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Hell for Leather by John, Vegan Views 86 (Autumn 2000)

Fur. We've all heard about and been saddened by the conditions endured by animals imprisoned on fur farms. We've all seen and been sickened by the photographs of innocent animals caught in steel-jaw leghold traps, screaming and writhing in pain, limbs crushed to splintered pulp. The case against fur is a powerful one. The case against leather on the other hand is, at first glance, seemingly less convincing.

"Leather is just a by product of the slaughter industry", "the animal has already been killed for its meat so you might as well make use of its skin", these well-worn arguments only serve to give credence to the notion that leather isn't cruel.

Also of course, fur bearing animals have the advantage of being infinitely more aesthetically appealing to the eye than most of their leather-providing counterparts.

But I ask you is wearing the skin of one sentient, ensouled being any less of a moral abomination than wearing the fur of another?

Leather falls into two categories 'farm animal leather' and 'exotic leather'

Leather is a lucrative money-spinner for slaughterhouse proprietors, both here - and abroad.

Many leather garments and most of the shoes sold in the UK today originate from the Far East, where animal welfare - if even considered - is a low priority, and methods of slaughter can be appallingly cruel.

In the obtaining of exotic leather such as lizard, caiman etc. Even crocodile and alligator (they paralyse them first), and of course snake skin, live dismemberment mutilation is commonplace.

Take snake skin for example, by and large the method of 'slaughter' is thus. The captured snake (they're taken from the wild) is suspended by a wire or rope, then with a razor sharp knife it is quite literally skinned alive. What remains of the snake is discarded and takes many minutes, sometimes even many hours to die. [This is due to the ability of reptiles to withstand low blood pressure and oxygen levels.]

Reptiles have a central nervous system, they feel pain, this is not in doubt. Clifford Warwick says in his excellent book Reptile: Misunderstood, Mistreated and Mass-Marketed: "If reptiles are to be killed by physical means... then it has to involve complete and rapid destruction of the brain, otherwise they are very likely to suffer enormously and for a long time before dying".

To be sentient and to experience being skinned alive, or beheaded, or having one's limbs cut off - retaining full consciousness for some time afterwards, one cannot begin to imagine the suffering involved. (It's a hell of a price to pay for the sake of a ridiculous fashion item, watch strap or belt!)

Leather has always been the 'poor relation' of the animal rights movement, never arousing the passions that hunting, vivisection, live exports etc do. But there is a strong moral issue to be addressed here and there is also much good that can be done.

Most people will refuse to buy fur, ... but most of those same people will happily buy leather. Why? Immorality? Is it not that the anti-leather arguments put forward up to now are too week and too few? Why should this be when there is cruelty and suffering involved in parts of the leather industry that match and surpass the worst excesses of any of the more popular causes?

Whilst the pragmatic answer, as always, is education and providing viable alternatives, it has to be realised that in all such matters unless you stir the emotions you won't get a result and a whole new set of stronger and more appealing arguments are needed for this issue, that has deserved better of 'us' for a very long time.

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Cross-reference: Fur, Leather, Wool and Silk