Industry responds to misleading article on veg-tan extract production

Worldwide
Published:  01 July, 2020
Picture: Consorzio Vera Pelle Italiana Conciata al Vegetale

Leather Naturally and some members of the Tannin Extract Producers Federation (TEPF) have responded to a misleading press release that claims that veg-tanned leather “could cause devastating environmental effects and lead to future pandemics” and that the material is not “safer” or as “eco-friendly” as implied by some companies.

The article by non-profit organisation Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR), has been published on several websites via a press release, claims that veg-tanned leather could lead to more deforestation and that some leather processors use the term ‘vegetable tanning’ “to imply that it is eco-friendly” and as a form of “misleading greenwashing”. The text says that “as more leather companies move to the vegetable tanning process, it could destroy a mass amount of trees and lead to further deforestation”, and since barks are removed from trees that are 12 -15 years old, when barks are richer in tannins, “removing the bark of the tree removes its circulatory system and will kill the tree”. Furthermore, the author claims that trees absorb dangerous heavy metal pollution, including hexavalent chromium, lead, cadmium and other chemicals. Therefore, “if companies use toxic filled bark to make their products, these chemicals could be introduced into the leather material through the vegetable tanning process.”

Industry response

Reacting to the article, Nigel Payne, Director of vegetable tannin producer Forestal Mimosa, said “the author is completely misinformed and misguided when she talks of vegetable tanning and puts us as growers and producers of vegetable extracts on a sustainable basis in the same group as those people cutting down the tropical rain forests where no extraction, or very little, of tannins takes place”.

In a direct email to Anne Hallum representing AIR, Egbert Dikkers, Chair of the Management Board, Leather Naturally (LN), offered LN’s support and input for future articles, while requesting a rectification of the original article. “In your article you have made some claims that are far from reality. Linking vegetable tanning materials to deforestation might have been true many years ago, but certainly is not true currently and has not been for many years. The leather industry is increasingly an industry that is largely regulated through audited companies and with responsible leather manufacturers, including companies that manufacture vegetable tanning materials. We are against deforestation and support initiatives such as the Leather Working Group (LWG), which will help in responsible leather manufacturing”, said Dikkers.

Reacting promptly to Dikkers’ email, Hallum thanked him for the “thoughtful reply” and said that she clearly needed to do more research on this topic. Hallum recognised that she took the decision too hastily to add AIR’s name to the press release. “I will research the links you sent to me and work on a correction, and I very much appreciate the appropriate links”, she said. “AIR Guatemala works primarily in reforestation, farmer training and tree nurseries, not advocacy. I stepped out of my comfort zone, to my regret”, she concluded.

Mike Redwood, leather industry consultant, praised Dikkers’ approach to the AIR’s press release and said he regrets the aggressive reaction expressed by some leather industry stakeholders across different social media platforms. “It is as if we are lining up to be the rudest and the harshest. It took us over ten years to even recognise the existence of Livestock’s Long Shadow and, since the industry has become more serious about counterbalancing negative items in the press, we have hardly had a single success in getting corrections made”, said Redwood. “I am very uncomfortable about attacking this young lady who responded with an apology within thirty minutes and is now working hard to bring herself up to speed on the subject”, he added.

To read the original press release published on June 18, please click here.

To read “A thoughtless attack on vegetable tanning”, written by Mike Redwood posted on the VegLeatherHub click here.