Scientists have been growing a lot of things in labs recently, from human organs to animal flesh. These scientific advances are a glimmer of hope that some of today’s worst industries will someday be animal free. Now another lab-grown product is breaking ground: an animal-free, genuine leather alternative. Yes, you read that right. Modern Meadow, a NYC biotech company, announced on June 28 that they received funding to bring their technology further towards commercialization. How does a ‘genuine’ leather alternative come to be without slaughtering animals?
The process begins by using cell samples from livestock. These samples allow them to utilize “collagen protein and other essential building blocks found in animal skin, without involving animals.” The collagen molecules form a network of fibers which is assembled to create the structure of the ‘hide.’ Eventually, the hide is tanned in an environmentally sustainable way, unlike most tanning processes which are considered to be one of the top ten toxic pollution problems. Basically, in-vitro leather.
Traditional Leather Harms
The leather alternative will maintain desirable properties of traditional leather such as breathability and suppleness. However, it will lack the defects commonly found in conventional hides, produce less waste and can combine “the strength of kangaroo leather but with the delicacy of snake.”
While that last part is not appealing to vegans, Modern Meadow’s groundbreaking technology can disrupt the $100 billion market for leather, which is great news for animals. Leather is not a by-product of the meat industry, nor is it produced out of a noble desire to decrease waste. On the contrary, leather is a highly lucrative co-product of the meat industry. The two are economically interdependent; buying leather contributes directly to the suffering of animals in slaughterhouses and on factory farms.
As if that wasn’t terrible enough, the leather industry has another dirty secret. The softer the leather is, the younger an animal it came from. The so-called luxurious ‘slink skin‘ is made from fetal calves who are taken from the womb after their mothers are killed.
The Future of Leather Alternatives
Currently, there are other leather alternatives currently available including products by popular vegan companies like MooShoes, Beyond Skin, Vegan Essentials, Alternative Outfitters and Vaute Couture. However, this will be the first time that genuine leather is biofabricated. While Modern Meadow still anticipates a multi-year timeline prior to any product launch, their materials “will represent a giant leap forward in sustainability and animal welfare, as well as open doors to new design possibilities.”
Modern Meadow was established in 2011. Their vision is one that vegetarians and omnivores should share: “We believe in a future where animal products are animal-free.” They also have ambitions to take on lab-grown meat by 2022. Collaborative Fund, one of the investors propelling this lab-grown leather technology into manufacturing, also invested in the incredible vegan start up Hampton Creek. Before they make an investment they ask, “If this company becomes successful, will it make the world a better or more interesting place?” I think we can all reply with a resounding, “Yes!”