How changing cattle feed cuts leather’s carbon footprint
Although leather is simply a by-product of the meat industry, its critics often draw a direct connection between its production and the environmental impact of raising cattle. One of the key factors here is the production of soybeans used as cattle feed. Soybean production is regularly cited as being detrimental to the environment due to the pesticides used and possible deforestation to clear land for its cultivation.
Measuring leather’s environmental impact
Under the PEFCR (Product Environmental Footprint Category Rules) – agreed between leather manufacturers represented by COTANCE, national governments and the European Commission – the impact of cattle rearing is now indeed taken into account when measuring the carbon footprint of leather up to the point of sale (‘cradle to gate’). As a biodegradable material with long usable life, leather also outperforms many alternatives (including ‘vegan leather’) when it comes to a whole lifetime assessment – although this is not specifically covered by the PEFCR. Alternatives may not be as durable as leather and often contain plastics that are highly damaging to the environment in the long term.
Still, anything that can reduce the environmental impact of cattle rearing is to be welcomed to further enhance leather’s sustainability credentials. One area being explored is the use of alternative animal feeds to reduce the dependency on crops like soybeans while maintaining animal welfare.
More sustainable cattle feed
An article in Planet of Plenty describes 5 eco-friendly alternative protein sources for animal feed “which are allowing farmers to increase their output and performance while protecting the world around us.” The new food sources include insects, earthworms, seaweed & microalgae, pea protein and single-cell protein. Insects, in particular, are a rich source of protein and can be reared with a relatively small carbon footprint. Seaweed and microalgae can be used to significantly reduce a cow’s methane output. Methane is a GHG (greenhouse gas) which, although less damaging than CO2 since it lasts only about ten years in the atmosphere, contributes to global warming, so any means of limiting emissions is good news.
According to Planet of Plenty, these alternative foodstuffs are seen as cost-effective feed management strategies that are not only better for the environment but healthier for animals as well. While sustainable animal nutrition won’t happen at scale overnight, it is another tool in the world’s arsenal to tackle climate change and protect the earth from further damage.
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