Animal Leather: Ethical Fashion’s Enemy?

Animal Leather: Ethical Fashion’s Enemy?

Editor’s note: Some of the images included in this post may be confronting and offensive to some.

Abuja, Nigeria: In the history of mankind, food was always prioritised over clothing. Long before man realized that he could make clothes and shoes with animal skin, the decision to kill them for their meat had already been made.

In the Nigerian abattoir situated in the northern areas, I was told again and again that the animals are primarily killed for their meat. It is only after meat is harvested that the question of their hides may be entertained. This stance is not common to only that abattoir; it applies to every other abattoir in the country and I daresay, in the world. Indeed, in the southern parts of Nigeria, there is little or no talk about leather, and animals are killed strictly for meat. Even their hides and skins are turned into a local meat delicacy known as kpomo. As a matter of fact, the percentage of animals whose skins are turned into leather is so small that in 2015, the Nigerian government made plans to ban the consumption of kpomo so as to increase the production of leather.

Animal Leather- Ethical Fashion's Enemy?
Author at a Nigerian livestock market. All images supplied by author.

Raising goats for its meat

Meat is sold in open Markets
Meat is sold in open markets in Nigeria.

This, in my opinion, begs the question – is leather really the enemy? As far as I can tell, the major argument against the leather industry is based solely on animal slaughter. If it is true that these animals are killed principally for their meat, and that leather is in reality merely a byproduct of this decision to kill, then it must also be true that even if we manage to find alternatives to leather or convince the whole world to abandon use of the same, we would not have done much in the fight against animal cruelty.

Meat remains the major reason for raising and killing animals worldwide, not leather. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) about 53 billion land animals are slaughtered annually worldwide. At the Kano Abattoir during my visit, I was told that over 100 cows, 200 goats and 50 camels were slaughtered daily. From what I saw, I believe it was closer to 200 cows daily. Since we are going to kill the animal anyway, does it really matter if we throw its skin away or turn it into a nice pair of shoes?

Related Post: Why There Is No Such Thing As ‘Ethical’ Leather

Killed for its meat. At a slaughterhouse in Nigeria

Camel slaughtered for its meat. Kano, Nigeria

At a local tannery in Nigeria.
At a local tannery in Nigeria.

Despite many attempts, no real substitute for meat has been found. Vegans rejoice at the successes recorded in attempts at growing meat in laboratories. The initial hurdle of cost has been surmounted. A kilo of lab-grown meat now costs about US$12. Nevertheless, lab-grown meat hasn’t caught on.

Experts offer such meat substitutes as tofu and eggplant based entirely on the nutrient argument; that we can gain as many proteins eating them as we gain from meat. Seeing that only one percent of people worldwide are vegans, this argument doesn’t seem to have caught on either.

In my part of the world, lab-grown meat and meat substitutes are not options. Not only are they difficult to find, there is also the issue of cost. In the absence of these, meat substitutes do not and will likely never account for the social aspects of meat consumption. Meat is not just food here, it is a way of life and status symbol.

Even in the United States (where meat substitutes are readily available), over 100 billion pounds of meat (or roughly 45 billion kgs) will be produced in 2018. This is equivalent to 222 pounds (100.7 kgs) per person. The US consumes more meat per capita than any other country. However, Americans rarely eat the animal skin, the way we do here. Most hunters skin the animals they shoot and throw away the skin. In meat factories, the skin is routinely stripped from the meat before being sold to the public. These skins are then either subsequently disposed or turned to animal feed or turned into leather.

Related Post: Vegan Leather Options and Alternatives to Animal Leather

Soft Pliable Leather being Loaded for Eventual Sale. In the background more _plywood leather_ is soaked.
Soft pliable leather being loaded for eventual sale. In the background more plywood leather is soaked.

Python skin

Amongst piles of animal leather in Kano, Nigeria
Amongst piles of animal leather in Kano, Nigeria

Considering that leather is really a refined waste material, a by-product of the meat industry, can it be argued that leather is actually good for the environment? Can it be argued that it promotes the tenet of sustainability which encourages zero waste in production? I don’t have the answers to these questions, I’ll let you decide.

The general truth is this: for us to enjoy any of its products, animals have to die. More than for leather, more than for any other reason, these animals are first and foremost killed for their meat. The subsequent flaying of their skin for leather is merely a profitable way to get rid of mostly unwanted meat.

Want to reduce the amount of meat you consume? This post will guide you.

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