Updated: May 7
When people think about going vegan they think of food. No more cheese, no more bacon, lentil burgers instead of hamburgers. These days that's not how things are at all, there are really good replacements for just about everything that a meat eater could want. What a lot of people don't think about is the other animal products, things like wool, makeup, leather and silk.
The wool industry is often over looked in veganism
What Else Are Animals Used For?
Animals' bodies are used to make a myriad of everyday items. Pretty much everybody knows that leather comes, mainly, from cows, but goat skin and other animals, including dogs, can have their skins used to make fabrics and "luxury" items. But, animals bodies are also exploited for other items where you wouldn't expect to find any kind of animal product. Plastic bags, glue, drum skins, fabric softener, even violin strings are made from parts of pigs. Cows are used for wax, soap, crayons, rubber and paint. Birds are used for feathers and sheep for wool, car upholstery and brushes. There aren't many animals that are safe from humans, up to and including insects.
If The Animal Is Already Dead, What's the harm?
It is a commonly held belief that leather, feathers and other animal products are taken from animals' bodies after they have died. However, this only works for some items, not all of them. When animals are farmed, roughly 55% of the animal is considered an edible by-product. The rest is considered to be inedible parts. These inedible animal parts are split and used in a variety of industries, including cosmetics, fabrics, pharmaceuticals, fertiliser, and more.
Wool: PETA have been fighting for years to end the wool industry. They have investigated the workings of how wool is produced and have released dozens of videos documenting cruelty to sheep at over 100 wool-industry facilities around the world. In England, workers kicked, punched, and stamped on sheep’s heads, jabbing them in the face with sharp metal clippers. The sheep were left with huge gashes on their bodies, these were later sewn shut with no painkillers and nothing to ease the animals' suffering. The shearing itself is often carried out without the use of painkillers. Farmers will use knives, hot irons, or tight clamps to sever parts of the animals' bodies. Lambs, only a few weeks old, will have holes punched into their ears and their tails are cut off. Another problem of this industry is that sheep "need" shearing only because the wool industry breeds them to grow an unnaturally heavy coat. Native breeds regulate their body temperature without human interference and will naturally shed their hair when the weather gets warmer. Like chickens being bred to grow more muscle than is natural, sheep are manipulated in the same way to grow wool.
Leather: Every year, the leather industry slaughters more than a billion animals. Many of these animals have not been slaughtered for meat, just their skins. Before being turned into belts, bags and shoes, the animals suffer all of the horrors of factory farming; intensive confinement in filthy cages or pens, castration without pain relief, chronic infections and disease caused by extreme crowding, and a terrifying trip to the slaughterhouse.
Feathers and Down: The production of feathers and down is a standalone industry. The feathers do not come from animals that have been killed for another process, such as meat production. Often, the animals used in meat and egg production do not have many feathers. They are so poorly treated that the feathers don't grow well. Feathers and down are produced through live plucking. This is a process of pulling feathers out of the birds skin. There is no nice way of doing this, in the same way that there is no nice way of pulling the hair out of a person's head. The birds are held down, their feathers are ripped out, leaving the birds bald, bleeding and terrified. When their feathers grow back the process is repeated. This continues until the bird is send to slaughter, if it doesn't die of shock first.
There is no way to justify treating animals like this. We don't need it, they don't want it, it harms them and the industries are bad for the environment. People who work in or live near leather tanneries suffer. Cancer rates are extremely high in the areas around these factories, possibly caused by exposure to the toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukaemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times higher than the U.S. average. Turning skin into leather uses huge amounts of energy and hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives and cyanide-based chemicals. The waste from tannery factories contain large amounts of pollutants, including salt, lime sludge, sulphides, and acids. The problem with leather is that it has to go through the tanning process to stabilise the collagen or protein fibres in the animal skins so that they don't degrading, otherwise the leather would rot in your wardrobe.
In the last half century, 70% of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared to make way for farming. Leather has the greatest impact on eutrophication, a serious ecological problem in which the runoff of waste creates an overgrowth of plant life in water systems. This suffocates animals living in the water by depleting oxygen levels, this is the leading cause of hypoxic zones, also known as “dead zones.” The EPA has confirmed that factory farms account for 70% of the water pollution in the U.S. By some estimates, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s transportation systems combined. It's time for a change.
* The pages linked contain distressing information. Please be aware before clicking:
You can watch PETA's wool exposé videos here.
You can read about the reptile leather industry in Indonesia from PETA here