by Michele McKay

Animal skins

When we consider livestock, we usually think of meat… but leather production is a major and lucrative component of the slaughter industry, with its own grim record of pollution and harm to the environment and to human health.

The livestock industry as a whole is the single largest contributor to environmental destruction – it consumes fossil fuels; it is one of the top sources of greenhouse gas emission; it uses vast quantities of water; it contributes to soil erosion, desertification, and deforestation; and, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, it is the #1 threat to clean water, due to the runoff and dumping of untreated excrement into rivers and waterways. Over 10 billion land animals are slaughtered for meat every year in a process that inflicts terror, suffering, and pain.

As if the raising and killing of animals weren’t destructive enough, the process of turning their skins into leather uses energy, water, and chemicals potent enough to prevent the skin from decomposing. The hazardous ingredients found in tanning formulas include mineral salts, formaldehyde, oils, waxes, dyes, and finishes. Effluent from tanneries is a toxic cocktail that typically contains salts, sulfides, acids, chromium, lime sludge, and particles of animal flesh and fat.

Human and environmental health

The toll of leather production on human health and on the environment is high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that leukemia rates near one US tannery were five times the average, and studies of tannery workers in Sweden and Italy found cancer rates up to 50% higher than expected. The environmental impact of leather tanning varies according to methods used and environmental regulations followed. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization reports that most tanning operations have shifted from developed to undeveloped countries in favor of lax environmental regulations and cheap labor.

What you can do

You can "vote" for compassion as well as for human and environmental health whenever you shop. There are many alternatives to leather... think about it before selecting leather upholstery, buying a leather jacket, or making other livestock-related choices. Our decisions do make a difference to the welfare of animals, humans, and the planet.