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The leather industry is often the subject of misinformation, misunderstanding and malicious falsehood. Incorrect and obsolete information about the leather industry continues to be published or broadcast on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, even in reports from respected organisations, including the World Bank and the FAO. Campaign groups, often with anti-leather agendas, have used this material to further damage perceptions of the leather industry.

The ‘Nothing to Hide’ collection, created by World Leather Magazine, is designed to combat this head-on by sharing accurate, up-to-date information and explanations of how and why tanners and their upstream suppliers work the way they do.

A link to the ‘Nothing to Hide’ collection can be found on our links page

Other frequently asked questions include:

Where do the raw hides and skins used to make leather come from?

Leather is a by-product – the basis of the UK leather industry is cattle and sheep, which are reared specifically for the production of meat, wool and dairy products. The value of cattle hides and sheep skins represents in the region of 5-10% of the market value of an animal.

The leather industry utilises hides and skins which would, if the industry did not exist to process them, create an enormous waste disposal problem with the attendant health hazards.

Leather is a renewable natural resource – if leather was not produced, it would have to be replaced be synthetic materials derived from non-renewable resources.

Leather and BSE - is there any risk of infection from leather?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is one type of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) which has recently been found in cattle. Spongiform encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative disease, which causes microscopic holes in the brains of affected animals. The animals become uncoordinated, nervous and eventually die.

The precise cause of BSE and its method of transmission have not yet been scientifically proven, but it is assumed to have been caused by the feeding of infected mammalian meat and bone meal to cattle in animal feed. Following this hypothesis and banning the feeding of mammalian meat and bone meal to cattle has led, in UK, to a significant and continuing fall in the number of cases of BSE in cattle and this option is recommended in the rest of Europe to control the future incidence of the disease. BSE contaminated meat and meat products are assumed to be the cause of the development of new variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease (vCJD) – a spongiform encephalopathy which affects humans; but this also has not been scientifically proven.

All animals known or suspected to be suffering from BSE are entirely destroyed, including the hides.

Additionally, in the UK slaughter schemes were introduced by the Government in 1996 for animals not suspected of suffering from BSE, but deemed to be in potentially high risk categories for example, all cattle over 30 months of age. The objective of these slaughter schemes was to restore consumer confidence in beef and to meet conditions for lifting the export ban on British beef. All animals slaughtered under the schemes are kept out of the human or animal food chains. Consequently, all the carcasses from the animals are either incinerated or rendered and the resulting by-products of tallow and solid waste are then incinerated. The hides of these animals have been made available for tanning into leather, but all untanned by-products have been destroyed.

It should be noted that the BSE agent has only ever been found in the brain, spinal cord and intestines of infected cattle. In countries where there is a high incidence of BSE, these offals, along with other “specified offals,” – tonsils, thymus and spleen – from all cattle should be excluded from the food chain, to remove all possibility of the risk of infectivity. This represents advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and has been followed by the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA, previously MAFF) in the UK.

Even in infected animals, the BSE agent has never been found in hides or skins and the World Health Organisation specifically classifies hides and skins in the safest category of tissues (“no detectable infectivity within the limits of bioassay”).

On the basis of this evidence it is considered that all the hides and skins available to the leather industry – none of which come from animals known or suspected to be suffering from BSE – do not present any risk, in relation to BSE, to anyone handling or using them. Furthermore, during the process of tanning hides and skins to make leather, the hides and skins are subjected to tanning and other strong conditions of processing that would be expected to totally destroy any biological agent such as the material linked to BSE.

Research work carried out in the UK and reported in 2000 has confirmed that BSE can be transmitted to sheep under laboratory conditions, and this has led to some media concern about the future status of the sheep flock. However, DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency have stressed that BSE has never been found to occur naturally in the sheep flock, and that measures already in place in UK abattoirs represent sufficient precautions against known risks.

The eradication measures for BSE in cattle have been so successful, that on 15 September 2005, the Agriculture Minister announced that UK cattle born after 31 July 1996 would be allowed to be slaughtered and sold for human consumption. However, older UK cattle born before 1 August 1996 will continue to be excluded from the food chain

For further information contact UK Leather Federation
tel +44 1604 679955/fax +44 1604 679998.

Foot and mouth disease - is there any risk from leather?

The outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease in UK and parts of Europe in 2001 caused some disruption in trade in hides, skins and leather. The following summary sets out the processes in the leather industry that minimise the risk of infectivity from hides, skins and leather.

According to the Office International des Epizooties (the World Organisation for Animal Health) the causative agent of Foot and Mouth disease is progressively inactivated by temperatures above 50 degrees C and by pH levels below 6.0 and above 9.0. A range of disinfectants can also inactivate it.

For example the standard leather making process involves the treatment of the material with strong alkaline solutions to a pH in excess of 12, pickling with acid to a pH below 3, tanning with chromium, or other tanning agents, and dyeing and drying at a temperature well above 50 degrees C. Each of these processes will be more than sufficient to inactivate the foot and mouth disease virus, and hides or skins which have been subjected to these processes will be free of foot and mouth disease.

These processes ensure that the material complies with the conditions laid down in paragraph 1 (A) indents 2 to 5 of Chapter 3 of Annex 1 to EU Directive 92/118/EEC, and that the material is therefore conforming to Commission Decision 2001/172/EC of 1 March 2001 on certain protective measures with regard to foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom.

This means that under EU legislation, limed hides, pickled pelts, wet blue and fully tanned leather could be freely traded within the European Union on condition that the accompanying commercial documentation demonstrates the processes the material has undergone.

For exports to other countries, although the details outlined above demonstrate that there is no risk of foot and mouth disease from processed hides, skins and leather, some countries may require veterinary certificates.

For further information contact UK Leather Federation,
tel: +44 1604 679955/fax +44 1604 679998.