The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced it was launching protests outside stores in New York and Milan after lobbying Benetton for more than a year to stop using Australian merino wool in its production of high-end jumpers, suits and other apparel.

Australia’s wool industry has been branded by PETA as ‘one of the most violent industries” for the use of a technique called ‘mulesing’, in which loose skin is cut away underneath the tail of sheep to prevent blowfly strike.

“Mulesing is entirely unique to Australia,” PETA’s campaign coordinator Matt Prescott said according to the Herald Sun daily.

“There are wool growers in Australia that don’t use mulesing. It’s a practice that could be phased out today,” he added.

In October, the major US retailer Abercrombie & Fitch succumbed to pressure from PETA and agreed to boycott Australian wool.

The loss prompted Australian woolgrowers on November 8 to agree to completely phase-out mulesing by 2010.

With 5,000 stores worldwide, Benetton reported net revenue of €1.241 million ($AUD 2.183 million) in the nine months to September 2004 and each year the group produces 110 million garments.

The prospect of losing such a major business interest would be a huge blow to Australian woolgrowers.

The wool group, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), commenced legal proceedings to challenge PETA’s activities bringing a case against the animal rights group in Sydney’s Federal Court earlier this month.

The AWI has alleged that PETA is in breach of the boycott provision of the Trade Practices Act through its exertion of pressure on clothing retailers to stop using Australian wool.

However, PETA iss pre-empting that action with the launch of a graphic campaign outside Benetton’s New York store, located on the corner of 5th and 49th Avenues in busy downtown Manhattan.

According to the report by the Herald Sun, massive panels with pictures of ‘mutilated Australian lambs’ will be set up between noon and 1pm to catch the attention of lunchtime crowds.

The screens will carry the tagline ‘Benetton is Baaad to Sheep’.

Pedestrians and customers will also be asked to view a video entitled ‘United Cruelty of Benetton’ and to agree to boycott Benetton outlets.

PETA is also preparing a similar boycott this week outside Benetton’s head store in Milan.

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