Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Leather: No Friend of the Earth

Leather: No Friend of the Earth

Raising animals for food and leather requires huge amounts of feed crop and pastureland, water, and fossil fuels. Animals on factory farms produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, without the benefit of waste treatment plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even acknowledged that livestock pollution is the greatest threat to our waterways.

Although some leather makers deceptively tout their products as "eco-friendly," turning skin into leather also requires massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. Most leather produced in the U.S. is chrome-tanned; all wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the EPA. Tannery effluent contains large amounts of pollutants, such as salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids. The process of tanning stabilizes the collagen or protein fibers in skins so that they actually stop biodegrading so that leather doesn't rot right off your feet. Additionally, to raise the animals whose skin eventually becomes leather, trees are cleared to create pastureland, vast quantities of water are used, and feedlot and dairy-farm runoff create a major source of water pollution. Huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production. (By contrast, plastic wearables account for only a fraction of the petroleum used in the U.S.)

People who work in and live near tanneries suffer too. Many are dying from cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average. Arsenic, a common tannery chemical, has long been associated with lung cancer in workers who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Studies of leather-tannery workers in Sweden and Italy found cancer risks "between 20% and 50% above [those] expected."

Wearing leather hurts animals, the environment, and the people who produce it. The only ones who benefit are the people who profit from the misery and suffering of others.

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