In the bling bling world of the National Basketball Association (NBA), leather is on its way out. Not the shoes, boots, sneakers, pants, or ubiquitous motorcycle jacket...I'm talking about the ball itself.
"Spalding urged the NBA to switch to a composite model because it was having trouble securing 'consistent' leather to keep manufacturing the ball that has been used for decades," writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com. New Jersey Net Jason Kidd is skeptical. "They probably couldn't sell (the leather ball)," he said. "It was an indoor model. A lot of kids play outside, so maybe that was the reason." Whatever the reason for the switch, here's a little something the $1.5-billion-and-100-million-animal-skins-per-year U.S. leather industry would probably prefer you didn't know.
"Leather is not simply a slaughterhouse byproduct," writes animal issues columnist Carla Bennett. "It's a booming industry and an important part of the slaughter trade, since skin accounts for approximately 50 percent of the total byproduct value of cattle." Leather is also made from slaughtered horses, sheep, lambs, goats, and pigs. "When dairy cows' production declines, for example, their skin is made into leather; the hides of their offspring, 'veal' calves, are made into high-priced calfskin," adds Bennett. "Thus, the economic success of the slaughterhouse (and the factory farm) is directly linked to the sale of leather goods."
Another tactic for procuring animal skins is hunting. Species such as zebras, bison, water buffaloes, boars, deer, kangaroos, elephants, eels, sharks, dolphins, seals, walruses, frogs, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes are murdered solely for their hides. These animals are often endangered or illegally poached-and death is rarely swift or painless. Alligators are clubbed with axes and hammers and may suffer for hours. Reptiles are skinned alive to achieve suppleness in the leather and may take days to die. Kid goats are boiled alive.
A clever diversionary tactic of leather makers is to label their products "biodegradable" while pointing out that synthetic versions are usually petroleum-based. However, says Sally Clinton in Vegetarian Journal, the tanning process acts to "stabilize the collagen or protein fibers so that they are no longer biodegradable." In turn, the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology explains, "On the basis of quantity of energy consumed per unit of product produced, the leather-manufacturing industry would be categorized with the aluminum, paper, steel, cement, and petroleum-manufacturing industries as a gross consumer of energy." The primary reason for this is that over 95 percent of U.S. leather is chrome tanned. "All wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)," writes Clinton.
The PETA website details "the threat to human health from the highly elevated levels of lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde in the ground water near tanneries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area surrounding one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average. People who work in tanneries are dying of cancer caused by exposure to dimethylformamide and other toxic chemicals used to process and dye the leather. The coal tar derivatives used are extremely potent cancer-causing agents. According to a study released by the New York State Department of Health, more than half of all testicular cancer victims work in tanneries."
Whether the NBA realizes it or not, its decision was a slam dunk.
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.