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There is a petition doing the rounds to try and close a reptile tannery in the USA. The rapidly increasing number of executives in the leather industry who monitor social media (and a lot more should) will likely have seen it mentioned many times over the last few days. Supporting parties are very active in all forms of communications giving it a great deal of air-time. It is a provocative call to action in the name of animal rights.
"The average bag requires the skins of roughly three alligators. What this means is that each year 25,000 alligators are locked in crowded cages covered in their own feces and urine, then are either killed by being bludgeoned in the head or they are simply skinned alive, which can last more than 45 minutes." and "hundreds of thousands of alligators are hunted each year to ultimately end up as bags for the wealthy."
This is not an either or; it is a both as the article argues that the growth in demand has been accelerating "in the wake of society’s turn against fur....you can find...products in Prada, Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton, priced as high as $50,000."
During the 1980s a heated ethical debate was held in the leather industry and many tanners came to the conclusion that they tanned a by-product of the meat and dairy industry and this was the rock on which they stood. This judgement came out of an aversion to what they knew of treatment of mink and fox to supply the demand for fur. After visiting a mink farm in Ireland I too was persuaded to adopt this point of view and successfully influenced my company at that time to stop processing snake skins, kangaroo and exotic skins from Africa.
Twenty years on, at the start of this century, I travelled to Australia and New Zealand where I was able to hold extensive meetings with the agriculture and environmental industry as well as tanners. What became clear is that both the kangaroo and the possum tanning industries are 100% valid parts of our industry despite not fitting into our neat by-product definition. The culls are necessary and to make them effective all parties agree using the skins is the best thing. For kangaroo that takes them into the sports footwear sector because of their strength and possum makes a wonderful fur.
In the last twenty years the luxury industry has become a vital part of the tanning trade offering steady growth and high volumes at good margins for significant sectors. Although these non by-product sectors may be far less than 2% of all the leather made in the world their significance as lead articles in luxury is far greater. For countries such as France this sector has allowed the industry to successfully pull production and jobs back into the country after years of decline.
There is also evidence that farming reptiles properly is an important element in their preservation rather than the cruel industry suggested. Equally having seen the devastation caused to indigenous New Zealand wildlife I am totally comfortable with possum fur and note that many top brands have reintroduced fur after carefully ensuring the welfare and the traceability of their supply chain.
Despite being a tiny part of the leather industry I no longer consider it immoral and separate. I support animal welfare and not animal rights, and I do not think we should fight for the leather industry only on the basis of being the producers of waste from another industry. As long as animal welfare is considered and processing done properly, with correct waste management, then I support the processing of kangaroos, ostrich and possum and am totally opposed to this petition. It is time to speak out.
Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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