By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.
-- Favorite prayer of Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Many people labor under the erroneous assumption that leather products are acceptable because they are a necessary byproduct of the food industry. Even if you choose not to eat meat, some believe that since the animals are going to die anyway, why not use the products rather than let them go to waste.
The reality of the leather trade trashes these comfortable notions. Leather production may be the cruelest, most unnecessary of all evils perpetrated upon our animal neighbors, causing more suffering than any other practice.
Meat from factory farmed cow, sheep, pig and goat industries kills 7,000 to 8,000 people or more each year in the U.S. alone, and millions are made sick from eating contaminated meat.
Environmentally, meat production results in life threatening pollution in water supplies around the world from a buildup of nitrates in the groundwater which is tainted by runoff polluted with fecal matter.
Cow in India weeping from pepper rubbed into its eyes to keep it moving. (Photo courtesy
The cruelty of the slaughtering process is well established. Many animals are butchered alive due to inefficient processes for rendering them unconscious before they are killed.
More and more people are realizing that eating so much meat has been compromising the health of an already unhealthy population for decades. Even the federal government has revised its food recommendations to lessen the amount of meat recommended in a diet, amidst great opposition from two of the most powerful lobbies in the country - the Meat Advisory Board and the American Dairy Council.
Meat tested in supermarkets has been found to contain measurable levels of the growth hormones, antibiotics and other drugs used to raise cattle.
People in developing countries, where cancer rates are historically low, begin to develop the cancers found in the West when fast food burger chains set up shop.
When you take into account the horrific cruelty of the meat production process, the huge environmental and health impacts of raising and eating meat, and the pharmacopeia of drugs that make their way into the meat, you might think that it would be an easy decision to stay away from meat and leather products. Yet this is probably one of the most difficult and emotionally charged decisions a person can make. The attachment to meat is rooted in our profound separation from the natural world and the cycles of life.
Leather is a symbol of success and affluence in the United States. Having the means to wear the skin of a being that has been killed is a deeply rooted sign of power over the natural world. Leather symbolizes our distance from nature as well as the cruelty of its production.
Today's meat industry is not sustainable on its own, and it relies on skin sales to remain profitable. The skin of a slaughtered animal accounts for 55 percent of the value of the products of that animal other than meat. Leather isn't a harmless slaughterhouse byproduct. The meat industry relies on skin sales to stay in business.
So where does that leather in your sofa or car come from? It takes the skins of many cows to make one sofa. That leather from cows comes from cows raised for both beef and milk. Cows raised for beef are fed an unnatural diet chicken feces, rendered remains of other animals, high-bulk grains, and other fillers, including sawdust, until they weigh 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.
Dairy cows may have it worse. Most people never think about it, but the only way to get milk year round from a cow is to keep her constantly pregnant. Some farmers inject cows with synthetic growth hormones to increase production. Once cows give birth, their calves are traumatically taken away within days. The females are added to the dairy herd, and the males are chained in tiny, dark crates to be raised for veal. When veal calves are slaughtered at about 16 weeks old, they are often too sick or crippled to walk.
Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle. He can be found preparing for the birth of his son, wondering how to keep him healthy in this troubled world. Send your thoughts and ideas to him at
firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his web site at