Pearls are defined as hard, round objects produced within the soft tissue of a living shelled mollusc, such as an oyster. The majority of pearls on the market are ‘cultured pearls’ which are formed on a pearl farm under controlled conditions. Pearl farming (mollusc aquaculture) occurs in Australasia, the Middle East and South America. It is achieved by inserting a foreign object into the tissue of an oyster or other mollusc in order to induce the creation of a pearl (15). The pearl is harvested by opening the oyster, which kills it, and the shell and meat are either discarded or used.


A vegetarian does not eat any shellfish (sea animals protected with a shell), including crustaceans (crustacea) and molluscs (mollusca).
Examples of crustaceans (hard external shell) are lobsters, crayfish, crabs, prawns and shrimps.
Examples of molluscs (most are protected by a shell) are mussels, oysters, winkles, limpets, clams and cephalopods such as cuttlefish, squid, octopus.


Silk comes from silkworms, which are not true worms, but the caterpillars of the silk moth Bombyx mori. Silkworms produce silk by churning out thread from tiny holes in their jaws, which is used to spin into their protective egg-bearing cocoons. Complete production takes around 3 days, during which time they produce between 500-1200 silken threads (16). When metamorphosis is complete and the moth is ready to leave its cocoon, it secretes an alkali which eats its way through the thread. This spoils the thread for spinning as it is no longer continuous. Therefore, in order to get good quality silk the moths must be killed before they leave the cocoon. This is done by suffocation with steam or heating them in an oven. Only a small number complete their lifecycle for breeding the next generation. Silk can be divided into 3 categories depending on how the silk is produced; cultivated, wild and blended.


Wool accounts for 5-10% of the total value of a ewe. Most British wool is used for coarse fabrics such as carpets, with over 65% of the clip being used in carpet manufacture. Native breeds such as Scottish Blackface, Herdwick and Cheviot grow wool which is naturally designed to withstand harsh winds, driving rain and snow. The UK produces 1% of the world’s raw wool, approximately 50,000 tonnes per year (5). The majority are sheared at 14 months old and then once a year. Lambs of some breeds may be clipped to provide lambs wool. The entire fleece is sheared in one piece. Sheep have been selectively bred to produce a thick fleece and are sheared early summer to prevent heatstroke. Wild sheep do not need to be sheared.

A significant proportion of British wool is from slaughtered sheep and is referred to as 'skin wool'. Wool accounts for 3% of world fibre production (17). Australia and New Zealand produce the most raw wool, whilst Belgium and Denmark export the most ‘greasy’ wool, including skin wool and re-exports.

Mulesing of sheep (this involves slicing away the folds of skin from beneath the sheep's tail which forms a wool-free scar) occurs commonly in Australia. They have a national flock of an estimated 135 million sheep and mulesing is done at a recommended age between 2 -12 weeks. The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries states in the Standard Operating Procedures that "While the operation causes some pain, no pre or post operative pain relief measures are used". Antiseptics are often applied, but anaesthesia and painkillers are not required during or after the procedure. The wool industry has proposed that surgical mulesing will be phased out by 2010 (18). Around 100 million sheep suffer from mulesing each year. Australia’s export industry of wool amounts to approximately $3.5 billion each year (19).

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The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom Limited, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham WA14 4QG
Registered Charity No. 259358, Registered Company No. 959115 (England and Wales)

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