The Dark and Disturbing World of Silk

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 Favorite. It was originally published on June 21, 2013. Enjoy!

It’s pretty obvious why some people choose not to eat meat or wear fur, but why someone wouldn’t use silk is just plain baffling to most. So here’s the deal.

When we think of silk we imagine beautiful gowns, delicate underwear and lavish furnishings, what we definitely don’t picture is live silk worms being plunged into vats of boiling water. And why would we? This certainly isn’t going to make us want to reach for our wallets, instead it is likely to make us reel with disgust.

The Plight of the Silk Worm

Just like cows, chickens and pigs, silk worms are domesticated, raised and bred on factory farms and are also killed by the hundreds of millions every year. To make one single pound of silk 2000-3000 worms have to be slaughtered.

Just prior to the metamorphosis stage where Bombyx Mori silk worms transform into moths, they spin fibers to create their cocoons. Naturally, the moth would chew its way out of this cocoon once the transformation is complete, but the problem this poses to the silk manufacturing industry is this natural development would result in chewed silk strands that are much shorter and less valuable than the intact cocoon. Which is why when the silk worms are in their pupa stage after being fed a strict diet of mulberry leaves, they are placed while still alive into boiling hot water, killing them and starting the process of unraveling the cocoon to produce silk.

Ahisma is another method of silk production that don’t include death for the silk worms. Although not resulting in death, there are still ethical issues surrounding the domestication and farming, such as adult moths being unable to fly because their bodies are too large and males unable to eat due to undeveloped mouth parts.

Some among us will try to claim that silk worms don’t matter and that they are just insects. While it’s true that we have a limited depth of understanding about insects, what we do know is that they have the capacity to feel and the right to live free from pain and suffering.

Give Peace Silk a Chance

If you’re a lover of silk then fear not as you don’t have to go without. Peace silk is a cruelty free, fairtrade alternative that is woven by hand in India. This animal-friendly silk is harvested from the cocoons of the wild and native Eri moth. The cocoons are collected from the forest after the moth has emerged and flown away, meaning no one has to be kept in captivity.

Peace silk is becoming the fabric of choice by many designers worldwide as people open their eyes to the plight of the silk worm, which is good news for you. A quick internet search will reveal a whole host of producers so there is no excuse not to buy your silk from an ethical source.

Other Alternatives

If you prefer to avoid animal products altogether, there are other alternatives available. Lyocell, silk cotton, ceiba tree filaments and milkweed seed pod fibers are all eco friendly options worth exploring.

The dark and disturbing world of silk worms isn’t one that gets much media coverage, beause the industry believes that we simply don’t care enough to care, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You can reject these inhumane practices and opt to buy cruelty free alternatives instead. We do not need to exploit insects, or any other animal for that matter, and no amount of whitewashing will justify using these tiny beings as resources for our own ends.

Photo Credit: mynameisharsha

1465 comments

Darren Woolsey
Darren Woolsey6 months ago

Thank you for this post.

Johann Mitchell
Johann Mitchell6 months ago

Thank you for this post.

Loesje vB
Loesje Najoan6 months ago

Thank you for this post.

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.7 months ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus8 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Sian R.
Sian R.about a year ago

Christina - you were right the first time. I was quoting Clifford.
Silk is indeed very beautiful, but I can't countenance wearing something that kills so many.
People who protest about fur don't seem to care when its 'only worms' Which says more about THEIR hypocrisy, as ALL life is precious. In fact, I'd rather wear a fur coat to keep me warm, that killed five animals, than a silk shirt for fashion, which has killed five thousand or more.

Christina Wilson
Christina Wilsonabout a year ago

Oops! I just noticed that it was Sian R. that I was responding to. Sorry Clifford!

Christina Wilson
Christina Wilsonabout a year ago

Clifford E., how do you know that they can't feel pain unless you, yourself are a silkworm? Even if I did not have a central nervous system, I would still not like to be boiled alive. It's all about having respect for other living beings, no matter how small they are or how different from ourselves they might be. Plants too! I have been a vegetarian for nearly 30 years now, but I respect them too. They are a lot more important to this planet than human beings are.

Sian R.
Sian R.about a year ago

errr - 'black' , not 'back'...

Sian R.
Sian R.about a year ago

Clifford E – They're WORMS! Next thing you know, we can't eat plants because they have feelings, too. ... Hate to break it to you, folks, but all life is not created equal. THEY'RE WORMS! They don't even have a central nervous system for crying out loud! They can't feel pain!

Helen s - "I can't get too excited about the abuse of silk worms. We kill mosquitoes and spiders. I'm more concerned about the abuse of mammals."

Don Z - "It's just a freakin worm."

Rosemary D - "They are just worms" ...

... and so on. I suppose, if they were cuddly, fluffy animals you'd care - or maybe not?
It makes me think about the slave trade. would you all have said "they're back, they're not real people" ?