Part of being an ethical vegan means living ethically, including dressing ethically. What you wear could be sourced from suffering, which is totally unnecessary in this age of abundant, gorgeous faux materials that show you are a person of good conscience. Read on to learn the origins of animal-derived clothing.
–Leather – The skins of the animals used for meat represent the most economically important byproduct of the meat packing industry. When dairy cows produces less milk, they will often be killed and their skin made into leather, and the hides of their offspring, calves raised for veal, are made into high-priced calfskin. The economic success of the slaughterhouse (and the factory farm) is directly linked to the sale of leather goods.
Leather production is also very dangerous for the environment, and tanning prevents leather from biodegrading. Animal skin is turned into finished leather using a variety of dangerous substances, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of which are cyanide-based. Most leather that is produced in the U.S. is chrome-tanned, and the Environmental Protection Agency considers all waste that contains chromium to be hazardous. In addition to the toxic substances mentioned above, tannery effluent also contains large amounts of other pollutants, such as protein, hair, salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids. Among the disastrous consequences of this noxious waste is the threat to human health from the highly elevated levels of lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde in the groundwater near tanneries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area surrounding one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average. (from PETA)
–Wool – Some people think vegans are a little silly for not wearing wool because the sheep need to be sheared anyway. Well, conditions for sheep that are mass-farmed are really horrible. There’s a lot of cruelty in this industry. First of all, the animals are in existence primarily for human use, and were bred to have extremely thick coats, while naturally, sheep have just enough of a coat to be able to grow it and shed it themselves as needed. Here’s some more information on the cruel industry (from Vegan Peace):
Mulesing: Since domesticated sheep can not shed their fleece themselves, their wool will grow longer and longer while flies lay eggs in the moist folds of their skin. The hatched maggots can eat the sheep alive. To prevent this from happening, ranchers will perform an operation called mulesing. Without anesthesia large strips of flesh are cut of the backs of lambs and around their tails. Other procedures performed without anesthesia include punching a hole in the ears of lambs several weeks after birth, docking their tails and castrating the males. The castrations are done when the male lambs are between 2 and 8 weeks old, with the use of a rubber ring to cut off their blood supply.
Shearing: Sheep are sheared in the spring, just before they would naturally shed their winter coats. Because shearing too late would mean a loss of wool, most sheep are sheared while it is still too cold. An estimated one million sheep die every year of exposure after premature shearing. Another problem with sheep shearing is that the shearers are not paid by the hour, but by volume. They handle the animals very roughly and a lot of sheep get injured. Smaller farms may treat their sheep better, but they may exist at all because they are selling the young ones off to slaughter or are killing the older ones after a while for their hides.
Holding Pens: When the wool production of sheep declines, they are sold for slaughter. Millions of lambs and sheep are exported for slaughter each year. In Australia they have to travel long distances before reaching very crowded feedlots, where they are held before being loaded onto ships. Many sheep die in the holding pens.
Transport: Those who survive the holding pens are packed tightly into ships. Lambs born during the trip are often trampled to death. A lot of sheep get injured or die. In Europe they have to travel long distances in tightly packed trucks without food or water. They are frequently exported to countries with minimal slaughter regulations and where the sheep are often conscious while being dismembered.
–Silk – The most common species of silkworm (moth larvae) used in commercial silk production has been ‘cultivated’ over many centuries and no longer exists in the wild. On mulberry trees in temperate and disease-controlled conditions, the female deposits annually 1 or 2 batches of 300 to 400 eggs. She secretes a sticky substance and fastens the eggs to a flat surface. The larvae hatch in about 10 days and eat 50,000 times their initial weight in plant material. The silkworm produces a fine thread from its silk glands and uses it to make a cocoon around itself consisting of around 300,000 figure of eight movements. Naturally, the pupae stage would be followed by the secretion of an alkali substance which would eat through the threads – allowing the subsequent emergence of a moth. However, the industry requires the threads to remain intact and so, upon the completion of the cocoon, the pupae are killed by immersion in boiling water, steaming, oven drying or exposure to the hot sun. The producers allow enough adult moths to emerge to ensure continuity of the cycle. The usable silk from each cocoon is minute – around 500 silkworms (or 80kg of cocoons) and 200 kg of mulberry leaves are required to produce just 1 kg of silk. (from VeganViews)
Fur– I am going to give you info straight from PETA here because they have compiled their research so well. Eighty-five percent of the fur industry’s skins come from animals living captive in fur factory farms. These farms can hold thousands of animals, and their farming practices are remarkably uniform around the globe. As with other intensive-confinement animal farms, the methods used in fur factory farms are designed to maximize profits, always at the expense of the animals.
Painful and Short Lives
The most commonly farmed fur-bearing animals are minks, followed by foxes. Chinchillas, lynxes, and even hamsters are also farmed for their fur. Seventy-three percent of fur farms are in Europe, 12 percent are in North America, and the rest are dispersed throughout the world, in countries such as Argentina, China, and Russia. Mink farmers usually breed female minks once a year. There are about three or four surviving kittens in each litter, and they are killed when they are about 6 months old, depending on what country they are in, after the first hard freeze. Minks used for breeding are kept for four to five years. The animals—who are housed in unbearably small cages—live with fear, stress, disease, parasites, and other physical and psychological hardships, all for the sake of an unnecessary global industry that makes billions of dollars annually.
