Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
31 October 1999 Issue

By Michele Rivera, [email protected]

The U.S. leather industry does a $1.5 billion business tanning over 100 million animal skins! But, we rationalize; these cows are destined for slaughter anyway, so why not use the skin? The truth is, the worth of the animal is the worth of the whole animal, not just the meat, and if we stopped using leather products, and gelatin, and other animal by-products, the cost of meat would soar to an unattainable level for most people, effectively crippling the beef industry. If you stop wearing and using leather, you are doing your part to save animal lives.

By now we are all well aware of the horrors of factory farming: over-crowding, tight confinement, denial of basic needs, castration without employing humane anesthetic agents, hot-iron branding, tail-docking, de-horning, the list goes on and on and on.

Those of us who have switched to a vegetarian lifestyle have the satisfaction of knowing that these animals are not suffering for our benefit, but if you are still buying and wearing leather products, you may have to re-visit your commitment to the animals.

Thankfully, red meat consumption has dropped considerably since the health craze of the seventies (this new protein craze notwithstanding), and now the profits from the blood industry have become much more dependent on the sale of the animals "by-products". The hides account for almost half of the total by-product of the value of cattle. In addition to cows and calves, the skin of aborted calves and lambs (which are turned into expensive and prestigious products), and the skins of horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs slaughtered for meat are also tanned and sold as leather products. Baby goats are boiled alive in the making of "kid gloves".

But other species are not safe just because they are not considered "food animals". Some animals in the US, such as deer, sharks and alligators are killed just for their skins. Animals killed outside the US can include zebras, bison, water buffaloes, kangaroos, elephants, eels, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles and lizards. Snakeskin comes from snakes skinned alive in the widespread belief that the life-blood in the skin keeps the skin supple until tanning.

According to an article written by Todd Steiner and published in the Earth Island Journal (Banned Sea Turtle Products Still Exported From Mexico Summer 1994), "...thousands of endangered olive Ridley sea turtles are captured and butchered illegally in Mexico solely for their skins". Furthermore, up to 30 percent of imported crocodile shoe leather and other wildlife items are made from endangered, illegally poached animals.

People in the bloody business of leather making shout from the rooftops that leather is "biodegradable", and maintain that leather is "ecologically friendly" The truth is, the tanning process (which involves the use of dangerous chemicals), negates the organic collagen and protein; effectively stopping biodegradation. These hazardous chemicals are formaldehyde, coal tar derivatives, oils, dyes, and cyanide-based finishing compounds. Most leather production involves chromium tanning, which is considered hazardous by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The slogan adopted by vegetarians..."Better for the planet, better for the animals and better for you".... can also be pressed into service as an argument against using leather products. No surprises there!

A visit to the website of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) proved highly enlightening -- there are wide and varied alternatives to animal skins. Some of them are cotton, linen, rubber, ramie, canvas, and a whole range of synthetics. There are also some new and exciting products on the market: Avia's Hydrolite and Nike's (1-800-344-NIKE) Durabuck athletic and hiking shoes. This innovative material is permeable and, according to industry sources "will stretch around the foot with the same "give" as leather, provides good support, and is machine washable". Furthermore, non-leather alternative shoes and accessories are up to 75 percent less expensive than animal leather. In May of 1990, Parents magazine conducted a poll. An overwhelming majority of those polled, 69% admitted that they were against killing animals for leather. What makes this poll so significant is that the readers of PARENTS magazine are not, as a group, "animal-rights people". They are decidedly mainstream people. These are the people that can really make a difference if they add their collective voice to the voices of animal advocates!

For all practical purposes, if you are an animal-rights advocate, the wearing of leather shoes is an obvious liability. Many of us has had the experience of being at an animal-rights demonstration where detractors have shouted "Are those leather shoes you are wearing?" This forces us to take the focus off the issue at hand for the moment while we ruefully defend activists wearing leather. How about enjoying a vegan meal while out to dinner with non-animal rights friends. Do we really want to get sidetracked into a whole, inevitable discussion of why we have leather products but won't eat meat? We don't bury the corpses of dead animals in our bodies, why should we surround ourselves with the sad remains of once beautiful, gentle, and sentient creatures?

We can all agree that fur is dead, that compassion is the fashion and that vanity is not a good enough reason to wear fur. With the new non-leather alternatives, we can state with conviction that leather is dead, and that vanity is not a good enough reason to wear leather and compassion really is he fashion for the new millennium.

For more information on non-leather alternatives, visit

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