of skin insecticides. But Australian wool farmers employ very few labourers in order to keep costs down, so sheep are generally neglected. The industry defends mulesing by saying while it hurts the sheep, it saves them from being eaten by flies. This is not true. Flystrike only afflicts farmed, not wild, sheep and this is because the skin keeps getting increased so that more wool can grow on one body. The increased heat and folds are attractive for blowflies. It also creates very unhappy animals assaulted by handlers and shearers. And with each breeding generation, the industry favours sheep with the densest skin folds, thus ensuring that each successive generation will be even more vulnerable to flystrike.

When the world threatened to boycott mulesed wool, Australia vowed in 2004 that they would ban it by 2010.  It is 2019 and they have still not done it. Many clothing companies have pledged not to use wool from sheep that have undergone this procedure.

There are many other horrible things that happen to sheep. For instance, Sharlea sheep have been mutated to produce a certain kind of wool. However, the same genetic mutation has also made them blind and unable to walk. Millions of sheep perish every year on large wool farms due to disease and individual neglect that occurs when animals, meant to roam freely, are squeezed together. Adequate health, and veterinary care for ailments, is non-existent. And, at the end of their "productive" lives, they're shipped to slaughter to the Middle East in overcrowded ships. 

If we confined our label to anti-mulesing and anti-bad shearing, castration, tail-docking, and ear-punching, we would go a long way. If our Indian wool industry would hire one animal welfare organisation in Australia to check randomly, and then give ethical wool labels, it could change the world. When India banned Pate foie gras in 2014, so did dozens of countries in Europe. When we started Rugmark and cleaned up child labour, it had an impact on so many industries who used child labour. It is time for Ethical Wool to become a reality. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www. peopleforanimalsindia. org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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A Major Food Safety Issue

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Eggs have always been considered to be a standard safe food. Few people realise that every egg is different, and some may not be fit to eat at all.

An egg is made up of albumen, yolk and a porous shell made of calcium carbonate. The internal ingredients of an egg can be altered so that the natural composition changes by manipulating the feed of the hens. For instance, in Japan Omega 3 and iodine have been introduced into the eggs.

This means that the quality of the egg depends largely on the food given to the egg layer, and the conditions she is kept in. It is affected by many factors, before and after its laying. Everything from the weather, type of feed given to the hen, amount of water consumed by her, cleanliness of the surroundings, number of hours that she spends in daylight and even the way she breathes, can drastically change the composition of the egg. The way an egg is handled, before it reaches your plate, could make it inedible.

On average, a chicken egg should contain about six grams of protein and six grams of fat. To produce this level, it is essential that a laying hen receives a balanced diet, with adequate levels of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. Experts recommend a balanced ration containing 16 to 18 percent protein and approximately 3½ percent calcium, to promote strong eggshells. Laying chickens also require a constant supply of fresh, clean water, as water comprises more than half of an egg’s volume.

The fact, that an egg’s natural composition can be manipulated, is well known to commercial poultry farmers. Chemicals are added to the food so that they produce eggs that are better looking and last longer. Baking soda and ammonium chloride are commonly added as dietary supplements to improve eggshell quality. Potassium chloride is mixed with their water as it makes hens thirstier. The use of antibiotics is also common with Indian farmers, pumping hens with these from the day they are born.

The best eggs really come from hens that spend their days outdoors in a natural environment and scratch for insects, seeds and earthworms in the soil. The eggs you buy do not come from these hens. To ensure high production, with a minimum of money, all hens are kept captive in small crowded cages with a strict controlled environment, no sun, no fresh air and water, chemical food and antibiotics. They are kept under continuous lighting so that they lay more eggs daily. How nutritious would the product of such a stressed body be? India has particularly poor egg quality.

Indian poultry farms are known to be some of the worst in the world, with very low health and safety standards and little regard for public health concerns. Investigations at  poultries show hens covered with sores, badly fed, sitting in their own faeces, covered with spiderwebs, full of mites and lice, fed cannibalistically with the dead bodies of their own kind, cardboard, marble chips, fish meal and grain laced with antibiotics and pesticides. This destroys the nutritional quality of the egg.

