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The Dark and Disturbing World of Silk

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.


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Photo Credit: mynameisharsha

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8:56PM PST on Dec 6, 2014

Wow. I did not know this is how silk is produced. I only knew half of the story. Thanks for sharing the other half.

11:09AM PST on Dec 6, 2014

LOL at Steve O, bye bye, have a nice life.

4:15AM PST on Nov 27, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

10:25PM PST on Nov 22, 2014

I am not, nor I intend to be a silk user, but thanks for the artile

9:06AM PST on Nov 13, 2014

Humane methods should be used to produce silk products.

8:22PM PST on Nov 11, 2014

This article fails to mention that silkworms are raised for food as well as silk. Once the silk is removed the pupae that remains is exported across Asia as a valuable protein source.
Silkworm pupae is high in protein, minerals and vitamins, it's a popular food in Asia.
If you ban silk then you may as well ban all animal by products like leather, gelatine etc. Farming silkworms for silk and food is no different to raising cattle for leather and beef IMO.
Crickets and grasshoppers are raised in the US and EU for human consumption, people in the west are beginning to realise the potential of insects as a valuable food source. Insects have marginal environmental impact. They produce very little methane, reproduce rapidly, and require very little feed, water and space. Some sources estimate that insects are 20x more efficient to raise for protein than cattle.
In the US and EU they kill the insects in the same way as silkworms, aside from freezing, it's the fastest and most humane method for killing them. They are smaller and therefore die in a matter of seconds unlike lobsters that are boiled alive in some US restaurants, they die a slower death because of their larger mass.
I personally would condone the farming of silkworms for silk only, however I do not see a problem if they are also providing an important protein source for millions of people across Asia.

3:28PM PST on Nov 11, 2014

Whether you are vegan or not (I'm not), if there is a way to have a material similar to silk without boiling a living creature alive, what is the big gripe? Or must some people have what they want regardless.

Some people probably think vegans are too sensitive. Well, I can tell you, about now, with what's going on in this country (all the greed, selfishness, ecocentricity, hatred), we could use a hell of a lot more sensitivity.

2:41AM PST on Nov 11, 2014

thanks for this interesting article

4:02PM PST on Nov 10, 2014

Don't think anyone will miss you.

3:17PM PST on Nov 10, 2014

This (re)post is the straw that has broken the camel's back for me. Are we seriously going to get upset about a natural product like silk? The tiny insect larvae can hardly be said to suffer cruelly, and as for '...meaning no one has to be kept in captivity', please, no one? Like a caterpillar has personhood?

I've had enough of Care2 being run by fundamental vegans who would rather wear oil than wool.

I have 113 green stars of appreciation, but for now at least, see ya later.

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