Industry bodies react to Vogue Business article linking leather and deforestation

Worldwide
Published:  28 November, 2019
Credit: Yong Chuan Tan

An article published on b2b platform Vogue Business, which links leather to deforestation in the Amazon and large scale loss of biodiversity, has provoked a unanimous response from industry bodies such as Leather UK and Leather Naturally, rejecting the claims as misleading and false. 

The article, titled “Fashion’s biodiversity problem”, was published on November 27, 2019 and lists leather among the most damaging materials which contribute to deforestation in precious ecosystems, and claims leather is “one of the most profitable products of the livestock industry” which “uses about 80 per cent of agricultural lands globally”.

In a letter addressed to Vogue Business, Dr Kerry Senior, Director at Leather UK, responded to the article and refuted the claims made as inaccurate. He stated:

“The destruction of the Amazon rainforest for the production of beef is wholly unacceptable. It is equally unacceptable to claim that this problem is driven by the production of leather. Leather does not drive the production of meat or the resulting hides and skins. The hide and subsequent leather are by-products for which the farmer receives no return. Cattle are reared for beef and globally, meat consumption is rising. In contrast, demand for hides and leather has fallen. With specific reference to the Amazon, Brazilian hide and leather prices have fallen by 53% in the past two years, and leather exports have also fallen. This trend has been seen across the global market. Ten percent of the hides produced are now not even prepared for leather manufacture and are simply being thrown away. If leather was the driving force for deforestation in the Amazon, it would not be happening.

It is also important to remember that the farming practices in the Amazon are far from definitive or universal. Many cattle are raised in low impact, extensive farming systems, that protect grasslands which in turn act as carbon sinks. Soil sequestration of carbon by pasture and other grasslands is a highly effective mechanism for mitigating the climate impact of livestock, and in some cases, cattle farms have negative net emissions of carbon.

Turning away from leather will not reduce the environmental impact of meat production. In fact, it would lead to an increase in the use of unsustainable, fossil fuel-derived synthetic alternatives, i.e. plastic. It would also leave nearly 8 million tonnes of waste that would require disposal. Globally, it is estimated that as many as 50 million hides, around 16% of annual production, will be sent to landfill in the next year, a tragic waste of a sustainable raw material, and clear evidence that leather production does not influence the production of livestock.

The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries in the World and it is widely acknowledged that it has to move away from the fast fashion model to a more sustainable one. Using renewable, sustainable, repairable, long-lasting materials is an obvious step to take in reaching that goal; leather is one of those materials.”

Egbert Dikkers, Chair of Leather Naturally, also categorically rejected the claims made in the article. “Regretfully, the writer does not seem to care to give the full picture to Vogue Business readers. Leather is a by-product of the meat industry and there is no cow killed for leather”, he said in a statement. “Deforestation as such cannot be connected to leather. As long as people worldwide eat meat, there will be hides and skins that can best be converted into long lasting, durable and repairable consumer products. The alternative would be largely landfill, causing a huge pile of waste. True sustainability is a continuous drive to do things better, including in the meat-and dairy industry. The leather industry is doing its part through leather manufacturers that increasingly manufacture leather according to auditing programs of which the Leather Working Group, CSCB and ICEC are the leading ones,” he added.

The Vogue Business article written by Rachel Cernansky can be found here.