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reasons for buying vegan shoes: why boycott the animal industry?

The animal industry wastes land.

These are the environmental reason for boycotting the animal industry, and for making this boycott more fashionable and more likely to be copied around the world. More vegetarians fit on the planet than meat eaters or leather-wearers, and as concern grows about how we are all going to fit, with greenhouse gasses and growing deserts caused by over-farming, environmental reasons for going vegan become more common. When this web site was first written, famine was in the news and there was a link to the Vegfam leaflet that makes the case. Now that global warming is in the news most weeks, One of Animal Aid's Fact files covers it and the Vegan Society has a 16 page colour download called "Eating the Earth" Even the UK Government Central Office of Information suggests buying less animal products. Smarter pages on The Vegan Society of the UK | Vegetarian International Voice for Animals | Peta.org.uk | Chinese language on Vegan Outreach. Most of these sites have something like a "try vegan" page with links to recipes in different styles, and challenges to go vegan for a week. Please remember us if you leave this site, or else have a look at some rough notes here.

The animal industry pumps gas into the sky and slurry into rivers.

The animal industry is cruel.

The rest of this page is much-adapted from an old information sheet by the Vegan Society - their current pdf download is here . It gives examples of cruelty and answers some of the common points people make about why they wear leather. Reasons for boycotting each specific animal product are listed by Peta.org (http://www.peta.org/living/clothingguide-intro.asp), while the Vegetarian Society has a similar page about clothing.

by-product? - biodegradable? exotic leathers - pollution - excessive calving - animal suffering - lameness - mastitis - transport - slaughter - disease & money - synthetics available - fur fashions - fur facts


Leather is not a free 'By-Product' left in the bin; it is a plastic coated slice that pays slaughterhouses

I don't know if you slaughter crocodiles & ostriches for a living. If you do, then I expect you make all your money from skin. I expect you are lucky to break-even on blood guts flesh & bone.

If you kill cows for a living, skin makes less than half your profit, so leather consultants are right to call it a "by-product" to their customers in the trade. They say this in answer to questions about why leather prices fluctuate, and why it sometimes comes a long way round the world. If the question was: "could a boycott reduce profit?", they would say yes; it reduces the need for imports from round the world when leather demand is high in one area. If you asked them "could a fashion in Europe be copied in the big new markets of newly rich Chinese and Indians?", they might also say yes. If you asked a leather expert "where can I get hides for free out of the bin?", they would probably say "nowhere": if it can be turned into leather, there is probably a market for it somewhere in the world.

One web site that has had a lot of government publicity and subsidy in the UK writes "And to be fair, if these hides aren't utilised as such, then we'd be facing another potentially huge waste disposal problem", but unless there is a 100% boycott of leather and continued demand for meat, then most hides will be sold at a higher or lower price; boycotting simply lowers the price.

In theory you can always sell hides but in practice there are marginal bits like the ears, and circumstances can be complicated. A theoretical sale may be hard to organise in practice on a dark night with a bin-liner full of contraband, and recycling facilities harder to use. You are probably in a cheap country if you are in the slaughter trade. It is easier to dump stuff than it would be in central Zurich. A bag of cats heads was found in the curry-house area of Manchester the week I write this, which is a shock. Whether the shock should make you start buying cat-fur products is another thing. Our instincts tell us that rotting flesh is bad. Sometimes a particular set of mad circumstances leads to the dumping of animal products that ought to be buried or burned or fed to carnivorous birds or made into fertiliser. You will have guessed the conclusion from the context: do not buy products made from dead cats because some mad set of circumstances lead to someone dumping a sack of cat heads in Manchester. Just ask for a veggie curry.


Exploding the 'Bio-Degradable' Myth

Most of us are emotionally attached to occasional purchases like our leather shoes, wallets, jackets, trousers, pants, biker jackets, club armchairs, cricket balls and the leather insides of our limousines.

Most of us are not emotionally attached the things we throw away every week, like squeezy bottles or tyres or anything else in our dustbins or that we see at the tip - food waste, packaging, maybe industrial waste on another site.

