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


Nadine M
Nadine M3 months ago

Buying synthetic fabric is not an alternative. Plastic takes about 400 years to degrade and it kills sea animals.

Rachel J
Rachel J7 months ago

I have spent a long time living in india, travelling from rural villages to the towns and cities. Going beyond the tourist destinations and seeing the true india, and never have i seen the cruelty to cows thats expressed in this post. Yes ive witnessed awful treatment to other animals such as their chickens, dogs and elephants, I understand that the country isn't an animal sanctuary. But as someone who has really seen india, i find it hard to believe a hindu would stand for this treatment over a cow, an animal which represents one of their most popular deities.
As an example a muslim man was killed in the north because he was suspected of having beef in his fridge, that's how wrong they think it is to kill a cow!

JD She
JD She11 months ago


H M11 months ago

Oh, *surprise, surprise*. The last link's from PETA. #newkirkslaw Funny how we want to accept that the smarter animals have compassion, mercy, and all the other "higher morals" that we also share, but how very dare we should ever point out that apes, dolphins, and others can kill other animals for reasons besides defense or food, rape other animals, or do other things that humans do.

H M11 months ago

Why do some militant veg@ns always compare genocide to animal slaughter? Why aren't comparisons to plant life used - setting forest fires, clear-cutting, over-development, etc.? Antisemitism, racism and sexism doesn't do any favors to the *humans* you're trying to convert, and the animals aren't impressed by this shit, either.

Christian Y.
Christian L1 years 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 V2 years 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
Carrie-Anne B3 years ago

thanks for sharing :)

Claudia Cavallo
Claudia Cavallo4 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