Problems with Leather
Leather is generally more acceptable to the public than fur and many people buy it to wear as coats and shoes or for use as handbags, wallets and belts. We’ve been told in the past that leather is healthier for our feet because it’s breathable and therefore cuts down on potential foot fungus or other problems.
Most people believe that leather is simply a by-product of the meat industry and therefore no additional cows are killed to make our leather products. In fact this isn’t true. Although the skins from beef cattle are often used, and dairy cattle that have outlived their usefulness are also sold on for leather products, the most prized skins for leather come from calves. Often they are killed at the same time as their milk-producing mothers, or even when their mothers are killed whilst still pregnant – these unborn calves make the softest leather of all and are highly prized.
Treatment of AnimalsCattle are often poorly treated throughout their farmed lives – more so if they are bred overseas in developing countries - and their final moments at the abattoir must also be extremely unpleasant and frightening.
Bear in mind that some endangered or exotic animals are also hunted for their skins to make clothes and accessories. Alligators are farmed. Kangaroos are killed to make football boots. Zebra, bison, elephants, sharks, dolphins, seals, snakes and lizards are just a few of the species hunted for their skins.
TanningAlthough leather is often thought of as biodegradable and therefore eco friendly, the tanning process is often quite toxic. Leather is treated in a number of ways to prevent it breaking down as it would if left as skin, and extremely harsh and very toxic chemicals are used during the treatment. These include cyanide and arsenic, and several other chemicals that are very poisonous if brought in contact with people or make their way into the water supply. Some are carcinogenic. The waste products like hair, slurry, lime and salt all need to go somewhere, and there have been problems safely disposing of it. In the US there was a study on increased child leukaemia near a site where tannery waste had been dumped, which concluded there was a “significantly elevated incidence of childhood leukaemia” amongst those living nearby. Many tanneries have now moved to developing countries where wage costs are cheaper and environmental regulations are less stringent.
Leather AlternativesDespite the problems with leather production, it is quite easy to find alternatives for most leather clothing and accessories. The one area where it might be hard to find an acceptable alternative for leather is where it is used as protective wear – for example by motorcycle riders. But even here there are light yet extremely durable synthetic alternatives available. If you feel you must have leather, try looking in charity or other second hand shops. That way, at least you’re ‘recycling’ a previously bought coat, rather than adding to those bought new and thereby encouraging the continuation of the leather industry. The manufacture of football boots is a huge industry and more than four million kangaroos are shot every year for meat and leather. The official figure does not include the joeys in the pouches of their mothers when shot, which are also killed. By finding alternatives to ‘K Leather’ or ‘KRT’ as some boots are labelled, you will be doing your bit to register disapproval of the practice.
Although we tend to think of leather as a fairly harmless by-product of the meat industry, the truth is quite different and many animals and the environment do suffer in the process of making our leather shoes, trousers, jackets and accessories.