Wool and the Environment - Organic Trade Association
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Wool and the Environment


Production estimates for 2005 North American wool production show that 19,152 pounds (8,705 kilos of certified organic wool were produced in the United States and Canada. 


Specifically, 18,852 pounds (8,551 kilos) of grease wool (shorn, without any cleaning, scouring or further processing) were produced in six U.S. states and 300 pounds (136 kilos) were produced in Ontario, Canada.  New Mexico, with 15,300 pounds (6,940 kilos), was the leading producer of certified organic wool in North America, representing 81 percent of U.S. and 80 percent of North American organic wool production, followed by Montana (2,400 pounds), Maine (520 pounds), Ontario (300 pounds), Vermont (200 pounds), and New Jersey (132 pounds).1


Here are some reasons why organic wool production is important to the long-term health of the planet:

  • More than 14,000 pounds of insecticides were applied to sheep in the United States in 2000, the most recent year for which data is available (in the 22 states which have the highest sheep production).2  These pesticides are used to control mange, mites, lice, flies, and other pests.3  Some sheep and lambs receive multiple applications of several different chemicals.4

  • Pesticides used in sheep production can pose risks to human health and the environment. The top three insecticides used on sheep in 20005-fenvalerate, malathion and permethrin-are all slightly acutely toxic to humans, moderately to highly toxic to fish and amphibians, and suspect endocrine disruptors. Malathion is highly water soluble (can be easily transported from the application site by stormwater or irrigation water runoff)7 and the anaerobic half-life for fenvalerate in soil is more than 155 days, potentially enabling it to cause groundwater contamination.8

  • Pesticides used in sheep dips have consistently been linked with damage to the nervous system in workers that have been exposed to them in the United Kingdom.9  Even low-dose exposure over the long term has been conclusively linked with reduced nerve fiber function, anxiety, and depression.10  Long-term exposure to sheep dip has also been linked to reduced bone formation.11  In addition, residues of diflubenzuron, an insecticide used in sheep dips, persist in the environment for more than a year.12

  • Two antibiotics, oxytetracycline and chlortetracycline, are approved for growth promotion in sheep.13 These antibiotic feed additives are used to promote slightly faster growth and to compensate for overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations.14 Mounting evidence suggests that widespread use of agricultural antibiotics is contaminating surface waters and groundwater, including drinking water, in many rural areas as a result of their presence in animals waste. This non-human use of antibiotics is compromising medicine's effectiveness in people as bacteria become resistant to antibiotics over time.15

1 Organic Trade Association. "Organic Wool Fact Sheet." 2005.
2 United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Chemical Usage - 2000 Sheep and Sheep Facilities. 2001.
3 "Guide for Control of External Parasites of Sheep and Goats." New Mexico State University. 1994. <
4 U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Agricultural Chemical Usage.
5 Ibid.
6 Pesticide Action Network North America. PAN Pesticides Database. <
http://pesticideinfo.org/.> Archived October 2005.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Pilkington, A., D. Buchanan, G.A. Jamal, R. Gillham, S. Hansen, M. Kidd, J.F. Hurley, and C.A. Soutar.  "An epidemiological study of the relations between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and indices of chronic peripheral neuropathy and neuropsychological abnormalities in sheep farmers and dippers." Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November, 58:702-710, 2001.
10 Morris, Kelly. "Risks accumulate with cumulative sheep-dip exposure." The Lancet 354:9173 (1999), 133.
11 Compston, J.E., S. Vedi, A.B. Stephen, S. Bord, A.R. Lyons, S.J. Hodges, and B.E. Scammell. "Reduced bone formation after exposure to organophosphates." The Lancet 354:9192 (1999), 1791.
12 Levot, G.W. "Diazinon and diflubenzuron residues in soil following surface disposal of spent sheep dip wash." Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture: 44(10), 975-982, 2004.
13 United States Food and Drug Administration. Code of Federal Regulations, Chapters 128 and 450: 15 September 2005 <
14 Wallinga, David. "Antimicrobial Use in Animal Feed: an Ecological and Public Health Problem." Minnesota Medicine, October 2002, Volume 85; Keep Antibiotics Working. Antimicrobial Use in Animal Feed: an Ecological and Public Health Problem: 29 September 2005 <
15 Keep Antibiotics Working.<





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