23/12/2013 11:27 GMT | Updated 22/02/2014 05:59 GMT

This Holiday Season, Don't Buy Into Cruelty

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, you've no doubt made your lists and are busy checking them twice. While many shoppers go for bargains and convenience, I urge caring consumers to make sure that they're also spending their hard-earned cash with compassion in mind - by looking beyond the price tag on that sweater or scarf.

If the label says, "angora" or "wool" or "leather", please remember that the garment began as a living being - and leave it on the shelf. The only way to ensure that a piece of clothing (or anything else for that matter) is cruelty-free is to shop animal-free.

A recent PETA Asia undercover investigation shows why this approach is so important. PETA Asia's investigator visited angora rabbit farms in China, the source of 90% of the world's angora fur. Video footage from the investigation shows rabbits screaming in pain as their fur is violently ripped from their bodies. Following this terrifying and barbaric ordeal, which the rabbits endure every three months, many of them appear to be stunned and in shock. The rabbits lie motionless inside their tiny, filthy cages. Some seem unable to move. After two to five years, rabbits who have survived this repeated abuse are hung upside down, their throats are slit and their bodies are sold for meat.

One farmer told PETA Asia's investigator that 60% of the rabbits die after only one to two years. Because rabbits are prey animals, they become terrified very easily and fear being picked up. They are prone to heart attacks in stressful situations. The wire cages that they are confined to offer little protection from the elements, and after the rabbits have been plucked, they have no way to keep themselves warm.

In China, there are no penalties for animal abuse on rabbit farms and no standards that regulate the treatment of animals.

Rabbits in the wild can roam an area of up to a square mile, and they live in large groups in complex warrens. But on a typical fur farm, they are individually housed in wire-mesh cages that are not much bigger than their own bodies. When forced to live on wire flooring, rabbits' tender feet become raw, ulcerated and inflamed from constantly rubbing against the mesh. The stench of ammonia from the urine-soaked floors beneath the cages causes their eyes to become irritated and infected. Some rabbits on fur farms die from respiratory ailments.

They spend their entire lives in misery and never have a chance to dig, jump or run as they would in the wild.

Why do farmers do these things to rabbits? Because consumers demand it. Every time we buy an angora sweater or a pair of leather gloves, we're sending a signal to the manufacturer to make more. In the case of angora, the farmers' goal is to produce the greatest volume of rabbit fur in the cheapest way possible.

In the last-minute rush to complete your holiday shopping, don't get caught paying for suffering. As you're choosing presents for your loved ones, please take the time to read the labels - not just the price tags. If the label says "angora," remember the gentle rabbits whose fur was cruelly yanked out of their skin. If it says "down," think about the terrified geese who were squeezed upside down between workers' knees while having fistfuls of feathers violently torn from their skin. Remember that no matter how much you pay for a pair of leather shoes, a coat with a fur collar, a wool suit or an angora sweater, the animals paid a much higher price.

Just leave those items on the shelf.

Our choices matter. We may not be able to stop all suffering instantly, but together we can let retailers know that we won't be bringing cruelty home for the holidays.