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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

25 June 2001 Special Issue

There Is No Correct Leather"!

holstein.gif (39851 bytes)pig.gif (18810 bytes)Please note: The following piece about cowskin comes from Jackie Giulano, Ph.D.   It was posted on the Environment News Service.  Giuliano is a writer and teacher in Seattle and can be reached at [email protected] .

Skinned is Skinned:
There Is No Correct Leather
By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

"For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world."
-- Favorite prayer of Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

nl-25jun2001-slaughter1a.jpg (16430 bytes)Many people labor under the erroneous assumption that leather products are acceptable because they are a necessary byproduct of the food industry.  Even if you choose not to eat meat, some believe that since the animals are going to die anyway, why not use the products rather than let them go to waste.

The reality of the leather trade trashes these comfortable notions. Leather production may be the cruelest, most unnecessary of all evils perpetrated upon our animal neighbors, causing more suffering than any other practice.

Meat from factory farmed cow, sheep, pig and goat industries kills 7,000 to 8,000 people or more each year in the U.S. alone, and millions are made sick from eating contaminated meat.

Environmentally, meat production results in life threatening pollution in water supplies around the world from a buildup of nitrates in the groundwater which is tainted by runoff polluted with fecal matter.

The cruelty of the slaughtering process is well established. Many animals are butchered alive due to inefficient processes for rendering them unconscious before they are killed.

nl-25jun2001-slaughter1b.jpg (17911 bytes)More and more people are realizing that eating so much meat has been compromising the health of an already unhealthy population for decades. Even the federal government has revised its food recommendations to lessen the amount of meat recommended in a diet, amidst great opposition from two of the most powerful lobbies in the country - the Meat Advisory Board and the American Dairy Council.

Meat tested in supermarkets has been found to contain measurable levels of the growth hormones, antibiotics and other drugs used to raise cattle.

People in developing countries, where cancer rates are historically low, begin to develop the cancers found in the West when fast food burger chains set up shop.

When you take into account the horrific cruelty of the meat production process, the huge environmental and health impacts of raising and eating meat, and the pharmacopeia of drugs that make their way into the meat, you might think that it would be an easy decision to stay away from meat and leather products.  Yet this is probably one of the most difficult and emotionally charged decisions a person can make.  The attachment to meat is rooted in our profound separation from the natural world and the cycles of life.

Leather is a symbol of success and affluence in the United States.  Having the means to wear the skin of a being that has been killed is a deeply rooted sign of power over the natural world.  Leather symbolizes our distance from nature as well as the cruelty of its production.

nl-25jun2001-slaughter1c.jpg (17317 bytes)Today's meat industry is not sustainable on its own, and it relies on skin sales to remain profitable.  The skin of a slaughtered animal accounts for 55 percent of the value of the products of that animal other than meat.  Leather isn't a harmless slaughterhouse byproduct. The meat industry relies on skin sales to stay in business.

So where does that leather in your sofa or car come from?  It takes the skins of many cows to make one sofa. That leather from cows comes from cows raised for both beef and milk. Cows raised for beef are fed an unnatural diet chicken feces, rendered remains of other animals, high-bulk grains, and other fillers, including sawdust, until they weigh 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.

Dairy cows may have it worse.  Most people never think about it, but the only way to get milk year round from a cow is to keep her constantly pregnant.  Some farmers inject cows with synthetic growth hormones to increase production.  Once cows give birth, their calves are traumatically taken away within days.  The females are added to the dairy herd, and the males are chained in tiny, dark crates to be raised for veal.  When veal calves are slaughtered at about 16 weeks old, they are often too sick or crippled to walk.

A surprising amount of leather comes from India, a place where the cow is supposedly revered. International retailers routinely use skins from cows slaughtered in India, although retailers Nordstroms, Gap Inc. and its subsidiaries, Old Navy, and Banana Republic have agreed to stop selling products from India and China based on information supplied by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

India's Council for Leather Exports agreed last year to address the problem, but it will take some time before they can effect major changes.

nl-25jun2001-slaughter2.jpg (19530 bytes)Leather is not the environmentally friendly product that the industry has suggested.  The adverse environmental and health impacts of the leather industry are huge.  Animal skin is turned into finished leather by the use of many dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and cyanide based oils and dyes.   These chemicals prevent the leather from being naturally biodegradable as the industry claims.  Leather products can last thousands of years and the toxic chemicals with which they are infused leach into the environment during that time.   Leather pieces found in Northern Germany were estimated to be 12,000 years old, dating from the Neolithic and European Bronze Ages!

People who have worked in and lived near tanneries have died of cancer from groundwater contaminated by the toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather.   A New York State Department of Health study found that more than half of all testicular cancer victims worked in tanniers.

Huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock and leather production, while plastic wearable items account for only a fraction of one percent of the petroleum used in the United States. The amount of energy consumed by the leather industry ranks among the paper, steel, cement and petroleum manufacturing industries.

Sports use huge amounts of leather. It takes 3,000 cows to supply the National Football League (NFL) with enough leather for a year's supply of footballs!  It takes the leather of 3.8 steers to make the 72 footballs used in every NFL SuperBowl alone.

Non-leather sports equipment is readily available.  Finding alternatives to leather is easy.  I have non-leather shoes, hiking boots, belts, and bags that wear, look and feel like leather.  I even have drums without skin heads.  The links below will tell you how to find them.

Species that are hunted and killed specifically for their skins include: zebras, bison, water buffalos, boars, deer, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes.  Some of the leather from these animals that makes it to retail outlets is obtained illegally.

Here are some other horrific examples of imported leather goods:

Like those soft, kid leather gloves?  Kid goats may be boiled alive to make them, and the skins of purposely aborted calves and lambs are considered especially luxurious.

Snakes and lizards are often skinned alive because of the widespread belief that live flaying imparts suppleness to the finished leather.

Like that exotic and expensive ostrich skin wallet?  Farmers strip ostriches of their feathers before slaughtering them by pulling feathers from their sockets with pliers or shaving them off with electric shears.  The "New York Times" reported that a slaughterer in California said it took him "two hours of violent struggle to kill a single ostrich."

Like that alligator skin handbag?  PETA has observed workers in alligator factory farms smashing animals over the head with aluminum baseball bats and slicing through their spinal cords with steel chisels and hammers. Some alligators remained conscious and in agony for up to two hours.

It is so easy for us to break the chain of separation from nature that has allowed such cruelty to exist. All we have to do is stop buying leather.

We must decide that our identity is based on who we are, what we care about, what we want to be remembered for, and what we stand for, not how many creatures died to suit our needs.

It is time for the rationalizations to end - and along with them, the suffering.


1. Finding alternatives to leather is easy. Visit the PETA website at:   and find links to many sellers of non-leather products.

2. Learn more about the cruelties of factory farms from Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Farming Association at: .

3. Read about the Environmental Protection Agency's animal waste management activities at: .

4. Get help changing your diet and lifestyle from Earthsave at: and the Vegetarian Resource Group at: .

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found wondering how he will explain all the cruelty in the world to his new son. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: [email protected] .}

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