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The Byproduct Myth








Reptile Skin


Down & Feathers


The Byproduct Myth




Dying to Get
Dressed Up

How Long
Animals Live

Wildlife Body Parts, Fur, & Leather




One calf: $50 — One bag: $5,500  


The economic structure of the clothing and food industries is a chain made of inseparable links. It is not a particularly balanced business model, but it is efficient. Between the breeder and the consumer, there are dozens of independent enterprises, each seeking profits. At the beginning of the chain (animal breeder to grower), there is pricing pressure and competition to keep the price low. In the middle (slaughterhouse to tannery), standing contracts keep prices stabilized. Only at the consumer end (boutique or restaurant), is there opportunity for the business to include the added value and to grasp the largest percentage of profit. In order to do this most successfully, the merchant demonstrates uniqueness, craftsmanship, or some other feature that consumers agree justifies the final inflated price.


An article in The New York Times Magazine (Nov. 30, 2003) highlights the 16-step transformation of a single calf skin into the much sought-after "Kelly" bag, produced by the French firm Hermès. "If you dream of a handbag, chances are you dream of Hermès," writes the journalist, breathlessly extolling it as a symbol of "taste and class" that has been elevated to "celebrity status." The publication date is no coincidence: the beginning of the Christmas shopping season when the newspaper promotes luxury items, especially those made by its own advertisers. This is the time of year when publicists work very hard to convince shoppers that what they need is the most elegant leather product or the newest look in fur.


How many times have you heard, as the justification to buy animal-derived products, that they are merely byproducts of the meat industry? It takes a great stretch of the imagination, and a complete suspension of credibility, to believe that the reason this calf was raised was for his initial $50 price tag, and that everything else made from him is simply secondary product. It takes very deep denial to separate this infant animal, raised in total confinement and misery, from the "perfect little Hermès bag."


In this example, there is also a pre-market because the millions of male calves born on dairy farms are purpose-bred to keep milk production flowing, and any value drawn from the sale of calves helps to subsidize the dairy industry. In fact, beyond the breeder and farmer, the value chain is long and branching with many interdependent parties finding profits: veterinarians, shippers, slaughterers, finishers, butchers, restaurateurs, chefs, servers, skinners, tanners, dyers, hide auctioneers, garment manufacturers, clothing designers, leatherworkers, seamstresses, saddle makers, shoemakers, glovers, milliners, retailers, and salespeople. This list is hardly comprehensive and a similar, but specific, set of allied businesses could be catalogued for every animal exploited as a commodity.


Cows, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, geese, ducks, mink, and deer are the most targeted of all species for clothes. Everything derived from each animal is an inseparable part of the pyramid that builds value out of living creatures. You cannot say that your deerskin gloves didn't cost the life of a deer; your shearling jacket, a sheep; your earmuffs, a rabbit.


Considering any animal product as a byproduct is simply fallacious reasoning and a weak excuse to participate in the overall profiteering. It is a false justification. It is a myth.