So you’ve purged your pantry of animal ingredients and bought all natural cleaning supplies. Have you checked your closet? Besides the kitchen, the closet is probably the biggest home to animal products in your house. Just as you would check the ingredients on a package when buying food, you should also check the tags on any clothing purchases. Shells can often be used for buttons as well as jewelry, and they often don’t make it to the contents list on labels, so be sure to inspect new purchases for animal components. Animals don’t willingly give up their fur and skin for our fashion – these things are forcibly taken. Even if the animal isn’t killed in the process of obtaining it, chances are that she suffered a great deal.
What you should stay away from:
In the U.S. approximately 4.9 million fur-bearing animals are killed each year by trappers and another 3.5 million are raised on ‘fur farms.’ Foxes are kept in cages only 2.5 feet square, and minks in cages even smaller, with up to four animals per cage. Animals can suffer in cages for days. Up to a quarter of trapped animals chew their own limbs off to escape, only to die later from blood loss, fever or infection. Every year, about 5 million dogs, cats, birds and other animals are crippled or killed by fur traps. Trappers usually strangle, beat or stomp trapped animals to death. Animals on “fur farms” are killed in the best ways to preserve their fur. They are usually genitally or anally electrocuted, but they are also sometimes gassed, poisoned, or have their necks snapped. Often, these methods only knock the animal unconscious, and they revive while being skinned. It takes more than three times as much energy to make a coat from trapped animal pelts and more than 60 times more energy from farm raised pelts as it does to make a fake fur coat.
Leather is not just a by-product of the meat industry. It accounts for up to 60 percent of the animals’ by-product value, and the meat industry is highly dependent on the sale of by-products. The skin of a dead cow makes up about 10 percent of her total worth. It will be made into expensive shoes, clothing, furniture and even sporting equipment. High priced calfskin comes from slaughtered “veal” calves. The most expensive suede comes from unborn cow fetuses, which are deliberately aborted for their skin. Snakes, alligators and lizards are also killed for their skin. They are usually skinned alive because it is believed that they don’t suffer. A skinned snake can take up to three days to die. The majority of the leather from the U.S. is from cows’ skins, but it can be made from the skin of any animal that is killed for its meat, such as pigs, goats and sheep. Around the world, however, leather can come from any type of animal, such as kangaroos, deer, rabbits and even cats and dogs.
Eighty percent of all wool comes from Australia where flocks usually consist of thousands of sheep. Lambs’ tails are cut off and male sheep are castrated without anesthetic. Twenty to forty percent of lambs die before the age of eight weeks due to exposure or starvation. Ranchers also perform an operation called “mulesing” on lambs, which is the carving of huge stripes of skin off the back of the lamb’s legs. This procedure is performed to produce smooth, scarred skin that won’t harbor fly larvae. Sheep are sheared each spring, just before they would naturally begin to shed their winter coats. In the rush, about one million Australian sheep die of exposure every year. “Used up” sheep are shipped to the slaughterhouse.
It’s not just cows, foxes and sheep that are sacrificed for our fashion. Down comes from specially bred geese who have all their neck and breast feathers ripped out several times before they are slaughtered. Silk comes from the shiny fiber that silkworms make to form cocoons. To obtain the silk fibers, the cocoons, with the worms still inside, are tossed into boiling water. Cashmere is hair that is shorn from cashmere goats’ underbellies. These goats are often kept on farms where they are dehorned and castrated and have their ears notched without anesthesia. Shearing robs goats of their natural insulation, leaving them vulnerable to cold temperatures and illnesses, and many goats are sold to be slaughtered for their flesh after shearing. Angora comes from rabbits are strapped to a board for shearing, kicking powerfully in protest. The clippers inevitably bite into their flesh, with bloody results. Angoras have very delicate foot pads, making life on a wire cage floor excruciating and ulcerated feet a common condition. Because male Angora rabbits have only 75 to 80 percent of the wool yield of females, they are killed at birth on many farms.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to be cruelty free and fashionable. Many companies make shoes and bags out of natural or man-made materials. Look for cotton sweaters and fake fur collars on coats. When shopping, simply check the label or read the ingredients list. If you are in doubt about a product, just ask the store or manufacturer if the product is cruelty free. Also check out PETA’s Guide to Compassionate Clothing.