The Truth About Fur, Leather, Wool, Silk, and Down
Thousands of years ago, the Incas of Peru slaughtered llamas and alpacas during elaborate rituals. Someone would hold the animal down, and a specially trained person would plunge a bare hand into the animal's chest cavity and rip out the animal's still-beating heart. As many as 100 llamas were sacrificed in a single ceremony on the first day of every month. That adds up to 1,200 llamas a year, excluding those slaughtered in personal offerings and other ceremonies.
Many people would agree that this ancient ritual is barbaric. The truth, however, is that in today's "modern" world, humans are just as cruel to other animals. Consider, for example, the ways in which animals are killed for clothing, shoes, accessories, and bedding.
In 1994, a groundbreaking PETA U.S. investigation revealed the hideous cruelty of the fur industry, including the gruesome genital electrocutions taking place on a California chinchilla farm. The investigation resulted in the first case of cruelty to animals to be filed against a furrier. Investigators documented that chinchillas were hung upside-down by alligator clamps attached to their ears and labia or anuses. The animals were trembling and fearfully silent until a powerful jolt of electricity froze their movements. In other instances, animals had rods jammed into their mouths or anuses and were electrocuted. It takes at least 100 chinchilla pelts to make just one full-length coat.
Click here to read more about genital and anal electrocution on fur farms.
Fur farmers only care about preserving the quality of the fur, so they use slaughter methods that result in extreme suffering for animals. Small animals may be crammed into boxes and poisoned with hot, unfiltered exhaust. Other animals are poisoned with strychnine, which suffocates them by inducing painful cramps that paralyze their muscles. Gassing, neck-breaking, and the use of decompression chambers are other common slaughter methods. Crude killing methods aren't always effective, and sometimes animals "wake up" while they are being skinned.
Click here to read more about the cruel killing methods used on fur farms.
Every year, trappers kill millions of raccoons, coyotes, wolves, beavers, otters, and other animals in the wild. They trap animals with snares, underwater traps, and Conibear (or "body-gripping") traps. Steel-jaw traps are also still widely used—despite the fact that they have been called "inhumane" by the American Veterinary Medical Association and have been banned in the EU and a growing number of states across the U.S.
When an animal is caught in a steel-jaw trap, the metal teeth sink deep into the animal's limb, often cutting all the way down to the bone. Animals frequently struggle to free themselves for hours and will even resort to chewing off their own limbs before they succumb to exhaustion, exposure, frostbite, shock, blood loss, infection, gangrene, or thirst. Dogs, cats, birds, and other animals—including several endangered species—are crippled or killed by traps every year.
Click here to read more about animals trapped in the wild.
Would you wear your dog? If you wear fur, there's a chance that you're wearing one of your dog's relatives. Millions of dogs and cats are bludgeoned, hanged, bled to death, and strangled with wire nooses every year in China so that their fur can be turned into trim and trinkets. This fur is often deliberately mislabeled as fur from other species and is exported to countries throughout the world to be sold to unsuspecting customers. China produces approximately 30 percent of the world's finished fur garments, so if you wear fur, there's no way to tell whose skin you're in.
Click here to read more about Chinese fur farms.
The fur industry is bad for the environment too. Making a fur coat requires 20 to 60 times more energy than it takes to make a faux-fur coat. Fur is also not biodegradable, and the chemicals used to keep fur from rotting contaminate our water supply. Furthermore, each mink skinned by fur farmers produces about 44 pounds of feces; in 2004, approximately 2.6 million minks were skinned in the U.S. alone! That amounts to tens of thousands of tons of mink manure and nearly 1,000 tons of phosphorus, which wreaks havoc on water ecosystems.
Click here to read more about the effects of fur on the environment and wildlife.
Read more about fur in general at FurIsDead.com.
Cows raised for both meat and milk are used to make leather. Most of these animals spend their lives in extremely crowded feedlots and are subjected to painful procedures like castration, branding (which causes third-degree burns), tail-docking, and dehorning—all without any painkillers. They are fed hormones to make them gain weight as well as antibiotics to keep them alive in conditions that would otherwise kill them.
Every year, millions of cows are skinned and dismembered while they are still alive because high-speed assembly lines in slaughterhouses make it impossible to properly stun every animal. Similar instances of mutilation and inhumane slaughter have also been well-documented in factory farms that raise pigs, whose skins are also used to make leather.
Other species are hunted and killed specifically for their skins, including zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes. A large percentage of imported crocodile leather and other items made from the skins of wildlife come from endangered, illegally hunted animals.
Goats are sometimes boiled to death in order to make "kid" gloves, and the skins of purposely aborted calves and lambs are considered especially "luxurious." Snakes and lizards are often skinned while they are still alive because of the belief that live flaying imparts suppleness to the finished leather.
