A breaking investigation by filmmaker Manfred Karremann released by PETA Germany reveals the extreme cruelty endured by animals like cows and sheep in the leather trade. Here is what was found:
- Animals are shipped on long, gruelling journeys to locations halfway around the globe before being killed for leather.
- During transport, the animals are exposed to the elements and denied sufficient food and water, and they can fall and be trampled to death. Even pregnant animals are forced to endure live export.
- Injured and dying animals are often illegally slaughtered, and that includes those who are pregnant.
- In many countries, including India, animals are often killed without first being stunned. They’re simply tied up, and their throats are cut with a dull knife. It can take several minutes for them to die.
- Inadequate labelling on leather products makes it nearly impossible to trace the origin of animals and their skins. Designations like “Made in Italy” do not accurately reveal animal skins’ origins, so consumers can’t tell where or which animal the leather in their handbags, shoes, or furniture really came from.
Shipped Halfway Around the Globe for Leather Production
More than 1.4 billion cows, sheep, and goats and millions of other animals are killed each year for leather. In countries like Turkey, the trade in skins is booming – causing the cruel export of live animals to rise sharply. In 2018, 900,000 live cattle and nearly 281,000 live sheep were imported into Turkey from countries like Australia, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, and Spain.
These animals are exported for slaughter to countries such as Turkey in order to meet the demand for fresh halal meat on site and the global demand for leather. After slaughter, their skins are shipped all over the world.
Investigators were able to document some of the torturous routes animals endured. Brazilian cows are transported for weeks on ships bound for Turkey. There, some animals continue on to Iraq in lorries. Another route leads to Turkey via France and Bulgaria. And German and Austrian cows were able to be traced all the way to Lebanon.
Animals Transported Without Adequate Food or Water on Ships and in Lorries
Typically, during the arduous, often weeks-long voyages, the animals receive insufficient food and water. They’re exposed to heat and cold with no protection and stand huddled tightly together amid their own excrement. During transport, they jostle each other, causing injuries. If they fall down, they can be trampled to death.
Animals in the international leather industry are commonly kept, transported, and killed in filthy, crowded conditions in which devastating zoonotic diseases can develop and spread. It can take days to transport animals across national borders. And global security issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have forced animals to endure even longer journeys and more suffering. The stress of transport – often compounded by lengthy delays – results in not only immeasurable suffering but also a heightened risk of spreading diseases, some of which can be passed on to humans.
Killed Without Stunning for Leather Production
In many countries, including India, animals are often killed without first being stunned. Cows, sheep, goats, and other animals are simply pushed to the ground, sometimes they’re tied up, and their throats are slit with a knife. Because of poorly trained workers or the use of dull knives, their deaths are agonizing and can last several minutes. Recordings from Libya and Lebanon show that workers slit the throats of cows and sheep in full view of the other animals and threw them onto a pile to let them bleed out, while they writhed and kicked.
Injured Animals Are Killed Illegally in Slaughterhouses
Although it’s illegal in Turkey to haul injured or dying animals to the slaughterhouse, the footage shows that workers forcibly dragged a weak, apparently dying cow out of a tractor-trailer and then slit his throat in the slaughterhouse. Even pregnant animals have to endure the agony of live export. And if they injure themselves during transport, they, too, are hauled to the slaughterhouse and killed, along with their unborn babies. The skin of unborn calves, known as “slunk”, is regarded as particularly valuable for leather in countries like China, and it also reaches countries around the world via the global leather trade.
Cows Are Forcibly Dragged off Ships With Cranes
When, after days or weeks, the animals finally reach their destination, their fur is frequently matted with a thick coating of excrement and urine. Some are so weak or injured that they no longer have the strength to stand up. So they’re hoisted with cranes, their entire weight hanging by one leg. Since a grown cow weighs about 455 kilograms, this can cause excruciatingly painful joint dislocations and broken legs.
Leather's Origin Is Frequently Unknown
Because of inadequate labelling requirements for leather products and non-transparent trade routes, it’s usually impossible to trace the origin of the animals and their skins. Consumers can’t tell whether their shoe or handbag was made from the skin of a cow, a dog, or a kangaroo or which country the animal was slaughtered in. Designations like “Made in Italy” don’t reveal any information about the origin or the processing of the skin – only where the finished product was manufactured.
Leather Production in India
Watch the video exposé below narrated by actor Pamela Anderson showing cattle in India tied together with ropes through their noses and beaten mercilessly in forced “death marches” over vast distances. During the marches, the animals collapse from hunger, exhaustion, injury, and despair. Handlers force them to continue by breaking their tails at each joint (the human equivalent of having a finger broken) and by rubbing irritants like tobacco, chilli peppers, or salt into their eyes. The cattle are never offered food or even a drop of water.
Others are transported to slaughter in illegally crowded lorries, where many are trampled or inadvertently gored during the long journey to slaughter. By the time they arrive, some of the animals are already dead. Many others are so sick and injured that they must be dragged inside, where workers cut the animals’ throats by sawing back and forth with dull knives. Completely conscious animals are left to bleed to death slowly. The legs of some are hacked off while they’re still conscious, or animals endure the agony of being skinned while they’re still alive.
Leather Is a Catastrophe for Humans and Nature
Leather not only causes animals to suffer but also is one of the most environmentally damaging products in the world. Each day, irreplaceable rainforests are cleared to raise cows and grow their feed. The animals’ methane emissions also contribute tremendously to climate change. In addition, numerous chemicals such as chromium and formaldehyde are used in the tanning process, which poses a danger to humans and the environment.
End products like shoes, handbags, and clothing often contain traces of chromium-6, a carcinogenic heavy metal.
What You Can Do
Regardless of leather’s origins, it’s always linked with animal suffering and environmental degradation. While we treat dogs and cats as our companions, millions of animals like cows, sheep, and goats are standing knee-deep in their own excrement, tormented with electric shocks, transported in cramped tractor-trailers halfway around the globe, and finally killed. Please, for animals’ sake, always check the label, and if it says “leather” or shows the corresponding symbol for it, leave the item on the shelf. Instead, choose sustainable synthetic leathers or other vegan options made from innovative materials like recycled plastic, cork, or even pineapple leaves, mushrooms, grapes, apple peels, or other fruit waste.
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