Leather is a material made from the skin of an animal and commonly used in the fashion industry. To make jackets, coats, boots, handbags, and other accessories, the leather industry brutally slaughters billions of animals every year.
In 2018, the number of cows, calves, buffaloes, goats, and pigs killed for their hide and skin to make leather increased to more than 2.29 billion worldwide, according to the FAO. In the United States, around 159 million animals are slaughtered each year for the leather industry, which is four times more than in 1980.
That's only considering cattle, buffalos, goats, and pigs. Leather is also made from the skin of sheep, crocodiles, ostriches, kangaroos, lizards, as well as dogs and cats.
Just like wool and fur, leather production is cruel and unnecessary. People are becoming aware of the unethical practices happening in the textile and apparel industry.
Leather tanning not only makes billions of animals suffer, but it's also highly damaging to the environment, ecosystems, and workers' health.
Here are some facts you should know about the mass killing of animals for leather.
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Animals killed around the world for leather
Leather is so much more than just a by-product of the meat industry. Today, it's a booming industry on its own.
The largest producer of skins and hides is China, with more than 892 million animals killed for leather in 2018, followed by the United States (159 million), and Brazil (85 million), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization on the United Nations.
More than 2.29 billion cows, calves, buffaloes, pigs, and goats are killed each year for their skins globally.
Other animals such as deer, zebras, seals, sheep, alligators, snakes, sharks, cats, and dogs are brutally slaughtered to produce leather. They are hunted, caged, farmed, and even skinned alive after living in inhumane conditions.
Most of the leather we wear in the United States comes from Asia. The top producers of leather goods in Asia are China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. Most animals are slaughtered for their skins in these countries as well.
As soon as they don't produce enough wool, sheep are killed for their meat and skin. Sheepskin or shearling is the sheep hide with the fur left on. Sheep leather has the fur removed before tanning.
More than 715 million sheep are brutally slaughtered for their skins each year worldwide, after walking long distances and living in crowded conditions. Many sheep even die prematurely from injury, disease, exhaustion, or exposure.
Read up my article on why you should stop wearing wool to learn more about the disastrous impact of the wool industry.
Animals are often killed very young to preserve the smoothness and softness of their skin. The best leather quality comes from skins and hides that don't have any damage, scratch, parasite, or contamination yet.
We have been conditioned to believe that seeing animals as commodities is OK. But the mass farming and killing of animals isn't sustainable and has a high cost for all of us in the long run.
A common misconception is that leather is simply a by-product of the meat industry. Many people believe that they prevent more waste by buying and wearing leather clothing and accessories.
A lot of leather comes from animals being slaughtered for their meat. But the most expensive leather is made from exotic and very young animals, some even unborn, taken from their mother’s wombs, purely for aesthetic reasons.
All animal products and by-products are interdependent. Animal parts are sold not to minimize waste but to maximize profits. The skins and hides are the most valuable parts of animals, as reported by Bloomberg. And leather goods are produced first and foremost to meet consumers' demand.
Leather is a very lucrative business. But it has a catastrophic social and environmental impact. It's now part of the fast fashion industry, responsible for the mass production of cheap trendy clothing made available in high-street stores weekly.
Like many other fast fashion products, leather is now disposable for a lot of consumers. Some don't even realize it and are insensitive to the cruelty animals have to face to make leather goods.
Why animals shouldn't be killed for leather
Most of the leather we find in high street stores comes from Asian countries, where almost no law exists to protect animals from cruelty.
They have to endure pain, confinement, deprivation, castration, and cruel treatments before being brutally slaughtered. Even cats and dogs have to die to make leather products that are often mislabeled before being exported to developed countries.
The mass farming and killing of animals require enormous amounts of resources such as feed, land, water, and energy.
Tanning also requires huge amounts of hazardous chemicals, polluting nearby environments, soil, rivers, water sources, damaging ecosystems, and workers' health.
Leather isn't biodegradable or eco-friendly, contrary to popular belief. Around the world, tanning creates large quantities of chromium waste, considered toxic by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Assessment of the Environmental Release of Chemicals from the Leather Processing Industry estimates that chrome-tanning facilities need about 57,000 liters for every ton of hides and produce one ton of solid waste.
The process of tanning leather is shockingly poisonous, especially in areas with fewer regulations.
Intensive farming and killing of animals create massive quantities of methane, as a by-product of farm animals' digestion, which accelerates global warming drastically. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gas because of its ability to absorb heat in the atmosphere.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 20 years, one kilogram of methane warms the planet as much as 80 times more than one kilogram of carbon dioxide.
Greenpeace published in 2009 a three-year investigation showing that 80% of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production. Animal agriculture, livestock and animal feed, is a significant driver of deforestation and is also responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas emissions.
Luckily, conscious consumerism is rising. People now pay more attention to the social and environmental impact of their clothing purchases. And a lot of fashion designers and brands use stylish fabrics that don’t require animal skin.
Watch Stella MacCartney as she explains why she doesn't use leather at all to design her new collections in her interview with PETA:
Too many animals are killed for leather each year (more than 2.29 billion around the world). It's cruel, unethical, and highly damaging to the environment.
We now can choose alternatives to leather that protects people, animals, and the planet. Look for cruelty-free materials that are also sustainable and environmentally friendly.
If you are new to conscious fashion, I encourage you to check out my article on the top 10 eco-friendly and sustainable fabrics for clothing.
Choose high quality, durability, and simplicity over pollution, suffering, eco-toxicity, and human-toxicity.
Do you know some great places to shop stylish clothing responsibly?
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.