The toxins involved in leather production harm the environment and cause cancer in people who work in and live near tanneries. Animal skin must be tanned to keep it from rotting. This involves the use of massive amounts of energy and dangerous chemicals, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes—some of which are based on cyanide. Tannery effluent contains large amounts of pollutants, such as salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids. Furthermore, in order to raise the animals whose skins eventually become leather, trees are cleared to create pastureland and vast quantities of water are channeled into factory farms. Feedlot and dairy-farm runoff are a major source of water pollution. Huge amounts of fossil fuels are also consumed in livestock production. By contrast, the production of synthetic fibers accounts for only a fraction of the petroleum used in the U.S.
You may be wondering what's so wrong with wearing wool. Many people think that when sheep are sheared, it's just like getting a haircut.
Unlike hairstylists, shearers are usually paid by the volume of wool that they produce—not by the hour. This means that they work quickly and without any regard for the sheep's welfare.
Haircuts also don't involve the mistreatment and mutilation that sheep raised for wool are forced to endure. Within weeks of their birth, lambs have holes punched in their ears and their tails cut off. Male lambs are castrated without any painkillers when they are between 2 and 8 weeks old. Workers castrate lambs by making an incision and cutting their testicles out or by using a rubber ring to cut off blood flow to the testicles—one of the most painful methods of castration possible. Every year, hundreds of lambs die from exposure or starvation before they are 8 weeks old, and mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect.
The Australian wool industry, which produces 30 percent of all wool used worldwide, is particularly cruel. The most common sheep raised in Australia, merino sheep, have been bred to have wrinkled skin, which means more wool per animal. Blowflies lay their eggs in these extra folds, creating maggot infestations called "flystrike." In order to prevent this condition, farmers perform a barbaric procedure called "mulesing," during which they flip lambs onto their backs, restrain them between metal bars, and use gardening shears to cut large chunks of skin and flesh from the area around their rumps—all without any painkillers. Although there are more sophisticated and humane ways to prevent flystrike, many farmers choose to mutilate lambs because it's the cheapest and easiest thing to do. Australian senators are currently considering a ban on mulesing.
When sheep age and their wool production declines, they are no longer of use to wool farmers and are discarded for slaughter. This results in the cruel live export of more than 6.5 million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East and North Africa on multitiered ships. Nearly 800,000 sheep enter the live-export trade from the U.K. and are slaughtered abroad. Click here to watch a video on mulesing and live exports.
Sheep aren't the only animals used for wool. Goats (who are used for mohair and cashmere), rabbits (who are used for angora), and alpacas are kept in cruel conditions and then cruelly slaughtered for wool. In order to maximize profits, these animals are raised in large numbers, which places a great strain on the environment through methane emissions, loss of topsoil, and water contamination caused by fecal matter and toxic chemicals.
The animals we call "silkworms" are actually caterpillars or the larvae of several types of moth, the most common of which is the Bombyx mori, native to China. Silkworms have special salivary glands that produce a clear fluid that hardens and becomes silk once it is exposed to air. Technically, silk is dried spit!
Silkworms spin this spit into cocoons that protect them while they transform into adult moths. A single thread of spit is about 914 meters long. However, very few silkworms are allowed to complete their metamorphosis. When the moths eat their way through the cocoon, the thread is broken and rendered useless for humans. To keep the silk thread intact, silk producers bake the cocoons or drop them into vats of boiling water in order to kill the insects inside. Just enough moths are spared to breed the next generation of silkworms. Approximately 3,000 silkworms are killed in order to produce just one pound of silk.
The military and medical communities are experimenting with silkworms and spiders in order to make sutures and fishing line, either by breeding the insects themselves or inserting their genes into other animals, such as goats. Silkworm pupae are cooked and sold as snack food in Korea and China.
Humane alternatives to silk include nylon, polyester, Tencel, milkweed seed-pod fibers, silk-cotton tree filaments, and rayon. Ahimsa silk, produced in India by Designer Weaves, is made from the cocoons of caterpillars who have already completed the moth stage and flown away.
Click here to read more about silk.
Down is the soft layer of feathers closest to a bird's skin and is most abundant in the chest region. These feathers are highly valued by humans because they do not have quills. Most products labeled as "down" contain a combination of these soft under-feathers and other feathers or fillers. Although most down and other feathers are removed from birds during slaughter, geese from breeding flocks and those raised for meat and foie gras are sometimes live-plucked. In countries where this cruel practice continues, up to 5 ounces of feathers and down are pulled from each bird every six weeks—from when the birds are 10 weeks old until they are up to 4 years old—causing them repeated and considerable pain and distress.
Eider ducks are a protected species, but their feathers are sought out for bedding and clothing. Female eider ducks lay eggs and surround them with feathers plucked from their own breasts. Farmers in Iceland gather more than 6,500 pounds of Eider duck feathers a year. By taking these feathers, farmers are removing the insulation that eggs need to hatch. It takes the feathers from at least 80 nests to fill just one comforter.
Click here to read more about down.