SA’s mohair industry has beat expectations and continues to show solid growth, despite recent criticism from a global animal rights group.

A secretly filmed video by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Asia has rocked the Port Elizabeth-headquartered industry, along with major international fashion brands, after the footage surfaced at the beginning of May.

Industry body, Walmer-based Mohair SA has shifted into high gear to address the video, which alleges the mistreatment of Angora goats on up to 12 South African mohair-producing farms.

However, the organisation, which oversees more than half of global mohair production, revealed this week that it had identified two farms where mistreatment of animals potentially occurred and that both producers were undergoing inspections and an audit, which were expected to have been completed by Thursday.

The two farms were identified after an assessment of the Peta video and are located in either the Eastern or the Western Cape where the industry’s approximately 1,000 mohair-producing farms are based. About 700 of these farms are large-scale commercial producers.

The video is believed to have been compiled by an international visitor purporting to be interested in relocating to the country and in participating in the industry, and could have serious ramifications for the R2bn-a-year sector and the roughly 30,000 livelihoods it supports.

It is still unknown what had prompted the farm visits and video. However, contrary to negative expectations brought on by indications from international brands such as H&M, Topshop and Zara that they would phase out their use of the premium fibre, the latest mohair auction held in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday produced strong results. These included all fibre variants being sold at prices that were, on average, 3.9% higher than the industry’s previous auction. Others sold at 4.4% and 5% higher.

In addition, selling prices have been steadily increasing over a number of months and Tuesday’s auction fielded a sales clearance of 98.9% of the available stock on the day.

Legal engagement

In a series of moves to address the issue, Mohair SA — which has oversight on the industry, including aspects such as the treatment of animals, through sustainability guidelines for producers — has contracted top international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright to engage with Peta.

Mohair SA spokesperson Riaan Marais said: "We need Peta to help us stop any animal mistreatment. They have not contacted us at all, but we need to engage with them to establish [at] which farms they allege there was abuse and to get other information from them so we can deal with it."

Marais added that the organisation had also contracted a top, global public relations agency.

Pointing out that significant elements of the video had been taken out of context, Marais said the two farms being audited had not participated in this week’s auction and that a decision on any actions to be taken would be made after the audits and subsequent reports were completed.

"Our industry has in-house mechanisms that include the sustainability guidelines document and a sustainability officer who conducts farm inspections. The inspections have been ongoing, and about 450 farms have already been assessed over the past two years.

"This process will now be speeded up. In addition, independent audits — including the audits of the two farms — are now being conducted by quality assurance entity, the South African Meat Industry Company (SAMIC)," he said, adding that spot checks would also be carried out at farms.

Marais said it was also important to note that mohair shearing is conducted only twice a year, that the shearing process — which was the main activity captured on the video — was normally contracted out to shearing companies by the producers and that Mohair SA followed and complied with all international norms and guidelines concerning the industry.

Adding that, contrary to reports, mohair production had not been halted in the country, he said it was vital to shear the animals every six months due to the dangers overly long hair presented to them. These included their sight becoming restricted and being prone to becoming entangled in bushes and thorns, which could lead to injuries, animals becoming stuck and possibly starving to death.