Unhygienic rearing practices, and lack of quality control measures, is an open invitation for egg contamination. Despite India being one of the three largest egg producers in the world, with 47 billion a year, they do not meet international standards, and Indian eggs are rejected for export due to chemicals in and outside the shells.

Thick albumen, plump yolks and hard shells are what you should look for superficially. Do buyers look at the thickness of the shell ? Because a thin shell means that the mother has been ill. Diseases like infectious bronchitis, Newcastle disease, avian influenza  and egg drop syndrome, affect the shell quality. Infectious bronchitis virus causes soft/rough shelled eggs, discolouration and wrinkling of the shell. The egg, as a result of disease, has pale egg yolks, runny egg whites and rough shells. A deformed eggshell means the chicken has had a number of serious diseases.

The shell is formed by the activity of cells lining the oviduct and uterus. When the egg layer is under stress, the secretions of these cells become acidic. In extreme cases, stress induced effects can result in eggshells that are misshapen and have excess deposits of calcium - a powdery "bloom" on the surface.

During summer, the hen, already in a small stuffy cage, reacts by panting in order to cool herself. This produces a condition termed "respiratory alkalosis". The pH of the blood becomes alkaline and the availability of calcium for the eggshell is reduced. The eggshell becomes thin shelled. The thickness of the shell plays a vital role in preventing bacterial penetration. Thus eggs with thin shells are more prone to microbial attack.

An egg should have phosphorous, zinc, Vitamins A, B 6 ,B 12, folic acid, thiamine and Vitamin D. During heat stress hens eat less and calcium intake is reduced as a direct consequence of reduced feed intake. This causes an elevation of phosphorous in the blood. Calcium and phosphorus balance is critical for proper eggshell quality. But high levels of phosphorus in the blood inhibit the formation of calcium. When the Calcium and phosphorus ratio is out of sync, zinc and manganese decreases. Vitamin D decreases in a sick bird. So, the egg is left with very little in it. Due to the lack of exercise in these caged birds, the fat component increases, and then the fatty acid composition in the yolk changes from healthy to unhealthy.

In free range poultries – which simply means that they are not in cages, crowded on the floor – chickens have a hierarchy. Those down the chain often lay whiter shelled eggs, with poor internal quality, due to the stress that they are under.

Many studies show that tap water containing sodium chloride has an adverse effect on eggshell quality.

What hens eat is of crucial importance. Every hybrid layer bird should have a specially devised diet. That does not happen in India. Feed nutrients are used by poultry owners without any knowledge of their nutritive value. They feed the cheapest food to their hens. If soya meal is expensive, they will replace it with cotton seed defatted cake and guargum, Nothing of these has any nutritional value.

When you eat eggs sourced from poultry raised on antibiotics and growth promoters, you ingest antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Heat cannot break down the antibiotic residues that remain within the eggs. When you fall sick, no antibiotic will be able to work on your disease. India has the largest number of people resistant to antibiotics, and the main reason is that our chicken/eggs carry them.

After leaving the farm, the entire supply chain poses additional risks of contamination to the egg. Cracked eggs (about 6%) are particularly susceptible to outside contamination. A 2005 study in Punjab found residue of hexaxhlorocyclohexane (HCH) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in eggs. These are both banned pesticides, and their presence on eggs is extremely dangerous to human health. Another 2010 study, by S. Dey and S.K. Dwivedi from the Indian Veterinary Institute, found lead and cadmium in eggs. Their study noted that consumption of contaminated eggs could lead to heavy metal poisoning in children, resulting in IQ deficiencies and even mental retardation.

Large scale egg handling invites salmonella and aflatoxin contamination. While most nations take measures to sterilise the egg surface from contamination, especially from Salmonella enteritidis, no measures are taken in India.

