I've heard variously that leather either comes from specific breeds of cattle or is mainly a byproduct of the beef industry. Which is true, and does it vary by region or other factors?

If leather is truly a byproduct of the meat industry, is it safe to say that reducing or eliminating production of leather would have no impact on the number of animals killed?

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    On the last point, no. By adding value to the cows skin, it makes harvesting the cow more profitable, increasing the incentive to harvest cows. Not sure about the first question though. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


Nic, you've asked a number of questions here, but let me do my best to impart what I know.

Cattle leather does come from various types of cattle, including calves, buffaloes, and zebus. In no sense is cattle leather a byproduct of the meat industry. While it's difficult to get specific numbers, since the cattle industry is widely known for its lack of transparency, articles I have read estimate that cattle leather accounts for about 6-10% of the profit. The purchase of cattle leather increases the demand for cattle, increasing the number of cattle killed.

If you want to include other animals in this discussion of leather, there are animals that are killed mainly for their leather, like ostriches, where about 80% of the bird's value comes from its skin.

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    "articles I have read estimate that cattle leather accounts for about 6-10% of the profit" I'm not sure that this information (which is pretty much the only piece of information in this answer) answers the original question... This value tells nothing about whether the leather market demand is already saturated by the meat industry; if this was true, it could be said that leather is a just byproduct, as the cattle it comes from would be killed anyway due to the demand for meat (and the skin would just go to waste as other inedible parts of the animal). Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 16:00
  • @MatteoItalia Cattle ranchers are going to get every last penny out of their cattle, so the skin will never be discarded as long as it’s viable. I’ll research the topic further and add to my answer. I acknowledged it wasn’t a complete answer.
    – SquidInc.
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 16:36
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    Researching the "6-10%" claim, I can find this onegreenplanet.org article which claims that it is 10%. > "In actual fact, leather accounts for approximately 10% of the animal’s total value, making it the most valuable part, pound for pound."
    – icc97
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 16:02

A contrasting perspective from European market knowledge:

Cow leather in Europe comes almost exclusively from adult cattle. Calf leather is usually labelled as such and is more expensive, so I would say it needs to be treated as a separate product, which I won't really get into here.

While leather does form a significant part of the value of a slaughtered animal, it is, at least in Europe, basically never the case that a cow is killed for its leather. Once a cow is mature, the value of its leather will be proportial to its size, and its quality doesn't really deteriorate with age over the span of the dairy or meat industry lifespans.

Leather in its raw form has 7 layers, the top ones being easier to work than the lower ones because they require less polishing. Most production uses only the top layer and the rest is completely thrown away.

As a result, there are very few leather farms. Cows are grown for their meat or milk, not for their leather.

At this point, it becomes a question of why you are Vegan. Some vegans are ok with eating roadkill, some not. Economically you are very slightly supporting the dairy and meat indsutries but you're not really increasing the demand, which is the main economic incentive to boycott industries.

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