Industry organisations respond to inaccurate euronews claims about leather

Europe
Published:  23 July, 2019
Credit: Christopher Campbell

The Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community (Cotance), Leather UK and Leather Naturally have all responded to a press article which presents inaccurate information about the impact of livestock rearing on climate change and chromium in leather among other misleading claims.

The article titled “Animal, plant, or plastic based: which leather should you choose?” published online by euronews was based on the now discredited 2006 UN report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”. The author says that making leather for a pair of shoes generates 10kg of CO2 and equivalents and that, according to the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies calculator, that would be enough to charge 1,275 smartphones. Responding to this claim, Dr Kerry Senior, Director, Leather UK, told ILM that the impact of livestock rearing is relatively minor compared to that of transport and industry. “The emissions from cattle are part of the natural carbon cycle, meaning that, if cattle populations remain stable, they make no net increase to Greenhouse Gas (GHG). In contrast, consuming fossil fuels only increases GHG. Focussing on livestock as a cause of climate change is to ignore the massive elephant in the room”, he said.

Another inaccuracy of the article regards its claim that, by buying leather, consumers are encouraging further livestock breeding. “The United Nations has identified the rapid growth of herds of cattle as one of the biggest threats the climate; whether you want to encourage this growth by buying leather has to be a big consideration”, says the author. However, it is obvious that leather manufacture does not drive livestock production as evidenced by the growing demand for meat and falling demand for hides and skins. “While leather can be a valuable product, that value is only realised once the tanner has taken a waste from the meat sector and transformed it into something beautiful. As long as people eat meat, there will be waste hides and skins and the most sensible solution for their disposal is to turn them into leather”, Senior told ILM.

The author goes on to say that “chromium salts are highly persistent chemicals and are carcinogenic” and that “poisoning from chromium was the basis for the largest medical settlement lawsuit in U.S. history; although not tanning- related, it demonstrates how destructive this chemical can be”. Commenting on the claim, Gustavo Gonzales-Quijano, Secretary General, Cotance, invites Euronews to check the accurate information with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and emphasises that “trivalent chromium salts used for tanning are not carcinogenic”.

The article then provides a short view of some “plant-based leather” alternatives currently available, such as Pinatex or mushroom. Here the problem lies with the erroneous use and mislabelling of the term ‘leather’. “While the leather sector has no issue with alternative materials, it is not acceptable to label them as leather. It is ironic that, while condemning leather, advocates of alternatives seek to align them with well-understood, desirable properties of leather, through the use of misleading labels”, said Senior. Gonzales also pointed out that the misuse of the term ‘leather’ is a legal offense in a number of EU countries. “Leather is a term that only applies to the tanned hide or skin of an animal! There is nothing like ‘synthetic leather’ or ‘plant-based leather’”, he said. “By the crudest definition, leather is only made from the hides and skins of animals. Materials made from plants or plastic have their place but they are most definitely not leather”, added Senior.

ILM also contacted Leather Naturally for comment and they issued the following statement: "We feel that the claims made on leather miss a well-balanced view. Leather is a by-product from the meat industry starting from the hide. As long as people eat meat, hides will come available and turning them into leather is the best thing to do, adding most value for consumers and our planet, preventing a huge pile of landfill. Furthermore, the picture of a specific small area in Morocco has no relation to modern sustainable leather manufacturers. Today, most leather is produced by modern production units audited by professional institutes such as the Leather Working Group, ICEC (Italy) and the CSCB (Brazil). In the Euronews article leather is compared to alternative materials, including synthetic alternatives. The big advantage of leather is that next to its unique characteristics of versatility, breathability, beauty and luxury its biggest advantage in sustainability is longevity."

To read the full euronews article, please click here.