Organic Wool: a Sustainable, Healthy Choice for Baby Clothes

All of the wool garments we carry at Little Spruce Organics are certified organic.  We have done a great deal of research to find suppliers that adhere to the highest standards of organic wool production.  In this article we explain why.

Many consumers have a pretty good understanding of some of the benefits of organic cotton clothing.  If you have already read our previous blog post or visited our online store, you probably have an even better understanding of why organic cotton garments are especially wonderful for babies.  But have you ever considered the benefits of organic wool for your baby?

Although many sheep farmers are making the switch to organic due to the increasing demand for organic wool, organic certification for wool production is unfortunately far more involved and more difficult for producers than certification for organic cotton.  This is primarily due to the the fact that wool comes from an animal, so to be certified organic, every stage of its production must be under strict control- from the food the animal consumes to the quality of life of the animals, methods of pest control, dealing with overgrazing, and finally, the various stages of the fiber processing once the wool is removed from the sheep.

So if organic wool production is so involved and challenging for producers to implement, and if regular wool is already a sustainable choice, why go the extra mile and seek out organic wool?

It is absolutely true that wool is a sustainable product- perhaps the most sustainable product available for the production of textiles.  Most sheep live long and happy lives, grazing and bounding about fields of green and doing whatever else sheep do… peacefully going about their business until that dreaded day once a year when their lovely wool is shorn off and they are left shivering, naked, and slightly confused until their cozy wool coat grows back.  This makes wool is a wonderful and very sustainable resource because it replaces itself naturally without destroying any element of nature.

A few important issues are too often forgotten, however: first, the quality of life of those sheep that gleefully bound around in their woolly coats prior to shearing day; and secondly, the actual processing of the fiber that eventually becomes a wool garment.  These are also the two main issues involved in the standards that must be met for wool to be certified organic.

For wool to be certified organic in the US, it must meet strict federal standards for organic livestock production.  The Organic Trade Association lists the following standards that must be followed:

  1. The sheep must be fed with certified organic feed and forage;
  2. The use of synthetic hormones and genetic engineering are prohibited;
  3. The use of synthetic pesticides (internal, external and on pastures) is prohibited; and
  4. Producers must implement good cultural and management practices to encourage healthy lives of the animals.

I now digress ever so slightly as I focus specifically on one of the standards mentioned above- that of external synthetic pesticides.  This is something that was particularly disturbing for me during my research on the wool industry, having grown up surrounded by animals, many of whom were the larger, furry or woolly hoofed type…

During the traditional and conventional production of wool, there exists a practice known as “sheep dip.”  Perhaps my love for animals runs too deep, but the mere image of a sheep being unwillingly “dipped” in a chemical bath is enough to keep me purchasing only organic wool for my baby.

This “dip” for sheep is actually a bath of parasiticides (insecticides) that the sheep are dipped into in to control external parasites such as ticks, lice, blowflies, and mites.  In addition to being a less than kind practice for the animals, the dip leaves a pesticide residue that remains on the wool for many months following the treatment.  It only makes sense to conclude that chemical residue left on wool means that the final product touching your baby’s skin is a far cry from natural.  Both human health and the health of the earth suffer from sheep dipping, as the pesticides break down on the sheep’s skin and are released into the environment.

There simply must be a kinder, gentler way to control these pests.  And, as in most organic solutions to conventional agricultural practices, indeed there is.   The organic solution is known as integrated pest management, which, when used in organic farming practices, is essentially the alternative practice of controlling pests without relying on chemical pesticides or genetically modified crops while considering factors such as animal welfare, the environment, and human health and safety.

Just to clarify, during the production of certified organic wool, sheep are not dipped in anything.  I’ll take my sheep undipped, thank you very much!

Overgrazing is another huge issue that is common during conventional livestock production, so for wool production to be certified organic, producers are also required to “ensure that they do not exceed the natural carrying capacity of the land on which the animals graze,” as stated by the OTA. This is a very important practice for the health of the land and obviously for the overall well-being of the sheep.  Happy, healthy flocks of sheep result in softer, nicer, and more pure and natural wool for your baby to ultimately wear.

The bottom line is this:  organic wool is a better, healthier choice for your new baby.  If a sheep consumes an entirely organic diet, is never dipped in chemicals, and the fiber is later processed without the use of chemicals (which is an entirely new discussion that I will write about on a later date!), you as a parent no longer have to worry about any chemical residue left on the wool that touches your baby’s skin.

And that is why at Little Spruce Organics, we carry only the best organic wool for your baby that comes from the happiest, healthiest, and most importantly-undipped sheep!

References

Organic Trade Association.  “Wool Fact Sheet.”  2005.  http://www.ota.com/organic/woolfactsheet.html

Organic Trade Association.  “Wool and the Environment.”  2005.  http://www.ota.com/wool_environment.html

Queensland Government Website.  “Sheep Parasites: Integrated Pest Management to Control Blowflies and Lice.”   http://www2.dpi.qld.gov.au/sheep/5010.html

Barbercheck, Mary E.  “Introduction to Integrated Pest Management in Organic Farming Systems.”  Penn State University.   March 2010.  http://www.extension.org/article/19916

Photo credit: photo by Bethany Grosser

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4 responses to “Organic Wool: a Sustainable, Healthy Choice for Baby Clothes

  1. awesome! Who knew all this stuff?! Thanks – I would never have realized there was a difference, and after your article, I’m a solid believer in organic wool!

  2. Pingback: Natural vs Synthetic: Choosing the Right Type of Cloth Diaper for Your Baby | baby shades of green

  3. Pingback: The Perfect Summertime Wool Cover: Engel Nappy Pants |

  4. Ruth Boulazeris

    How much are the wool nappy cover. How can I get them.

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