Leather is the chemically treated skin of an animal, and it is widely used for shoes, wallets, purses, jackets, car seats, furniture upholstery, and belts. Most leather comes from pigs or from cattle, and it’s also produced from sheep, ostriches, snakes, and alligators.

Whatever the ethical problems related to animal slaughter, many people regard leather as a supremely natural product. The reality, however, is that animal skin decomposes as readily as any other part of an animal’s body, so leather must be processed with a variety of chemicals at a tannery. It’s likely that these tanning chemicals are as toxic as any of the substances used to make synthetic alternatives to leather.

And leather is also not some innocuous karma-free byproduct of the meat industry. A typical steer’s hide provides a significant portion of the carcass’s value. In a low-margin business like cattle ranching, the value of leather therefore inevitably increases the number of cattle a given rancher will choose to raise. In other words, buying leather products puts money into the meat industry’s pockets as surely as does buying meat, and it has the clear effect of increasing the total number of animals raised and slaughtered.

Luckily there are many alternatives to leather. There are vegan belts, shoes, and even “pleather” jackets. And nearly all cars are available with fabric seats.


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