"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." Dalai Lama

What’s Wrong with Leather?

by Biophile Staff

FILED IN: Animals and Animal Welfare · Ethical Consumerism · Issue 1

Millions of cows, pigs, sheep, and goats are slaughtered for their skins every year. They are castrated, branded, dehorned and have their tails docked without anaesthetics.

Then they are trucked to slaughter, bled to death, and skinned. Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse by-product — it’s a booming industry. The meat industry relies on skin sales to stay in business because the skin represents the most economically important byproduct of the meat-packing industry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Animal skin is turned into finished leather through the use of extremely dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes, chrome, and other toxins.

People who have worked in and lived near tanneries are dying of cancer caused by exposure to 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 work in tanneries.

When you buy leather products, you may be purchasing leather from Asian dog and cat tanneries; because product labeling rarely indicates where the skins originate, there’s no way to know for sure.

What’s wrong with silk?
Silk is the fibre that silkworms weave to make cocoons. To obtain silk, manufacturers boil worms alive in their cocoons.
Humane alternatives to silk include milkweed seed-pod fibers, silk-cotton tree and ceiba tree filaments.

What’s wrong with down?
Down — which is used to fill comforters, pillows, parkas, and other products — is the soft underfeathering of geese.

Down is plucked from geese either after slaughter or while they are being raised for meat or foie gras (“fatty liver”), which is produced by force-feeding geese through a funnel until their livers balloon to seven to 12 times their normal size. Plucking birds causes them considerable pain and distress; one study found that the blood glucose level, an indicator of stress, of geese nearly doubled as they were being plucked.

Down is expensive and loses its insulating ability when wet, while the insulating capabilities of cruelty-free synthetic fillers persist in all weather conditions.

What’s wrong with wool?
Shearing sheep involves more than just a haircut. Sheep need the wool that they naturally produce to protect themselves from temperature extremes.

Because shearers are usually paid by volume rather than by the hour, they often work too fast and disregard the animals’ welfare. Sheep are routinely punched, kicked, and cut during the shearing process.

Much of the world’s wool comes from Australia and New Zealand, where almost 140 million sheep each year undergo a gruesome procedure called mulesing (see box at right), in which shears are used to slice dinner-plate-sized chunks of skin off the backsides of live animals without anesthetics.

Millions of sheep raised for wool in Australia and New Zealand are shipped to the Middle East for slaughter. These animals are placed on overcrowded, disease-ridden ships with little access to food or water for weeks or even months. During their grueling journeys, they suffer through weather extremes, and temperatures on the ships can exceed 100°F. Many fall ill when they become stuck in faeces and are unable to move, and many others are smothered or trampled to death by other sheep.

Intensive sheep farming, especially in Australia, is responsible for the degradation of natural waterways and land habitats and for the emission of greenhouse gases, such as methane, into the atmosphere.

When you buy wool products, it is likely that you are buying wool from sheep who were raised in Australia or New Zealand, and since most wool is routed through China or Italy for processing, product labeling rarely indicates where the wool originated.

Mulesing: The mutilation of sheep in Australia
Can you imagine the public outcry if someone grabbed a dog and sliced away skin and flesh the size of a dinner plate from around its anus and tail with a pair of shears and without anaesthetic?
Australian laws, while prohibiting such cruelty on companion animals, allow this vicious act to be carried out on millions of sheep every year. A sheep that has just been mulesed Mulesing involves cutting off a piece of skin and flesh the size of a dinner plate from the back end of a merino lamb, and sometimes from the shoulders and face as well.

No anesthetic is used
This barbaric practice is done to remove folds of skin which attract the blowfly to lay her eggs therbey causing a debilitating disease called “breech strike”, and was “invented” in 1923 by a farmer called Mules. It is still in prominent use in Australia, particularly for flocks exceeding 10 000 in which case 95% of the sheep are mulesed.

Is mulesing necessary?
No, but Australia’s State Agriculture Departments promote it because it is cheaper and easier to mules once, rather than to provide proper management such as good breeding, inspection and crutching.

Mulesing is performed to save labour costs and is an economic decision
In a NSW Department of Agriculture publication entitled Science and the Merino Breeder, the authors Dun and Eastoe confirm this: “Breech strike by the sheep blowfly is a good example of a major disease which can be largely controlled by the breeding for absence of skin folds.”


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  1. Wow. That’s disgusting. I’m off wool, silk and down from now on. Was already off leather (I haven’t thrown out the leather stuff i already owned though…) I feel quite disheartened with the atrocity of this world.

    Comment by Mica

  2. I’m pleased you have raised the issue of animal cruelty in Australia. I am an Ozzie and feel much shame over the institutionalised torture and torment of livestock in my country. Most people are unaware that in Australia, cattlemen are permitted to enter a cow from the back end and cut out a cow’s ovaries without anaesesthia. Castration of sheep and cattle is similar - no pain relief - branding and dehorning also. Then there’s filing of pigs’ teeth and battery hens living a short life of abject misery. All are force-fed hormone growth stimulants, antibiotics etc. which invade the food chain.

    Last year with Australia’s live exports to the Middle East, 40,000 diseased and dead (I hope) livestock were dumped overboard and the industry refers to this as only “one percent.” Billions of tonnes of contaminated animal faeces and urine have gone into our fragile oceans, impacting on marine life.

    There are many thousands of fair-minded Australians objecting - to no avail. Our country is governed by a short-sighted and sadistic regime. Animal torture is necessary for “economic progress” and our governments are captured by the powerful and unethical meat industry supported by live exporters.

    Please alert your people to these atrocities. Best wishes.

    Comment by Maxie

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