This is an obvious thing to write, but not seldom written on fashion blogs which report leather as though a more bio-degradable product than vegan alternatives.

Spelt-out again, anyone who is interested in biodegradability would not be trying to promote leather as an alternative to microfibre. They would write about the biggest space-hogs of landfill sites, not the smallest. But some do maybe for emotive reasons. Words like "craft" and "natural" might go through our heads without much thought, when we think of ethical fashion, and perhaps with the thought that a bio-degradable object is a nicer thing to buy occasionally and own for a long time. But if our leather gear rotted as fast as normal meat we would all be very smelly by the end of the week. Quoting the industry site again "if these hides aren't utilised as such, then we'd be facing another potentially huge waste disposal problem.". But raw hides are more compost-able than tanned hides. Tanning is a process to make hides last longer, usually done on thick skins like cow skin which are sliced into layers and given a plastic coating, moulded with the grain of the more expensive full-grain top layer.

The leather we buy in the shops has been chrome-tanned. a highly polluting process designed to make leather last longer. Previously, people used slower tanning techniques such as vegetable tanning, but they were still processes to make leather last longer. Archaeologists in Northern Germany have found 12,000 old or leather artifacts. Your nearest museum may have leather objects from the Neolithic or Bronze ages. They were probably vegetable-tanned, but still give an idea of how we process things to make them last a long time if we are going to make things out of them.

One web site that's had UK government support in the past makes a false comparison between leather, which it assumes is biodegradable, and microfibre.

"Vegan leather options: On the other hand many brands choose not to use animal leather at all opting instead for animal-friendly faux "leather". However, while these may be a better vegan option, many of these leather alternatives are not environmentally responsible at all. Today, most faux "leathers" are made from plastic materials such as PVC, which requires hazardous chemicals in its production. Harmful additives used to treat PVC "leather" have been known to release toxic chemicals when incinerated. And it's simply not biodegradable."

This is a telling-off to vegans. I takes a bit of un-ravelling, because it depends what "environmentally responsible" means if anything. If it means the CO2 emissions of the animal industry, then a UN report called Livestock's Long Shadow rates them higher than the aviation industry. It it means damage to fields and rivers in poor parts of the world, there's no comparison. If it means land waste compared to a vegetarian use of land, there is no comparison. As far as I can tell from the quote, "environmentally responsible" means three big burning issues.

Big Issue for Fashionistas No, 1: "Should I put shoes in the compost bin?". No. Your shoes will not turn into compost whether they are leather or microfibre, nor will a handbag. I don't know why fashionistas are so interested in this point. Some un-vulcanised rubber might rot in the compost bin, and that is used for shoe soles as "crepe", but it is soft for the purpose; if you have a product that rots, it doesn't last well as a pair of shoes.

Big Issue for Fashionistas No 2: "Do I need a special furnace to burn shoes?". Yes. A council furnace will do, or more likely they will use landfill, as for tonnes of stuff we throw away every week. Low temperature burning of PVC produces toxic smoke: do not attempt to smoke the PVC soles of your shoes whether they are leather or microfibre.

Big Issue for Fashionistas No 3: "Would Marie Antoinette have liked it?". No. She would not have liked microfibre or boots and preferred the exotics sold by Ethical Fashion Source members. The article just quoted goes-on to suggest eel skin, salmon skin and chicken skin.

Apart from the big issues, PVC is mentioned. Stuff that's made in the UK tends to use firms and moulds and techniques that survived a great culling of UK manufacturing in the 1980s-2000s, when government hiked-up exchange rates while 25% of manufacturing closed in the first five years.. So the supplies available tend to be pre-1980s styles and processes. If a production line were to be set-up now, it might use less PVC, but the production lines were set-up before 1979 when PVC was a trendy fast-setting plastic. The reason for using it for shoe soles is simply to back production in a democratic welfare state; it's part of the bundle.