In a recent study done in and around Hyderabad, eggs were collected from urban retail outlets and directly from poultry farms. Salmonella bacteria was commonly found on shells and inside the eggs collected from urban retail outlets. Salmonella infection is a bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, are all types of Salmonella infection. It is linked to contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry, and eggs. Salmonella bacteria is abundantly found in poultry sheds, water tanks, drinking water and feed in poultry premises. The internal contamination of eggs, by Salmonella, is either because the shell is thin enough to be penetrated, or that the egg was contaminated by the infected reproductive organs  of the hen. Eschericia Coli, Enterobacter aerogenes and Sheigella were the other bacteria found.

The FSSAI laws state that the eggshells must be free of blood rings, must not be soiled, or have faecal matter, and they must not be cracked. They have laid down the hygiene parameters that must be observed during production, processing and handling, which includes sorting, grading, washing, drying, treatment, packing, storage and distribution. They emphasise on storage conditions, like moisture and temperature, so as to reduce microbial contamination.

No one even knows the laws. Poultry farmers, traders, exporters and even consumers, are unaware of the health risks of egg contamination.

Abroad, every batch of eggs has to have the name of the poultry where they have come from. That is how the food inspectors were able to determine so quickly that the eggs, with fipronil pesticide in them, came from 18 poultries in Holland (Indian eggs have the same pesticide in them). In India you have no idea where the egg comes from. Egg consumption is encouraged by the Government. This makes their quality, and contamination, a major food safety issue. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Pate Foie Gras: The first cultured meat without using animal

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Many years ago, I asked a stylish, older, film actress from Mumbai whether she would be the ambassador of my animal welfare organization People for Animals. I had been to her house twice for dinner, and she had made the most amazing vegetarian food, and kept grumbling about how awful meat was.

She refused, and her explanation was that while she did not eat meat generally, she could not do without pate foie gras. Everyday.

Pate Foie Gras is French for fat liver paste. It is a luxury item because few countries allow it to be made, due to the extreme cruelty involved. It is the cancerous liver of a duck or goose fattened by force in a process known as gavage. Birds spend their lives in semi-darkness. Till 8 weeks old they are confined to cages to prevent exercise, and fed a diet designed to promote rapid growth. Force-feeding begins when the birds are between 8 and 10 weeks old. For 12 to 21 days, ducks and geese are subjected to gavage. Every day, between 2 and 4 pounds of grain and fat are forced down the birds’ throats through a feeding tube. The tube “is pushed 5 inches down their throats, and more food than they want is gunned into their stomachs three times a day. If the mushy corn sticks … a stick is sometimes used to force it down.” The birds’ livers, which become engorged from a carbohydrate-rich diet, grow to be more than 10 times their normal size (a disease called “hepatic steatosis”). Most of the ducks/geese are lame and unable to walk without using their wings for support. Some ducks moved by pushing their bodies along the floor. All of them are severely stressed and ill. Most throats develop skin lesions and neck wounds, and get maggots in them.  The carcasses show wing fractures and severe tissue damage to the throat muscles.

When the bird’s liver weighs 2 or 3 lb (1.0–1.5 kg), (these livers are felt every day by farm workers, causing even more pain to the bird that is already in agony from the unnatural feeding and damage to its food pipe, its forced restraints and its huge liver), its throat is slit and the liver taken out. The rest of the bird is thrown away.

French chef Jean-Joseph Clause created and popularized pâté de foie gras in 1779, and was awarded a gift of twenty pistols by King Louis XVI  (probably to kill more animals). He obtained a patent for the dish in 1784 and began a business supplying pâté to the rich. By 1827, Strasberg (and now Toulouse ) was known as the goose-liver capital of the world.

Pâté is made by removing the veins, gristle and membrane. The liver is chopped and made into a paste combined with wine, salt, herbs, mushrooms and sometimes veal (which is the meat of a baby calf starved to death so that its meat turns white). This paste is pressed down to form a cake.  The product is exported to all parts of the world in several forms—the paste in tins, the plain cooked livers, sausages and purée. Pate is served as an appetizer with bread or crackers.

France produces more than 20,000 tons of foie gras each year. Only five countries still produce foie gras: Belgium, Romania, Spain, France and Hungary.

In July 2014 India banned the import of foie gras. Its production is banned in 35 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Turkey, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Israel and the United Kingdom. However, foie gras can still be imported into, and purchased in, these countries. The European Union is working to phase out the force-feeding of birds entirely by 2020.

