4 Things The Leather Industry Doesn’t Want You To Know

Author: Miriam Porter:

From jackets to boots to purses, too many products are still made from animal skins or hides when humane and eco-friendly alternatives are readily available. Behind each leather item is an animal that endured a horrible life of violence and wanted to live. Research shows the most common animals killed for leather are cows, but leather also comes from pigs, goats, sheep, dogs and cats, and even exotic animals such as ostriches, kangaroos, lizards, crocodiles, snakes, seals, and zebras are killed for their skins. Although many ‘high-end’ leather items are labeled according to animal species, many leather items are not labeled. So if you think you are buying leather from cows or pigs, it’s entirely possible your leather jacket came from cats or dogs. Keep reading to find out what the leather industry doesn’t want you to know.

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A truck filled with bloody cow skins leaves an Ontario slaughterhouse, passing a trailer filled with live cows on their way in.
Louise Jorgensen / We Animals Media.

1. Leather Is Not A Byproduct

Leather is not a byproduct of the meat or dairy industry but rather a coproduct of these industries. Buying leather directly contributes to factory farms destroying our earth and causing environmental destruction. Leather further drives the demand for animals to be abused, exploited, and killed. Animal skins from cows, sheep, goats, and pigs are the most economically significant coproduct of the meat industry. Calfskin, leather from newborn or even unborn calves, is a coproduct of the cruel veal industry and also linked to dairy cows.

If the meat industry didn’t sell the skins of cows and other animals they kill for food, their costs would increase dramatically from lost profits. The leather industry is worth billions of dollars, and slaughterhouses want to make as much money as possible. It is incorrect to believe farmers sell every part of the animal to minimize waste, they do it to maximize profits and gain more revenue. Leather is produced to meet a huge consumer demand for animal skins, and when considering a cow’s financial price, their hide is approximately 10% of their total value, making leather the most valuable co-product of the meat industry. 

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Lima Animal Save bears witness to cows as they arrive at the slaughterhouse.

2. Cows Are Tortured

    Cows are sweet gentle creatures that are very friendly, thoughtful, and intelligent. Cows are socially complex and develop friendships with other cows. They do not deserve the violence they are subjected to for a burger or jacket. Cows killed for their skins are dehorned without painkillers, branded with hot irons, castrated, and have their tails cut off. PETA reports that in India, slaughterhouse workers throw cows to the ground, bind their legs, slit their throats, and they are often still alive and kicking when their skin is ripped off, as seen in their video exposé of Bangladesh’s billion-dollar leather industry.

    Another PETA video exposé of cattle ranches in Brazil shows workers standing on cow’s heads and holding them down while branding their faces with hot irons. Workers drag calves away from their mothers and throw them to the ground to punch holes in their ears.

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    Louise Jorgensen, is an organizer for Toronto Cow Save and bears witness and photographs cows heading to slaughter at St. Helen's Meat Packers. She explains,

    "I have witnessed the terror in the eyes of the cows going into the slaughterhouse and their skins being dragged out shortly after. I have seen inside the leather tannery where their still steaming skins are delivered. I have inhaled the toxic fumes of the chemicals that the workers have to breathe and work in all day long. From violence to cows, to exploitation of workers, to the pollution of our environment; there is nothing humane, or just, or environmentally friendly about animal-based leather."

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    Louise Jorgensen / We Animals Media

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    Louise Jorgensen / We Animals Media

    3. Kangaroos, Crocodiles, Ostriches, And Snakes

      ‘Exotic’ animal skins are worth lots of money. But there is nothing stylish about an overpriced purse made from crocodiles or shoes from kangaroos. Hermès sells crocodile, ostrich, and lizard purses. Gucci sells bags from lizards and pythons and Louis Vuitton sells bags from alligators, goats, and pythons. Snakes are often skinned alive for these ‘luxury’ items and a 2021 PETA Asia investigation in Indonesia exposes the horrors of workers killing and skinning pythons for snakeskin boots and accessories.

      “…workers bash in the heads of snakes with hammers, suspend them while they’re still moving, pump them full of water, and cut off their skin—all while they’re likely still conscious.”

      Animal Australia reports that kangaroos are shot by the millions each year and their skins turned into shoes, gloves, accessories, and souvenirs. Thousands of joeys (baby kangaroos) become collateral damage from this slaughter, many bludgeoned to death or left to starve when their mothers are killed. Although some shoe brands no longer use kangaroo leather to make athletic shoes, Adidas continues to sell shoes made with “premium K-leather” from kangaroos

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      4. Cat And Dog Leather

        If you have a leather jacket, you might be wearing cat or dog leather. PETA explains cats and dogs are slaughtered for their meat and skin in China and exports their skins around the world. Since most leather is not typically labeled, don’t assume it’s from a cow. Animal welfare laws in countries such as China and India, where most leather originates, are either not enforced or simply don’t exist. Leather from these countries is shipped to the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe, and other places. Although the US banned the importation of cat and dog skin and fur in 2000, it’s almost impossible to differentiate cat or dog leather from cow or pig leather and it’s often intentionally mislabeled. According to an article in The Guardian, it’s possible for unscrupulous manufacturers to pass off leather from dogs as leather from legal animals.” China kills millions of cats and dogs annually for their fur, skin, and meat, including animals taken from the streets and animal companions stolen from their homes.

         If you want to save animals, do not support the leather industry, instead, choose cruelty-free products made from sustainable materials.

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