The animal welfare myth

Animal welfare laws exist to some extent in the UK, but the shoes you buy are no longer made here DMs moved their leather cutting and sewing operations to Thailand in the 80s, with moulding and sole-sewing going to China in 2005. DB shoes and Loake were forced to move their upper manufacture to Madras. Clarks trainers are made in Romania, with their last UK factory closing in 2007. Many trainer designs are specifically designed to promote a fashion for shoes with lot of fiddly sewing and assembly, so that European manufacturers cannot compete. None of the countries - Vietnam, Thailand, India - where shoe uppers are now made can afford to make animal welfare a priority, even if their traditions, such as Buddhism, do.

Even the laws that exist in the third world - for example to protect endangered species - are easy to break. There is a trade in hides from zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, alligators, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards & snakes. Thousands of endangered olive Ridley sea turtles are captured and killed illegally in Mexico, solely for their skins. It is estimated that 25-30% of US imported crocodile shoe leather and other wildlife items are made from endangered illegally poached animals. This trade is a measure of how little people can enforce animal protection laws of any kind in the countries where leather is made.


Leather pollutes (see the Eating the Earth booklet & contents page)

The amount of waste and pollution generated by the leather manufacturing industry is phenomenal. The stench from a tanneries used to be so overwhelming that the earliest planning zones forced tanners out of town to places like London's Southwark; the planning-zone category of "alkaline works" still exists in the UK. Not only do they pollute the air, however, they also pollute the rest of the environment with the use of a multitude of harsh toxic chemicals. One estimate puts the potential cost of an effluent treatment plant in a tannery at 30% of the total outlay.

A page from a lobby group, Ethical Fashion Forum, states that in cheap countries "waste is often unceremoniously dumped into rivers, untreated where it can poison water supply and cause serious health problems". This is true of unsold hides as it is of tannery chemicals. The point is made

Substances used in the manufacture of leather include: lime, sodium sulphate solution, emulsifiers, non-solvent de-greasing agents, salt, formic acid, sulphuric acid, chromium sulphate salts, lead, zinc, formaldehyde, fats, alcohol, sodium bicarbonate, dyes, resin binders, waxes, coal tar derivatives and cyanide-based finishes. Tannery effluent also contains large amounts of other pollutants such as proteins, hair and salt.

The leather industry also uses a tremendous amount of energy. In fact on the basis of quantity of energy consumed per unit produced, the leather-manufacturing industry would be categorised alongside the paper, steel, cement and petroleum manufacturing industries as a gross consumer of energy.

Going back to the beginning of the chain of events that ends up with a leather product, we find environmental problems already very evident. Farms that breed animals are themselves an environmental problem. Cattle belch and fart methane, which is produced during fermentation in their guts. A typical animal emits 48 kg of methane a year, with more bubbling out of its manure. Nearly half of the European Union's methane comes from ruminant digestion and manure.

Commercial dairy farming is not synonymous with environmentally acceptable practice. Dairy farms are often specialist units with high inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus - both as fertilisers and purchased feeds. Stocking rates are high, there is often no arable land on which to use slurry and dirty water, and many units also grow maize which can cause high losses of nitrogen and phosphorus through leaching, run-off and erosion.

Cows averaging 35 litres of milk a day can require up to 100 litres of drinking water a day. This requirement will increase in hot conditions.

Beef farming makes other indirect contributions to the greenhouse effect. For instance, fossil fuels are burnt to generate the energy to produce fertiliser that feed the fodder crops on which many animals feed. Rearing beef is also land-intensive with some 340,000 hectares of British farmland devoted to growing feed for beef cattle, and beef cattle pastures take up more than a million hectares. If some of this land was planted with trees instead, these would soak up CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow.


Excessive calving

Like the diary industry, the tanning industry relies on shortening the life cycle of animals. Just as a cow produces most milk when it has plenty of young calves, so the value of the leather is often higher when it is from a slaughtered young animal. There is a logical link between avoiding veal (which many meat eaters do out of sympathy for the young calves) and avoiding the smooth, fine, unblemished animal skin that a calf produces. The leather from older animals that you see living quietly in fields is more likely to be scratched, parasite-marked for example by ringworm, or contaminated by dung. Particularly if it comes from mature males, it is likely to be harder and less stretchy.


