Meat and skins

4 March 2001

Our industry has been confronted over the years with a large variety of problems, many of which have moral aspects like pollution control, use of certain chemicals, animal mistreatment and the use of skins as a byproduct or as a main reason for which an animal is being killed. Some of these problems are directly related to us, others indirectly. In this Lime blast I would like to talk about hides and skins. Actually in my book there are three kinds of hides and skins: first there is the by-product from animals that are slaughtered for their meat, which I think forms 90% of all the leather production. The second is from animals that are killed for their skins, but for which the meat has a function as a byproduct and the third category is from animals killed purely for their skins, where meat is wasted or used at best in the pet industry. The Washington convention took care of a lot of problems that were connected with the threatened extinction of several animal species hunted irresponsibly by poachers for their skins, horns or tusks. In order to satisfy the demand for reptile skins specialised farms were set up purely for the sake of growing a skin, and this practice is now widely accepted, and I believe that the farming is remunerative. In the USA, conservation laws require the farmer to return a certain percentage of grown alligators to the wild and this has actually led to an increase, year-on-year, in the numbers of this once endangered reptile. Many animals, however, such as the African buffalo and practically all 'cats', that are living in the wild, cannot be farmed, or are not considered worthwhile for farming. Others, deer for instance, can be farmed but lose some of their characteristics both for the taste of their meat and the presentation of their skins. Admittedly, this is an opinion not shared by the producers. In an earlier Lime blast I stressed that leather is by and large a byproduct because the animal is killed for its meat. That is true for goat, sheep and bovines which are all farmed, but this is also true for hunted animals, because historically men hunted for putting food on the table not for getting a hide or skin, but even then instead of throwing away a skin it was used as a mattress, for clothing or decoration. Also in today's world, sports hunters kill the animal for its meat and in fact many hide and skin dealers who buy from these Sunday hunters complain about the unprofessional take-off, bad conservation, holes and drag marks on the offered hides and skins. The American deer industry in Gloversville know something about this. The exception are the Kiwi's who professionally hunt their deer, farmed in a wild environment, from helicopters and are capable of felling with one head shot a running deer, which is then transported to a specialised abattoir for mechanical flaying. Game parks in Africa give hunting licenses for a specific number and breed that can be killed and the meat of these animals finds its way to the tables of various local restaurants that cater to tourists like the carnivores in Nairobi, whereas the hunter can keep only a trophy after digging deep in his pocket. Due to a clever sales promotion consumers have developed a taste for ostrich meat and in this case one sees that although the animal was originally killed for its skin, it is now killed for its meat and the skin has become a byproduct, a fact that drastically changed the price of the ostrich skin on the world market. Similar attempts are being made for crocodile or alligator meat but the results as yet are a bit discouraging. Snakes, crocs and alligators are still being killed for their skins and the meat, which is in this case a byproduct, is being fed back to the crocodiles in the farms where they are raised. Some might quarrel with this but we have to consider that these animals also cannibalise in the wild so this farming practice fits within the natural cycle of the animal. With the spectre of BSE being a very real concern these days, we can at least be sure that we won't have mad crocs one day to cope with. The above is nothing new and in one way or another I think most people can live with these facts, particularly since we are confronted with animals that are killed professionally after stunning or at least in a 'humane' painless way. The last category, the fur industry, is the most disputable and open to criticism, where an animal is being raised and killed only for its skin. This is in fact the category in our trade that gets animal rights people on their hind legs, connecting this sector of our industry incorrectly to the byproduct part. Pictures such as the seasonal clubbing of baby seals come to mind as well as the sometimes horrendous conditions under which mink are being farmed and killed, just for their skins without further use of their meat. Personally I believe that in this sector there is a lot of space of improvement, particularly when it comes to eliminating the needless suffering of the animals. We all know that the fur industry is an important economic reality within the general picture of the leather industry. It a huge turnover and, in fact, consumes a lot of leather with. Despite the similarities, it still remains separate from the general leather industry. Before I am assaulted by comments from the fur industry, I am not saying that we should not produce furs! I am only saying that it should not be too difficult to find ways to improve certain practises that may offend the consumers or action groups, particularly in an industry where large amounts of money are at stake and available but with a limited number of operators, which is an advantage when it comes to find agreements. Last but not least it should be pointed out that the tanners and clothing industry can bear no blame for what is being done by those who deal with the live animals. Sam Setter

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