An interesting announcement was made in the UK last week. After scientists analysed vegan equivalents of 61 chocolate truffles, pizzas, burgers, muffins and wraps, they announced that 39% of them were not vegan at all.
This is serious. Mislabelled products have already killed people who are allergic to certain contents, such as dairy. The 1.5% of the population who are identified as vegan are now demanding better labelling and resources for inspection and enforcement.
There is another side to this. It comes with the frequent and determined use of the term “vegan leather” by many of those now crying out for more accurate terminology. For most of the last three decades, the leather industry has watched a deliberate and determined move to undermine the value of our product. When the industry complained, it was ridiculed.
This column has frequently highlighted the problems that arise from the careless use of scientific or technical words. From “heavy metal” through “sustainable” or “biodegradable”, and more recently “circular” and “regenerative agriculture”. Mostly we complain about the danger that careless use of terminology will drift quickly into greenwashing, which has become a major problem. It also creates problems in the workplace, as it risks taking developments in the wrong direction.
The leather industry has been overcoming this by increasing its transparency and the traceability of the supply chain, paying for and making public detailed life cycle assessments, supplying additional detail on water, energy and wastes. The completely new narratives that have been developed for leather have been built on honestly produced science that can be evidenced and defended, along with a determination to do better.
The term leather itself has been hard to protect despite having legislation going back over 400 years (has it ever been repealed?) and a precise ISO definition. Several EU countries have joined Brazil with precise legislation but outside of Brazil we hear little of enforcement. The lack of a clear EU definition, despite some determined and costly work, leaves a big gap and the recent ALCA Convention was told that the U.S. government will be difficult to persuade.
On the other hand, legislation that saves lives by properly describing the contents of food is vital. But the vegan and animal rights groups have directed their resources instead towards damaging the leather industry. Huge amounts of money have been spent on this with total disregard for truth or integrity.
The contradiction here is obvious, so one wonders if it might bring some integrity to their use of the word “vegan” as an adjective intended only to do harm to others? Words matter and abuse of language has consequences.
We need to remind ourselves that there are nearly a billion subsistence farmers around the world entirely dependent on livestock, and that every square foot of leather routinely produced from the by-products of this livestock provides scores of good jobs in making products from it.
There is no sustainable agriculture without livestock
And as Professor Wilhelm Windisch concluded in his keynote at the recent FILK Freiburg conference: “There is no sustainable agriculture without livestock.”
His lecture, titled “What would a world without farm animals look like?”, went carefully through the science involved in land use, the production from it that is both edible and non-edible to humans and how they interrelate. His conclusion was not a throwaway one liner but naturally evolved from the facts and the scientific evidence he walked the audience through.
Let us remind PETA, along with other aggressive vegan and animal rights organisations, that truth matters and lies have consequences.
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood
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