Leather = Animal Suffering

The animal farming industries produce the leather that manufacturing industries use. Animals begin by being bred in intensive, semi-intensive or extensive systems. In other words they may be factory farmed as in the case of veal calves (veal crates are banned in this country but calves are still raised for veal indoors in groups) or animals such as sheep may be farmed extensively in hilly upland areas where they are more or less left to their own devices suffering extremes of weather, disease and a lack of adequate food. Even the gentle dairy cows that are often admired casually grazing the British countryside during the summer, are housed for 6 months throughout the winter. Some dairy cows are housed all year round

Both cattle and sheep suffer from a variety of health problems and undergo a variety of painful procedures depending on their species and sex - castration, ear-tagging, tail-docking, artificial insemination, and laparoscopy. However one thing they do have in common is the pain of lameness and mastitis.



Surveys of cases of lameness in dairy cows treated by veterinary surgeons indicate an average annual incidence of about 4-6%. When cases treated by the farmer are included the annual incidence appears to be about 25%. Lameness is a major health and welfare problem in all sheep producing countries. It is generally regarded as the greatest cause of pain and discomfort in sheep. Farmers Weekly writes in February 1997 that lame sheep were found in 92% of flocks covered by a Royal Veterinary College survey relating to 758,252 ewes and 427,277 lambs.



Mastitis is a very painful bacterial infection of the udder of the cow which causes inflammation and swelling. The udder becomes hard and hot with an abnormal discharge. In the recently calved cow the milk is thick, creamy and smells foul. The cow is often lame in one or both hind legs with swollen joints. Body temperature can be high and in some cases pregnant cows will abort or produce a stunted calf. Around 4 out of ten cows are affected each year in Britain.

Sheep suffer too. In really acute cases the ewe will have a raised temperature and the udder may start to turn a very dark colour as gangrene sets in. If this occurs, the whole or part of the udder can eventually slough off. In extreme cases, the ewe will rapidly die of septicaemia. Mild mastitis in sheep will result in permanent damage to the udder, usually in the form of abscesses, and ewes are often culled as a result. Treating mastitis in ewes is rarely successful and a three-year survey of over 30,000 lowland ewes found about 5% were affected. sub-clinical mastitis is almost impossible to detect but with up to 12% of ewes affected at some stage in lactation.


Transport of cattle

Problems associated with transport include fear and pain associated with handling and mixing animals; thermal and motion stress; hunger, thirst and exhaustion; and risks of infection. In September 1996, 240 sheep were killed in a crash travelling from Britain to Spain via France. The remaining 520 were killed in French slaughterhouses.Two days later a further 300 sheep died in another crash. Throughout the 90s, smaller slaughterhouses have tended to close in the UK and animals have been taken on ever longer journeys to the larger operators which supermarkets prefer to buy from. Farmers are in a weak negotiating position when they sell to supermarkets and have to transport their livestock wherever they are asked. The best-known example is Tesco supermarket which uses the St Meryn slaughterhouse in Cornwall A quick web search will come-up with documents that show how common this practice is, and how far those lorries which you see on motorways are going.



Sheep are very vulnerable to stress during drawing out (selecting) for slaughter, loading and transporting to the slaughterhouse. In fact most of the stress on the day of slaughter is often associated with handling, transport and time in the knacker's yard, or lairage. These problems become more intense for animals that are un-adapted to handling. Sheep are usually slaughtered by electrical stunning followed by throat cutting. Stunning, however, may not be very effective and sheep might regain consciousness when they have their throats slit or while blood is being drained from their body.

