While many people think it is cruel to kill animals for their fur, leather remains a popular consumer item, even though both products require the killing of animals. Most consumers mistakenly assume that leather is merely a by-product of the meat industry, and that buying leather clothing does not increase the number of animals slaughtered. However, this belief ignores the economic interdependence of factory farming and the leather trade.

In reality, leather is a co-product of the meat industry, generating significant profits for both factory farms and the leather trade itself. In fact, without the lucrative sale of animal skins for leather, factory farms would not even be able to turn a profit by selling meat alone. Ultimately, buying leather products subsidizes factory farms while providing financial incentive for them to produce more leather.

Where Leather Comes From

Most leather comes from cattle who are slaughtered for meat, worn-out dairy cows who no longer produce enough milk to be profitable, and veal calves whose soft skin is particularly valuable. Each of these animals suffers a lifetime of cruel confinement and is ultimately harvested for their milk and/or flesh. They also suffer from overcrowding, weather extremes, and lack of food and water on the long trip to the slaughterhouse, with many dying on the way.

Much of the leather purchased in the U.S. is imported from India and China, where conditions for animals are particularly cruel and the cows are so malnourished that they yield little if any meat. Old and sick cows are often forced to march long distances, then crammed tightly into illegal transport trucks that take them to the slaughterhouse. Upon arrival, handlers beat and torture weak and injured cows to force them to walk to the killing floor, then slit their throats while they are still fully conscious. Most clothing labels only specify where the product was finished, not where the leather came from, so if you purchase leather you may be supporting this extreme animal cruelty without even knowing it.

Other animals used to make leather include horses, sheep, lambs, goats and pigs who are raised and slaughtered for meat, as well as kangaroos, elephants, and sharks who are hunted specifically for their skins. In some countries, even dogs and cats are killed for their skins, yet because the products are deliberately mislabeled, consumers around the world unknowingly buy leather made from former companion animals.

Environmental Hazards

Not only is the breeding and killing of animals for leather cruel in itself, but the chemicals used in the tanning process – including formaldehyde, chromium, arsenic, and cyanide-based dyes and finishes – pose serious threats to both the environment and human health. Studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found a higher incidence of leukemia among populations living near tanneries, and other research has shown highly elevated cancer rates among tannery workers.

Alternatives to Leather

Many fashionable clothing items and accessories are now made from synthetic materials rather than animal skins. Many non-leather items are sold in discount shoe stores, or you can shop online for an even larger selection. Check out www.veganstore.comwww.veganessentials.com and www.mooshoes.com for stylish non-leather shoes, handbags, wallets, belts and other accessories.