Behind the comfortably abstracted word ‘leather’ is the truth that Queen’s symbolic jacket is made of cow skin. Turning this skin into a wearable garment involves the suffering and slaughter of a non-human animal, a process Queen’s shouldn’t endorse.
The leather jacket Queen’s students wear to show their school pride also symbolizes horrific suffering and a shameful moral inequality. If Queen’s and its students want to have the strongest possible case for defending against any unjust discrimination, we must extend this consideration to non-human animals.
It’s often asserted that leather is a by-product of the meat industry, therefore making it permissible to use to prevent it from being wasted.
A 2019 Bloomberg report showed that leather was only losing its value as other alternatives gained a greater market share. If no alternatives are available, leather switches from being a by-product to being an economical opportunity for farmers after slaughtering their cows.
If everyone wants to use leather, assuming it’s nothing but a by-product, then it will gain economic value. However, regardless of leather’s economic value, a cow must first be raised and killed before it can be used for anything.
The suffering required for a piece of leather is significant. Whether cows are raised for dairy or beef—two more words separating the animal itself from the products it produces—they will most likely live and die on a factory farm.
According to a World Animal Protection report, the 265 million cows in the dairy industry worldwide produce over 6.5 million tons of milk every year. Very little of this, if any, goes to their calves separated from their mothers shortly after birth.
Female calves in the dairy industry are likely to be reared like their mothers and artificially inseminated yearly to maintain milk production. Dairy cows are kept alive until they can no longer produce the ‘ideal’ quantity of milk, then slaughtered and used for leather.
Male dairy calves, being unable to produce milk, have an equally grim outlook.
Some will be killed immediately. Some may be sold to a veal farm, living for 16 to 18 weeks before their untimely slaughter, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Some may be sold to be raised for beef.
The B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals outlines the equally horrific experiences of cattle raised for their flesh.
On beef farms, calves have their horns removed and the males are castrated without pain control if they are under six months old. Once they have undergone these procedures, calves will be kept on a feedlot with cattle from a variety of farms and fed a diet designed to optimize their flesh production. After only 18 months of living, these cattle will be slaughtered.
These animals will be separated from their mothers, undergo torturous conditions, killed well before the end of their natural lifespan, then turned into the product ‘leather’ donned by Queen’s students hoping to display their school spirit.
Even if the cow whose skin will be used on a Queen’s jacket is one of the few to avoid a factory farm, it must still be killed before its skin can be used. This requirement highlights the core separation humans make in ethical considerations from non-human animals.
Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science and Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science both stand for equality: the Faculty of Arts and Science has “equity, diversity, and inclusion” as the first guiding principle in its strategic plan, while the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science proudly displays its efforts for equality on its Engineering for Everyone page.
In following these views, it seems unlikely these societies would support raising, harming, and killing humans for a piece of clothing. Why, then, is it permitted for non-human animals to be raised and killed for the same end goal.
A common defense against this argument is humans have traits giving them an important moral value animals do not have. However, as animal rights theorist Tom Regan argues, any arbitrary element of human sentience such as autonomy, ability to reason, or intellect, as a marker of moral value will require the exclusion of other humans.
It would be equally horrid to propose that while most humans could not be raised and killed for a piece of clothing, this would be permissible for individuals with significant cognitive impairment.
If we define our considerations for moral equality through specific traits—be it found more in humans, such as rationality or the ability to suffer—we place an individual’s value on the trait rather than on the individual as a living being.
Our ethical framework should not value specific traits in such a manner as to deem some humans—for example, those not possessing a cognitive impairment—as having a higher moral value.
If we wish to have the strongest ground to fight discrimination and hold all individuals with equal value, we must hold the view, as Regan proposes, that an individual’s value is tied to their existence and their right to experience life.
In accepting this view, we must also extend non-human animals the value and respect they deserve for actively living their lives. Queen’s and its students should base moral value on an experience of life and must extend its ethical considerations consistently to non-human animals.
There are several necessary actions to follow this mindset, such as going vegan, being an advocate against animal testing, and in the case of Queen’s, no longer selling or wearing leather jackets.
This past Homecoming weekend, students and alumni walked the campus donning their leather jackets to celebrate Queen’s. Seeing jackets bearing graduation numbers dating back decades asks the question: how many cows has Queen’s killed over the decades of embracing leather jackets? How many more will be killed, for no discernible, justifiable reason?
Humans hold all the power in their relationships with non-human animals. It’s time we start accepting the value of non-human animal life by rejecting leather jackets.
Malcolm is a third-year cognitive science student.
animal rights, ArtSci, Engineering, Leather jackets, Vegan
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