We had a house in Plymouth Mass fifteen years ago when an eatery opened called Roadkill Cafe. It caused some amusement but soon closed. Now in the same US state under the name “petite mort” a young artisan is making exclusive fur articles from roadkill. An interesting discussion on the subject has been opened up in the LeatherNaturally! LinkedIn pages. Most of the comments are favourable – it would be unethical to waste them – although there is clearly some doubt here and there.
It is curious to see such an addition to this debate just a month after we featured the subject of reptile tanning. Many older tanners, myself included, have argued for the last 30 years that “no hide or skin is produced for leather”. This remains totally true for the majority of tanners but with increasing numbers of our top clients depending on fur and reptile skins for their sales and promotions it is not so easy to declare that this sector is nothing to do with us. And most of our customers using fur and reptile have taken a long look at their supply chain and put in place systems and procedures they consider ethical and proper.
And now 150 years after Darwin gently questioned Aristotle’s opinion that plants are the lowest form of life scientists from the USA, Scotland and Israel are quoted in a recent New Scientist that plants are thinking and feeling. “With an underground “brain network” and the ability to react and remember, plants have their own kind of intelligence – and may even cry out in pain.”
Now what does a conscientious vegan have left to eat if this is true? They do not accept the separation of fur and leather, but now the continuum of their argument extends to plant life.
What is quite clear is that apparently definitive positions in many areas are being disturbed with new research and moral approaches and we need to be willing to re-open our minds and get our wider industry back to studying the science from the fundamentals. Things that appear certain rarely are and while jumping to conclusions may make life easier we are taking a lot of decisions these days which have major planetary implications.
My own determined view on fur being a bad thing was disturbed when environmentalists in New Zealand explained why it was important for possum skins to be fully used. Is the gap between this and bred fur so really great? And on what grounds do so many of our colleagues separate the fur industry and reptile tanning? What decisions do machinery and chemical companies take when dealing with raw material that is not obviously by-products?
There are questions here to which I know I do not have the answers, but which would do well to be discussed out in the open. The more we are willing to be transparent about our uncertainties and talk them through – accepting that we will not always reach a consensus – the better. Life is messy and in reality the view of the leather industry, honestly developed, muddied as it might be is an important and valid one in all these discussions.
All tanners travel on the same railway line. But not all need to get off at the same station.
6th December 2014
First published in ILM magazine