The Shocking Truth About Leather: No, It’s Not a Meat Byproduct

We all know what leather is, but how often do we stop to think about where it actually comes from, or more importantly, who?

You only have to mention fur and the majority of people are up in arms raving about how cruel, barbaric and inhumane it is, but you mention leather and the only protest you’ll hear is how there is no other material that lets their feet breath, or how there is no way they’re ever going to be caught dead wearing oil-based plastic shoes (as if that’s the only alternative).

Thanks to the widespread awareness about the cruelty involved in fur production, it is now largely rejected by consumers worldwide, which is why we now need a huge push to shed the light on the reality of leather production, because just like fur, leather is also the skin of an animal, and these animals are equally deserving of our help.

By far, most leather is sourced from cows and although easy to spot, it can just as easily be overlooked. From clothing and accessories like belts and handbags, to furniture and car seats, leather is found everywhere.

Most people are led to believe that leather is a byproduct of the meat industry, that it’s simply a ‘leftover’, and if we don’t use it, it will go to waste. This is a common misconception, and one that I used to believe myself. The truth is that much of the leather sold comes from animals killed primarily for their skins.

Leather is not a byproduct and it is not produced in efforts to minimize waste. It’s produced because it is a highly profitable and lucrative business. A cow’s skin is approximately 10% of her total value, making it the most profitable part of her body. Surprisingly, leather actually makes the meat industry more sustainable (as selling skins is very profitable while meat isn’t always so), not the other way around.

The majority of leather comes from India’s cows, who are abused, beaten and poisoned in order to make leather for high street stores. As India forbids the slaughter of cows, these poor, innocent animals are forced to endure brutal and grueling journeys where they are confronted with an unimaginable end.

When travelling by train, anywhere up to 900 cows are crammed into a wagon that is supposed to hold a maximum of 80 to 100, and upon arrival 400 to 500 come out dead. On some routes they don’t bother with trains and instead they tie them and take them on foot. The cows are not allowed to rest or drink, so to keep them moving workers beat the animals across their hip bones where there is no fat to cushion the blow, break their tails to force them to rise, and torment them by rubbing hot chilli peppers and tobacco in their eyes.

It’s not only cows that are suffering though. Goats, pigs, sheep, lambs, horses, deer, kangaroos, snakes, alligators and elephants are also all among the victims of the leather industry. Perhaps even more alarming is that China, the world’s leading exporter of leather, annually skin an estimated 2 million dogs and cats a year, which is then unknowingly purchased by consumers due to mislabeling and inaccurate indications of the origin. As if that isn’t scary enough, another particularly prized form of leather is ‘slink’, which is made from the skin of unborn calves.

If you don’t want to contribute to the brutal leather industry, you don’t have to. There are so many cruelty-free alternatives available, both natural and synthetic, from stores such as MooShoes, Beyond Skin, Vegan Essentials, Alternative Outfitters and Vaute Couture. When buying anything, always read the label and do your best to support ethical companies that care about their impact on the planet.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Christian Y.
Christian L11 months ago

The biggest lie about this article is that cattle is killed only for their skin because meat is less profitable than the skin. Even if that were true, the author failed to mention that in order to sell leather that you can make shoes with, the skin of the animal has to undergo a lenghty process of tanning and preparing the leather to look and feel good enough to be used on shoes, furniture etc... this tanning process involves costs like chemicals, machines, manpower, electricity etc.. that is a lot more expensive when compared to the cost of cutting and packing meat. There are many eco-friendly ways to tan leather which is truly a byproduct of the meat industry. This article seems to be misleading and takes advantage of the lack of knowledge from the readers about the leather industry probably because it was written to benefit industries that produce products alternative to leather... the ones mentioned in the article such as MooShoes, Beyond Skin, Vegan Essentials, Alternative Outfitters and Vaute Couture who probably paid her to write the article.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Linda Lightfair K.

One of my exes many years ago worked at a slaughter house that slaughtered primarily cows but also deer and various other species. ALL the skins from ALL the animals are kept and go for leather production. EVERY piece of the animals is used that can be used. I was training as a chef and had to tour the abattoir with my class at the time and the process and the use of everything actually stunned me as I had some preconceived ideas about the slaughter process. Don't believe everything you read.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Claudia Cavallo
Claudia Cavallo3 years ago

I didn't know about this, I feel so guilty for buying leather shoes and purses, because even if I am veg I thought that the skin would be a part that is thrown away anyway. Thanks for this explanation. I will change my habits

Roopak Vaidya
Roopak Vaidya3 years ago

Dear Kamia,
You need to learn a lot more about India!

Roopak Vaidya
Roopak Vaidya3 years ago

Good information, thank you.

Glen Venezio
Glen Venezio3 years ago

thank you for posting this!

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D3 years ago

Am torn here - will do more research, as not certain whether this is entirely true - or it was slanted to get the most reponse negative to Any leather, even byproducts.

Sandra Z.
Sandra Z3 years ago

Amen, Virginia! I found several of Kamia's comments to be borderline humorous, if they weren't so sad in their ignorance. If cattle weren't eaten, people would "go hungry??" In fact, people ARE going hungry because the vast majority of grain which could be used to feed them, is in fact being fed to cattle and other "livestock," as people like Kamia like to call our fellow animals designated for their plates. Using that grain could feed millions of people who go hungry every day, and in fact is a far more efficient means of feeding the world's human animal population. And consuming all the parts of an animal is a good way to honor its "sacrifice?" As if the poor innocent creature offered its precious life as a sacrifice to the unending gluttony and greed of man! There is a reason we are all animals: we are all alike! We feel, we think, we love and wish to protect our young, etc., etc. Unfortunately man is the most evil of the animals, the only one who kills for sport and who suffers from the "seven deadly sins." And Virginia, I agree with your comparison about the child-skinning. I often grimace when I hear of people saying, "well, I'm not going to judge another person/country's practices." So if human sex trafficking or the marriage/rape of underage children is acceptable in another culture, we should tacitly approve of it, simply because it's not our country/culture? These same people would have stood by during the time of slavery and said, "far be it from me to