In Defense of Unborn Lambs

Animal rights activists in Great Britain and elsewhere are launching new protests against astrakhan, lambskin derived from lambs that are killed shortly after birth and, activists claim, in some cases before they are born.

Astrakhan is produced in Uzbekistan from the karakul lamb. An individual pelt can bring Pounds 330 to 45 and a coat made from the material can fetch Pounds 3,500-4,500 according to the Times of London.

PETA’s Sean Gifford told The Times,

The fur trade is a violent, bloody business but these skins are particularly gruesome. Upwards of 4 million lambs are slaughtered every year for these coats. A ewe can usually have four births in a lifetime. The first three lambs are slaughtered after they are born. But the mother is butchered 15 to 30 days before giving birth to the fourth lamb. The unborn lamb is then ripped from her belly. Its skin has not had a chance to develop so it is softer and more highly valued.

Some suppliers of astrakhan deny that the ewe is slaughtered before birth. The Times quotes Andrea Martin of the British Fur Trade Association saying,

Karakul sheep and lambs provide an important source of food as well as other income from skins and wools. In Muslim areas, including Uzbekistan, slaughtering methods for animals are governed by strict religious principles intended to assure humane treatment of animals. Allegations of mistreatment and induced abortions make no sense.

What is the relevance of the “induced abortion” claim? The Times claims, for example, that,

Astrakhan was in limited use three years ago but fell out of vogue after Stella McCartney, the British designer, rounded on her friend Madonna for having an astrakhan coat, telling her she was “wearing a fetus”. She has never been seen in public in it since.

If you’re comfortable with wearing a quote made from animal skin, exactly what does the gestational age of the skin matter? Are there people out there who actually think, “I have no problem wearing lamb skin from a two-day old lamb, but killing the lamb before its born is simply unethical?”

Makes no sense (which is why McCartney and Madonna probably find it to be a logical position — or perhaps it conflicts with Maddona’s kabbala beliefs!)


Aborted lambs are fashion victims. Maurice Chittenden, The Times Online, March 6, 2005.

A New Fur Controversy. New York Metro, March 28-April 4, 2005.