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Ethics of Leather
a vegetarian (one who eats dairy) is it okay to wear leather?
The first thing people say when I tell them I am a vegetarian
is, If you wear leather, it is the same thing as eating
animals. What is the correct response to this, if there
The term "vegetarian" refers only to
what one eats and does not pertain to any other aspect
of one's life. People are drawn to vegetarianism for
a multitude of reasons including ethical, religious,
health, environmental, or economic concerns, or any
combination of these. Once people have adopted a vegetarian
diet, they often discover a multitude of new reasons
for remaining vegetarian. Frequently, those who come
to vegetarianism for ethical reasons decide to take
the next logical step on the compassionate path and
If your decision to be a vegetarian
includes the ethical principle of compassion, you owe
it to yourself and your conscience to fully understand
the interconnectedness of animal commodities. The blunt
truth is that the meat, leather, and dairy industries
are tangibly and economically intertwined.
The animal-based materials that are
prevalent in a culture are determined by the principal
meat industries. For instance, in Australia, where kangaroo
meat is utilized, particularly in the pet food industry,
kangaroo leather is used fairly extensively for handbags,
accessories, and tourist items such as "stuffed" kangaroos
and koalas, as well as for kangaroo skin rugs. In other
parts of the world where sheep meat is favored, sheep
skin, shearling, and wool are rampant. In North America,
cattle are the predominant food animals. Not surprisingly,
leather, the skin of these animals, is widely used.
It is economically foolish for the slaughter
industries to toss away profitable animal parts, so
essentially every appendage, muscle, and organ are baked,
boiled, ground, or otherwise processed into a salable
product. The leather industry is virtually reliant on
the beef industry. The beef industry rakes in even greater
profits because of its ties with the leather industry.
Dairy cows survive only a fraction of
their normal lifespan. In a natural environment, cattle
can live up to twenty-five years. On modern dairy farms,
however, cows are considered "spent" - drained, worn
out, and useless - between four and six years of age.
After enduring incredible physical abuse and stress,
these relatively young cows are unable to continue to
produce sufficient milk or offspring to remain lucrative
for the farmers. Considered an economic liability, they
are shipped off to slaughter.
What happens to slaughtered dairy cows?
They become integrated into the beef-meat industry.
About one-fifth of all hamburger meat in the United
States is made from the flesh of spent dairy cows. Their
hides are used in the production of leather, comprising
the largest percentage of the so-called by-products
of dairying and meat processing.
Another horrifying aspect of these industries
is the use of male calves. Dairy cows are impregnated
at a very young age - sometimes even before their bodies
are mature enough to endure the strain of pregnancy
- in order to make the animals as profitable as possible
as soon as possible. They are then artificially inseminated
shortly after giving birth - a grueling cycle that continues
throughout their unnaturally shortened lives.
Half the calves born will be male, which
are of no use to the dairy farmer. They are, however,
considered valuable to the beef, veal, and leather industries.
The majority of male calves are auctioned to beef producers.
Others will be sold to the vicious veal industry, where
some will be killed immediately to be used to make cheaper-grade
veal products. Others will be sent to veal farms to
live out brief, tortured existences, deprived of their
mother's milk and comfort and denied virtually all sensory
stimulation. Cruel isolation and deprivation methods
are employed because these techniques keep the calves'
flesh tender and white, thereby commanding a higher
price when it is sold. When the calves are only twelve
to sixteen weeks old, they will be slaughtered for the
gourmet veal market.
The soft, unblemished hides of these
little calves is considered quite valuable. It is used
in making expensive calfskin shoe uppers, gloves, wallets,
and other costly accessories. Some dairy cows are sent
to slaughter while they are pregnant. It is not uncommon
for industry workers to abort the baby calves or remove
them after the mothers are slaughtered. The delicate,
unmarred skin of unborn and newly born calves is considered
the finest and most luxurious.
Does purchasing leather goods contribute,
even in some small measure, to the support and perpetuation
of the meat industry? Unquestionably, yes. The use of
leather also helps sustain the dairy industry, which
is responsible for creating and maintaining the veal
industry. The use of dairy products, in turn, helps
subsidize the meat and leather industries. It is a brutal
cycle of cruelty and death among industries that are
financially interdependent and reliant on each other
for a continual supply of animal parts for their raw
In many ways, using leather is comparable
to eating meat. Leather is, by all respects, a by-product
of the meat industry. Therefore, the purchase of leather
goods contributes directly to the continued slaughter
of billions of animals used for meat each year.
People who choose to be vegetarians
because they do not want to participate in the senseless
killing of animals for food must seriously evaluate
the impact of all their lifestyle choices if they want
to maintain a consistent philosophy. From an ethical
perspective, leather, dairy products, and meat are indistinguishable.
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