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In a landmark case following the release of a PETA exposé, at least six shearers were charged with a minimum of 70 counts of cruelty to animals for the first time in history. The exposé documented that wool industry workers in Australia beat scared sheep in the face with electric clippers and punched and stomped on their heads and necks. The first five defendants pleaded guilty. The first to be sentenced was banned from shearing or being in charge of farmed animals for two years.

Global reaction to PETA’s video exposé has been a firestorm of outrage—industry groups and politicians condemned the documented behavior, and officials on two continents have opened investigations.

The Shearing Contractors’ Association of Australia announced that it is “appalled by the footage” and “applauds the investigation.” WoolProducers Australia President Geoff Fisken said the behavior shown in the video was “unacceptable and unsupportable.” “We are shocked and appalled by the footage,” he said in a statement. Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, wrote that “perhaps the very best thing that could happen in response to the PETA footage is for the responsible sheep owners and shearers to be successfully prosecuted.” Ian Feldtmann, livestock president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, wrote that he was “sickened” by the footage and is “glad to hear … governments have launched animal welfare investigations in response to PETA’s footage.” One Australian shearing contractor said, “That video is disgusting and those people should be prosecuted.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia confirmed that the suspects “will be investigated” for potential violations of the New South Wales and South Australia cruelty-to-animals statutes, and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries is investigating the matter in Victoria.

Sen. Lee Rhiannon of New South Wales rejected Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s criticisms of the exposé, calling his attack “crude” and stating that Joyce “should be working … to improve animal welfare instead of protecting perpetrators of animal cruelty.” Australian Capital Territory Primary Industries Minister Shane Rattenbury added that the video showed “senseless brutality” and said that Joyce “toed a dangerous line between condemning the illegal conduct of some, and encouraging others to keep their abuse and their cruelty behind closed doors. Barnaby Joyce needs to stop blame shifting.”

Joyce announced that “the Australian Government does not … condone the mistreatment of animals.” “I am confident this will be investigated appropriately,” he wrote on his website. “There is no doubt these images are disturbing.”

In the U.S., numerous law-enforcement investigations are underway in Wyoming and Colorado, where Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said that the video “is highly concerning and we are taking it very seriously.” “If our investigation shows it is warranted, we will file any appropriate criminal charges,” he said.

An American Sheep Industry Association representative stated, “Rough handling of animals that might result in the injury of a sheep is … unacceptable .… Kicking, throwing and poking the eyes of sheep are also unacceptable practices.” The executive director of the Colorado Wool Growers Association joined PETA’s call for prosecution and said of the video, “Everything about that was wrong.” The executive director of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association added, “We do not condone or support the actions of anyone that results in the abuse of sheep.”

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