 While it is banned in California, it is made in a few goose/duck farms in America.

Foie gras is unhealthy for humans. It derives 85 percent of its calories from fat: A 2-ounce serving contains 25 grams of fat and 85 milligrams of cholesterol.

Companies all over the world are now working furiously on creating meat from animal cells. The end product already has a name : clean meat. The science for cultured meat is an outgrowth of the field of biotechnology known as tissue engineering.

The initial stage of growing cultured meat is to collect cells that proliferate rapidly - embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, myosatellite cells or myoblasts.

The cells are treated by applying a protein that promotes tissue growth. They are then placed in a culture medium, in a bio-reactor, which is able to supply the cells with the energy requirements they need. Nutrients and oxygen are delivered close to each growing cell.

To culture three-dimensional meat, the cells are grown on an edible scaffold.

It has been claimed that, conditions being ideal, two months of cultured meat production could deliver up to 50,000 tons of meat from ten pork muscle cells. Scientists have already identified growth media for turkey, fish, sheep and pig muscle cells. 

Once the scale and cost are dealt with, the price of cultured, or clean meat, will come down to the same levels as animal meat. 

A company called Hampton Creek Foods, founded in 2011 in California by Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk, has chosen to make Pate Foie Gras in this way.

With its team of food scientists, biochemists, and engineers, Hampton Creek is a technology rather than a food company. As of 2014, it has secured $30 million in funding, and is backed by six billionaires including Bill Gates, Jerry Yang (Founder of Yahoo), and Li Ka-Shing, the wealthiest person in Asia. Gates’ 2013 documentary, The Future of Food, features the company. Hampton Creek has signed agreements with Fortune 500 companies and is now valued at 1 billion dollars. Its food is sold across the States and many of its items, like egg-alternative mayonnaise, are the highest sellers of their kind, beating the egg based varieties.

They are now spending millions of dollars making the world’s first clean foie gras, while developing cell lines for various other meats. Like most of the clean food companies in America, many of their scientists are Indian.

One of those scientists is a stem cell biologist called Aparna Subramanian who grows the farm animal cell lines. She takes the birds from a local farm and removes some cells for the starting material.

Why Pate? The company feels that it is a high end luxury product which is technically easier to make by multiplying cells, and which chefs and foodies want as it is a status symbol. Because it is already so expensive, getting a cultured version of it to be cost-competitive is easier than trying to compete with other poultry products at first.

Liver is easier and cheaper to grow than muscle. If you feed liver cells a lot of sugar, they get fattier and fattier, to the point where they mimic the hepatic lipidosis that’s induced in ducks and geese when they’re force-fed to produce the delicacy.

Trials are on to get the cultured fatty liver to the exact taste of the current foie gras in the market – since no traditional pate eater cares about the cruelty part. “Until it scores better than the force-fed version on our blind tests, not a single consumer will buy this product” The company projects that Hampton Creek’s product will be “the world’s highest-grade foie gras.”

The current sales of foie gras are $3 billion globally. Its sale is banned in California (banned in 2004 by Arnold Schwarzenegger, it overcame all its legal challenges to become operative in 2017) so, if Hampton Creek became the first company to be allowed to sell Foie Gras in California, it would headline the progress that clean meats are making.

 “Foie gras is regarded by top chefs as perhaps the most prized animal product today. It can be sold for upto a hundred dollars a pound. ”

Tasters of the Hampton Creek pate say the pâté is meaty, rich, buttery, savoury, and very decadent. Hampton Creek wants to be the world’s largest meat company by 2030 – producing tones of blue fin tuna, Kobe beef and chicken meat of all kinds – without using a single animal . “We want to render the current model of meat production totally obsolete.

Our goal is to make meat so obviously better, that there’d never be a reason to choose the conventional kind.”

The plan right now is to commercialise Pate Foie Gras, the first cultured meat of an animal product made without using animal. Once it is on the market I will send masses of it to the actress, and then perhaps she will agree to be our brand ambassador. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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