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Jona Weinhofen vs. The Australian Wool Industry

Australian wool farmers are burning their I Killed the Prom Queen records.

I Killed The Prom Queen/Bleeding Through/Bring Me The Horizon/I Killed The Prom Queen-again guitarist Jona Weinhofen has been a dedicated vegan for 15 years. By extension, he’s also an equally dedicated and public advocate for PETA.

Off the back of an unnerving undercover PETA expose into 19 shearing sheds across the nation, Weinhofen and PETA’s latest campaign against Australia’s $2.8 billion-dollar wool industry includes a provocative poster of Jona holding a bloodied (some say fake) shorn lamb.

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Reactions have been strong, but they might not have taken the form PETA hoped. Australian Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce had some choice words for Weinhofen, and Australian shearers flooded social media with happy snaps of their healthy, happy, freshly sheared sheep. At the apex of the backlash is this IndieGoGo campaign. Run by the president of rural advocacy group WAFarmers Dale Park, the campaign successfully raised $4,500 in 21 days – ostensibly to send Weinhofen to shearing school for ‘education.’

We wanted to get to the shorn bleeding bottom of things, so we asked Jona and Dale to elaborate on their respective sides of the issue.

JONA WEINHOFEN
Vegan and PETA advocate

NOISEY: Hey Jona, how are you?
Great thanks, you know, just taking a little break from being Twitter-bashed to live it up over here in vegan splendour.

Ah yeah, Barnaby Joyce said you were “living in vegan splendour.” He also seemed to think the PETA expose was a “pack of lies.”
The video obviously wasn’t a “pack of lies” as it shows countless occurrences of cruelty within the shearing and wool industry. As for “vegan splendour,” there are some more forward-thinking people here in California and plenty of great places for vegans to eat, but there are still the same issues here when it comes to animal abuse and exploitation. I think he was just grasping at straws and having a go at me personally, which is a little unfair as I didn’t personally attack anybody. The fact that he called a press conference over the matter instead of simply ignoring it shows that there is something for them to be concerned about.

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How did PETA secure the footage of the sheep being abused?
I believe that representatives of PETA and animal rights activists went undercover with surveillance equipment and were employed by select farms to covertly document cruelty and abuse. I believe the investigation is ongoing and I have not received any information on which farms they were or names of perpetrators. I’m sure as with any legal investigation information will go public as time goes by. I’m also sure if they knew they were on camera they would be acting quite differently, which would imply that their actions really are commonplace within the shearing and wool industry.

Have you ever seen anything like this first-hand?
I have never visited a wool farm, however I grew up in rural South Australia in farming areas and did see several examples of animal exploitation and abuse during that time. Many of these farmers claim to love and care for their livestock, but this is only as long as they’re profitable. If you have a pet dog you love, and it breaks its leg, you will (one would hope) pay thousands of dollars to have it fixed. If a farmer has a sheep and it breaks a leg, it gets shot and thrown in a ditch. I wouldn’t call that love. There were countless times I saw dead sheep and cows laying in fields or trapped in fences when roaming around the farmland as a child. That doesn’t seem very caring to me.

What do you make of Dale’s IndieGoGo campaign?
I think it is a small group of people’s way of trying to win an argument and be able to say, “I told you so.” They think that by sending me, a vegan, to shearing school, I will see there is no cruelty involved. I guess their definition of cruelty and mine are different. Having skin cut off your anus without pain relief seems pretty cruel to me, and this is deemed acceptable and is industry standard. If I were in their shoes I would probably want to think I was right and someone else was wrong as well, but the video doesn’t lie. And even if you ignored the 70-odd counts of cruelty documented across 19 farms in three separate states of Australia (and that’s just the ones PETA visited and documented, not including countless others which may have the same occurrences), the fact remains that exploiting animals for profit is cruel and unethical by my standards – and the standards of the millions of other vegan people who share my ideals.

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They raised $4,500 in 21 days. Why do you think there has been such a strong response here?
Again, I think it’s a small group of people banding together to try prove a point which, in my opinion, is moot. WAFarmers claim that they don’t have the funding PETA does but that they won’t be bullied. The entire wool industry makes exactly 538 times as much as PETA receives in donations. And I make about $30,000 per year as a musician. I would say that we’re the minority taking on a giant, not the other way around.

Would you consider attending Dale’s shearing school?
I raised several issues with WAFarmers’ proposal such as logistical costs with me currently living in another country, as well as lost wages due to me taking time out of my job (which isn’t very easy to do) to go along with their little press stunt. My concerns haven’t been addressed yet, nor have I been given any actual information about the course itself – like whether animals are used or exploited for this course – or even when and how long it takes, so it would be impossible to make a decision.

Good points.
I also suggested that the money may be better spent ensuring that the cruelty documented by PETA doesn’t recur, such as placing webcams or cameras in all shearing sheds that send a feed to a public forum (this should be fairly inexpensive), or perhaps by helping to make drug testing mandatory within the industry as has just been implemented by the state of Victoria.

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Shutting down a $2.8 billion-dollar industry probably isn’t going to happen, though.
Never say never. Human slavery used to be – and still is in parts of the world – pretty lucrative and common. Should we allow that to continue because of money?

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DALE PARK
Former wool producer and president of WAFarmers

Noisey: Hi Dale. PETA’s investigation is pretty concerning.
We don’t deny that incidents of animal cruelty occur, but we are 100% against it and actively work to improve our already high animal welfare standards. What we are most disappointed with is that a representative of PETA took that footage without interceding.

In your years as a wool producer, have you ever witnessed or engaged in the cruelty present in PETA’s video?
Absolutely not. No decent farmer would subject animals to cruelty or tolerate that behaviour from others. Without healthy, happy sheep we have no livelihood and we are confident Australian wool growers have the utmost commitment to their animals.

If Jona takes up your invitation to shearing school, what will you show him?
Jona would be put through the same training that any novice shearer would undergo. He’ll learn how to safely shear a sheep.

Where will the $4,500 go if Jona can’t attend?
As stated, the money will go towards raising awareness. We are anticipating that Jona will make the effort to attend the shearing school and educate himself on the subject. However, if he is unable to attend, we have a couple of ideas to further promote the high animal welfare standards that we have in Australia. The main aim of this campaign is to make the general public aware of what really happens in a shearing shed and counter the misinformation put out by PETA. Firstly, the sheep used in the advert is a prop – which we have no problem with, however it wasn’t made to represent an actual freshly shorn lamb. A lamb that size would not be shorn and no sheep that has been shorn by a professional would ever look like that. Secondly, Jona Weinhofen used his personal brand to influence the views of people with no prior knowledge of the industry. This also adequately describes Jona. Lastly, they have demonstrated an amazing ignorance of the wool industry.

I guess by stating a need for awareness, you are acknowledging there is a problem here.
While any industry that has human involvement is not perfect, there is not a problem with our animal welfare standards here in Australia. There is a problem communicating them to the general public. Although there are very rare incidents, we don’t believe that all farmers and shears should be punished because of the actions of a couple of rogue shearers. There are countless accidents on the road every day caused by reckless drivers, but does that mean we should ban the car?

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The debate certainly hasn't ended here. While there’s about as much chance of Jona and PETA backing down from their anti-shearing campaign as there is I Killed the Prom Queen appearing on the iPod shuffle at the WAFarmers Christmas Party, the arguments and challenges from both sides are certain to remain interesting.

Follow Toby on Twitter: @jane_tobes