Rabbits are slaughtered by the millions for meat, particularly in China, Italy, and Spain. Once considered a mere byproduct of this consumption, the rabbit-fur industry demands the thicker pelt of an older animal (rabbits raised for meat are killed at the age of 10 to 12 weeks). The United Nations reports that countries such as France are killing as many as 70 million rabbits a year for fur, which is used in clothing, as lures in flyfishing, and for trim on craft items.
Life on the ‘Ranch’
To cut costs, fur farmers pack animals into small cages, preventing them from taking more than a few steps back and forth. This crowding and confinement is especially distressing to minks—solitary animals who may occupy up to 2,500 acres of wetland habitat in the wild. The anguish and frustration of life in a cage leads minks to self-mutilate—biting at their skin, tails, and feet—and frantically pace and circle endlessly. Zoologists at Oxford University who studied captive minks found that despite generations of being bred for fur, minks have not been domesticated and suffer greatly in captivity, especially if they are not given the opportunity to swim.Foxes, raccoons, and other animals suffer just as much and have been found to cannibalize their cagemates in response to their crowded confinement. Animals in fur factory farms are fed meat byproducts considered unfit for human consumption. Water is provided by a nipple system, which often freezes in the winter or might fail because of human error.
Poison and Pain
No federal humane slaughter law protects animals in fur factory farms, and killing methods are gruesome. Because fur farmers care only about preserving the quality of the fur, they use slaughter methods that keep the pelts intact but that can result in extreme suffering for the animals. Small animals may be crammed into boxes and poisoned with hot, unfiltered engine exhaust from a truck. Engine exhaust is not always lethal, and some animals wake up while they are being skinned. Larger animals have clamps attached to or rods forced into their mouths and rods are forced into their anuses, and they are painfully electrocuted. Other animals are poisoned with strychnine, which suffocates them by paralyzing their muscles with painful, rigid cramps. Gassing, decompression chambers, and neck-breaking are other common slaughter methods in fur factory farms.
The fur industry refuses to condemn even blatantly cruel killing methods. Genital electrocution—deemed “unacceptable” by the American Veterinary Medical Association in its “2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia”—causes animals to suffer from cardiac arrest while they are still conscious. In 1994, Indiana became the first state to file criminal charges against a fur factory farm after PETA investigators documented genital electrocution at V-R Chinchillas. The chinchilla fur industry considers electrocution and neck-breaking “acceptable.”
Would You Wear Your Dog?
When PETA conducted an undercover investigation into the dog and cat fur trade in 2005, investigators went to an animal market in Southern China and found that dogs and cats were languishing in tiny cages, visibly exhausted. Some had been on the road for days, transported in flimsy wire-mesh cages with no food or water. Animals were packed so tightly into cages that they could not move. Because of the cross-country transport in such deplorable conditions, our investigators saw dead cats on top of the cages, dying cats and dogs inside the cages, and cats and dogs with open wounds. Some animals were lethargic, and others were fighting with each other, driven insane from confinement and exposure. All of them were terrified.
Investigators reported that up to 8,000 animals were loaded onto each truck, with cages stacked on top of each other. Cages containing live animals were tossed from the tops of the trucks onto the ground 10 feet below, shattering the legs of the animals inside them. Many of the animals still had collars on, a sign that they were once someone’s beloved companions, stolen to be bludgeoned, hanged, bled to death, and strangled with wire nooses so that their fur can be turned into coats, trim, and trinkets.
Undercover investigators from Swiss Animal Protection/EAST International toured fur farms in China’s Hebei Province and found that foxes, minks, rabbits, and other animals were pacing and shivering in outdoor wire cages, exposed to everything from scorching sun to freezing temperatures to driving rain. Disease and injuries are widespread on these farms, and animals suffering from anxiety-induced psychosis chew on their own limbs and repeatedly throw themselves against the cage bars.
The globalization of the fur trade has made it impossible to know where fur products come from. Skins move through international auction houses and are purchased and distributed to manufacturers around the world, and finished goods are often exported. Even if a fur garment’s label says that it was made in a European country, the animals were likely raised and slaughtered elsewhere—possibly on an unregulated Chinese fur farm.
Contrary to fur-industry propaganda, fur production destroys the environment. The amount of energy needed to produce a real fur coat from ranch-raised animal skins is approximately 15 times that needed to produce a fake fur garment. Nor is fur biodegradable, thanks to the chemical treatment applied to stop the fur from rotting. The process of using these chemicals is also dangerous because it can cause water contamination.
Each mink skinned by fur farmers produces about 44 pounds of feces. Based on the total number of minks skinned in the United States in 2004, which was 2.56 million, mink factory farms generate tens of thousands of tons of manure annually. One result is nearly 1,000 tons of phosphorus, which wreaks havoc on water ecosystems.
Fur in Sheep’s Clothing
As fur sales decline, sales of shearling—lambs’ skin with the wool attached—have risen. Some fur manufacturers have actually taken to disguising mink as shearling.Many people are unaware of shearling’s origins or that shearling sales are an incentive for sheep ranchers to increase their stock, thereby adding to the plight of sheep. In Afghanistan, karakul sheep are now raised to produce lambs for the high-end market in “Persian lamb” coats and hats. For “top-quality” lamb skin, the mother is killed just before giving birth and her fetus is cut out. The pelts of the unborn lambs are prized in the fashion world for their silk-like sheen. One karakul hat requires the skin from an entire lamb. (from PETA)
So, if you’re looking to reduce suffering and to be an ethical vegan, you’ll realize the harm in supporting these cruel industries and opt for the many stylish vegan clothing choices available.