The same with cattle; much distress suffered on the day of slaughter is caused during transport and holding time. Smaller animals like calves are usually herded into open pens in groups and stunned electrically. Cows and large animals are stunned with a blow to the head from a piston in a compressed-air gun, known as a captive bolt. This penetrates the skull and destroys part of the brain The government's advisory body the Farm Animal Welfare Council have been concerned at the inadequacy of stunning. After stunning animals have their throats slit (stuck) and are bled to death while hung upside down.

Many sheep and cattle are also ritually slaughtered ie. they have their throats slit whilst fully conscious. If the meat can't be sold as kosher, for example because the carcass is damaged, it is sold on the open market without kosher labelling.


Disease & money

The Food Standards Agency combined foot hygiene parts of council trading standards agencies after the foot-and-mouth outbreak of the 1990s. Meat hygiene alone will cost the 60 million UK population £17,903,000 in 2002-3 and a separate tax on all food shops was considered to pay for it, rather than a fairer tax on animal products. The outbreak of mad cow disease which brought the agency into existence also cleared the labour market out of vets. The animal farming industry, which is both hard to manage and extremely competitive, has to grapple with the safety of issues of practices like putting bits of animal carcass into animal feed or lifelong bulk antibiotic injections to herds of cows. Anyone who watched the TV news during the mad cow crisis or the salmonella eggs incident knows what a strain the meat industry puts on public finances and public health.


Buy non-leather: set the trend

The public buy millions of tonnes of plastic products each year with very little thought .

More and more westerners are reducing their meat intake for vague health and environmental reasons that aren't hard-edged.

Nobody buys shoes without a thought. There is a story of an MP going through the lobby to vote on a bill. One of his colleagues marched-over: "You're wearing suede shoes", he said, as though he'd voted with the wrong party or left his flies undone.
It's the same in offices and school playgrounds, as well as in our own heads. We don't necessarily want to tell others about ourselves, but we want to clarify our own identity to ourselves, which hopefully others can take or leave. Westerners want to look Eastern; easterners want to look Western; we want to look different from our parents or true to our roots; upmarket or cheeky, quietly sensible or in-your-face. Even an un-seen brand can make a difference. The very rich can buy specially made shoes, which look like ordinary shoes but make them feel better and may even be comfortable. The poor can buy over-priced trainers, to show that they are not poor. There is not much room for all this in the pages of a vegan shoe catalogue, showing shoes designed for other markets or made in short production-runs. People scoff. There's a website that describes vegan shoes as "the lesbian orthopaedic look", but shoes set fashion more firmly than other consumer choices and fashion sets the patterns of consumption that cause over-farming, global warming and cruelty.

If you are a trend-setter, then one of the simplest ways you can help the planet is by setting a trend to go vegan, and shoes are a good way to do it. If you are a celebrity with millions of teenage fans around the world who follow your every word, buy some nice vegan shoes and mention them in interviews.


Fur fashions

Fur has gone out of fashion because of rational argument and people setting trends. Top Shop has just put a "no fur" sign in every shop window after stocking some dead dogs that had possibly been skinned alive by mistake (the stocking - not the skinning). Nowadays, the fur fashion statement is "I am superficial at best". That is what fur says about the wearer. Unfortunately, just that kind of person is often drawn to the fashion industry as a way of making a living; deadbeat designers are always looking for another exclusive niche market or another taboo to break. Fortunately, real fashion that people wear every day is set by the people around us and our own rational choices, and most people have some idea about the facts of fur production. The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade has fact sheets about how to help retailers avoid Topshop's mistake, while Respectforanimals has a competition for young art students to design new T-shirts each year.


Fur Facts

Around 30 million animals, mainly mink and fox - but also chinchilla, sable and even lynx - are held captive in rows of metal wire cages, where they are unable to pursue their natural instincts and so resort to stereotyped behaviour, self-mutilation and cannibalism. Death comes by gassing, electrocution, lethal injection or neck breaking. There are around 12 such factory farms in Britain at the time of writing (all mink), imprisoning 50,000 to 100,000 animals. Trapping accounts for an estimated 5 million animals worldwide, normally by means of steel-jawed leg hold traps which are now illegal in Britain.

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