We’re growing increasingly aware of the negative impacts meat consumption has on the environment and animals, but other animal products that are more easily overlooked, like leather, are taking their toll too and have led people to get creative to come up with solutions that can help us live compassionately with smaller footprints.
Modern Meadow, a New York-based startup, is one of the companies working on solutions, including lab-grown meat. The company just raised $10 million in venture funding from Horizons Ventures to expand the research facilities where it’s developing lab-grown leather that’s not only cruelty-free, but expected to be affordable and designed to be better than the real thing.
CEO and founder Andras Forgacs said in a statement:
“With the livestock industry being the largest user of land and water and the leading driver of climate change, now is the time to pursue better alternatives. Our goal is to develop new cultured leather materials with advantages in design, performance, sustainability and animal welfare. In the longer term, we are also developing meat products that are healthier, safer and don’t require harming animals or the environment. We are thrilled to have the support of such visionary and engaged investors.”
The company will be using tissue engineering to culture leather from cells taken during biopsies that don’t hurt or kill animals, or use the land, water and other resources involved in livestock production.
The company will also be tapping a huge market. The Wall Street Journal notes an industry report expects sales of leather goods–including luggage, apparel and accessories– to reach $91.2 billion globally by 2018.
Even though it’s a common assumption that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, or used instead of wasted, that’s not always the case. Animal advocates fight the fur industry for needlessly killing animals solely for a product we don’t need, but many other animals are also killed around the world mainly for their skins to make leather and the resulting products are everywhere from apparel and furniture to cars. While most leather is sourced from cows, it can come from a variety of animals, including sheep, goats, cats, dogs, kangaroos, alligators, snakes and deer, among others.
The production side isn’t any more environmentally-friendly than it is animal-friendly either. The heavy use of toxic chemicals during the tanning process aren’t just harmful to the environment, but also to workers who are constantly exposed to them.
While people are worried about how we can continue to support a growing population with our current systems in place, while we continue to cause suffering for billions of animals every year, solutions like this should be welcome and, as the company predicts, lab-grown leather might be easier for people to accept than lab-grown meat.
The good news for people who want to reduce or eliminate animal products is that leather can already be easily replaced with natural and synthetic alternatives that are already available and thanks to the work of innovators, more humane and eco-friendly options that are as good as the real thing could soon hit the mainstream market.
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