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SPECIAL REPORT | Shear lies: Farmers slam 'misrepresentative' mohair exposé

28 May, 08:00 PM

Aletta Harrison and Jay Caboz, News24

As South Africa’s mohair industry reels in the wake of a disturbing video, supposedly showing widespread cruelty on angora goat farms, farmers have cast doubt on claims in the report.

About 700 commercial farmers are facing financial ruin after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released the undercover footage.

But as international news agencies reported that major fashion retailers had committed to banning mohair garments in the fallout, few gave voice to farmers or attempted to verify the footage.

News24, in partnership with Business Insider South Africa, travelled to the Karoo to meet prominent angora goat farmer Gay van Hasselt.

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Angora goat farmer Gay van Hasselt. Picture: Jay Caboz

She is at the helm of a 30-year-old family business in Prince Albert, and describes angora farmers as "passionate" people, adding that the claims of widespread cruelty couldn't be further from the truth.

"We sleep, drink, eat thinking about our animals and how to have the best conditions we possibly can for them…"

She says she was "absolutely horrified" by the "misrepresentation" of the footage and photographs in the video.

But, she admitted, there was one element that was disturbing – the footage taken in the shearing shed, which she described as "completely unacceptable".

As two shearers eased an adult ewe onto her hindquarters, Van Hasselt explained poor handling and haphazard shearing were not in farmers’ economic interests. 

"We are very focused on making sure that the animal doesn’t get stressed. An angora goat is extremely susceptible to stress. In fact, if they’re stressed almost within a day, they’ll get a lung infection."

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Industry body Mohair South Africa has backed farmers, saying the video grossly misrepresents the industry. 

"The reports claim that 12 farms were visited, however from the footage, we have been able to identify two farms where shearing practices were drawn into question. 

"We have about 1 000 mohair producers, so the farms we have identified represent 0.2% of the total South African industry," said managing director Deon Saayman.

He dismissed some aspects in the PETA video, such as claims that goats had been "dumped" and "shoved" into a "poisonous" cleaning solution and that their "sensitive ears" had been "mutilated" with pliers. 

"Dipping and washing is standard practice for all livestock. Dipping prevents parasites and promotes animal health. It is done in accordance with international standards. 

"The health, safety and well-being of the animal is of utmost importance to all farmers, as this is the source of their income. It is accordingly absurd to suggest that farmers would dip the animals in poisonous substances.

"Piercings are government regulation and required by law. It assists in the prevention of theft as animals can be easily identified."

He also dismissed the notion that 40 000 goats had died the previous year – supposedly because they were shorn before a spell of cold weather.

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Mohair SA has described the video as "a cunning exercise to achieve the aims of PETA, rather than being the representation result of any proper investigation".

But PETA has stood by the video, claiming that abuse is not confined to one or two farms, but rampant throughout the entire industry.

"We've seen this in the sheep shearing sheds in Australia, in North America - this is the standard way in which animals are mistreated for the fashion industry," said Yvonne Taylor, a PETA campaigner.

She added that consumers should move away from "cruel" animal fibres and switch to vegan fabrics.

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Mohair is sorted after shearing. Picture: Jay Caboz

Mohair SA says, although it is still too early to speculate about the impact of the boycott, it could have "severe consequences" for the industry and the South African economy if retailers make good on their pledges not to purchase mohair.

It adds that, should a farm close down as a result of a boycott, it would be a "death sentence" for those goats.

PETA says the video that was posted online contains only a fraction of the footage available, and that everything has been handed over to the authorities.

The NSPCA has confirmed that it has begun an investigation, and added that it would meet with Mohair SA this week to exchange information and hold farmers to account.

Read more about the implications for SA business here.

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