ISSUE 4                                                                   BY SHAAN JASSAL

The production of both fur and leather creates social and economic advantages and environmental and ethical disadvantages. The ethical concequences from the production of these different materials therefore begs the question: are animals lives more significant than clothing materials? Are some materials worth the death of millions of animals each year?

A reason that leather is thought of as morally acceptable is that it is a by-product from animals such as cows, pigs and sheep, meaning that when these animals are killed for their meat the leftover parts are being used to make leather instead of throwing them away. Professor Carrigan who specializes on consumer ethics says we eat meat, so for some consumers it is acceptable to use the ‘by-product’ of eating animals Unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, you should have no problem with the production of leather. However, Stella McCartney, a fashion designer says that “Leather isn’t a by-product. It is the most important co-product of the meat industry.”

Leather is an essential fabric used in our everyday lives as a strong and protective material. Professor Carrigan pointed out how convenience plays in our decision-making. “It seems easy to give up fur on a moderate budget, but more difficult to give up wearing leather.” Fur on the other hand is commonly perceived as an extravagance;  Katherine Schafler, a psychiatrist in NYC, says, “It’s provocative to wear fur[...]it’s a wealth statement.” As fur is only used as a fashion trend, only a small fraction of society uses it, causing us to question whether fur is needed at all.

Many animals are killed for their fur, including foxes, rabbits , cats and dogs. Endangered and threatened species are illegally poached and traded for their skins, contributing to the extinction of these species.  These animals are not commonly killed for their meat at all, just for their skin; it is not a byproduct, meaning that it is completely unethical.

The most widely farmed animal for its fur is the mink, and they are confined in constricting farm cages and are denied their natural habitat. The animals meet their end through gassing or electrocution through the mouth and anus. The paramount concern to the fur farmers is not the welfare of the animals, but the preservation of their fur. Much of the world’s fur is processed in places like China, where environmental regulations are often non-existent or completely ignored. These regulations needs to be changed, as they allow devastating amounts of animal abuse including extreme confinement and unanaesthetized castration, and is one of the main reasons people think it should be impermissible.

There are many health and environmental issues associated with the production of leather. The CDC found that the incident of leukaemia among residents near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average. Studies have shown that even finished leather products such as gloves and shoes contain high levels of toxic chemicals that pose great harm to people wearing these fabrics, raising the question: is the production of leather worth these deadly health issues, or is the loss of this material too great? 

Leather production has been transferred from European countries and the U.S. to less developed areas overseas. The Bangladesh Tanners Association President  Mr. Chowdhury said, “Most of the European countries and USA are discontinuing leather processing, as [the] leather industry is an environmentally hazardous one.” The health of people in other parts of the world is now being threatened by the tanning industry. Fur farms also harm the environment, which creates unnecessary harm for an invaluable material. “The production of fur creates more greenhouse gases and water and air pollution than any other textile” states Lucy Siegle, a writer on environmental issues.

The use of animal products will always be surrounded in controversy but it seems that the need for killing for fur is an even more unnecessary and unjustifiable practice. Even though the production of both a leather jacket and a fur coat includes animal abuse and harming the environment, a leather jacket holds many purposeful uses and features, whereas a fur coat doesn’t. Therefore, the production of fur must be stopped, and the leather production must be limited. It is man’s responsibility to ensure the survival of as many creatures that are alive today, and it seems that both the fur and leather industry flies in the face of all of this.

By Shaan Jassal, William Perkin CofE High School