Some interesting facts about the ‘silk industries’ that will make you shudder:
While experts disagree over how much an insect can suffer or feel pain, most at least leave the door open on the question, and believe it is possible that insects feel something that we would call pain if we could know what an insect feels. An insect’s nervous system is different from a mammal’s, but they have a nervous system that transmits signals from stimuli and causes the insect to respond to stimuli, just as a human nervous system does. They avoid unpleasant situations, whether from a predator or uncomfortable heat. Just by studying human neurophysiology from the outside, would we conclude that people are conscious? Or would we conclude they’re just executing responses without awareness?
Silk is the fiber that silkworms weave to make their cocoons. To obtain silk, distributors boil the worms alive inside their cocoons. Anyone who has ever seen worms startle when their dark homes are uncovered must acknowledge that worms are sensate—they produce endorphins and have a physical response to pain. Vegans do not wear silk because it is an animal product that results from the exploitation of animals. Each year silk industries exploit billions of silkworms, spiders and other animals.
Silk thread is also produced by killing silkworms while they are in their caterpillar stage, just before they spin their cocoons, and extracting their two silk glands. The glands are then stretched into silk threads known as silkworm gut, which is used mainly to make fly fishing lures.
Some silk is made without killing the caterpillars. Eri silk or “peace silk” is made from the cocoons of Samia ricini, a type of silkworm who spins a cocoon with a tiny opening in the end. After metamorphosizing into moths, they crawl out of the opening. This type of silk cannot be reeled in the same way that Bombyx mori silk is reeled, and instead is carded and spun like wool. Eri silk represents a very small portion of the silk market.
Another type of silk is Ahimsa silk, which is made from the cocoons of Bombyx mori moths after the moths chew their way out of their cocoons. Because of the chewed-through strands, less of the silk is usable for textile production and Ahimsa silk costs more than conventional silk. “Ahimsa” is the Hindu word for “non-violence.” Ahimsa silk, though popular with Jains, also represents a very small portion of the silk market. Neither ‘peace silk’ nor ‘Ahimsa silk’ make it morally justifyable to continue to exploit sentients.
Vegans try to avoid harming and exploiting animals, which means that vegans do not use animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, fur, leather, wool or silk. Dropping silkworms into boiling water kills the worms causing them to suffer. Even eri silk or Ahimsa silk are problematic because they involve the domestication, breeding and exploitation of animals. Adult Bombyx mori silkmoths cannot fly because their bodies are too big compared to their wings, and adult males cannot eat because they have underdeveloped mouth parts. Similar to cows who have been bred for maximum meat or milk production, silkworms have been bred to maximize silk production, with no regard for them.
The so-called “silkworm” is actually a domesticated insect who, in nature, goes through the same stages of metamorphosis—egg, larva, pupa, and adult—that all moths do. Silk is derived from the cocoons of larvae, so most of the insects raised by the industry don’t live past the pupa stage, as they are steamed or gassed alive in their cocoons. Approximately 3,000 silkworms are killed to make every pound of silk.
Pharmaceutical companies have taken an interest in these insects, too, because they are perceived as inexpensive and easy to raise and can be genetically engineered to produce silk that contains human collagen. Silkworms have also been transgenically modified to spin fluorescent-colored silk.
The military and medical communities have been testing on spiders, hoping to harness the strength and flexibility of spider silk for suture thread and to create a fabric that could replace Kevlar. If they are kept together in captivity, however, spiders succumb to stress-induced cannibalism. Approximately 1,400 spiders are needed to spin 1 ounce of silk, so farming spiders has not been a profitable venture. Instead, scientists have experimented on goats by inserting spider-silk genes into their cells, causing the goats to produce milk that contains silk proteins. The military continues to fund this research, even though it has yet to produce a product that is commercially viable (it takes 600 gallons of milk to produce a single bulletproof vest).
Even if insects do not feel pain when dropped into boiling water, a death free of pain is still a death. Death penalty opponents focus not on the suffering or pain involved with the process, but the loss of life, which in itself is the ultimate loss. Regardless of the extent to which insects are sentient, conscious or emotional, avoiding silk prevents millions of animals from suffering and death.
Alternatives to silk— nylon, milkweed seed pod fibers, silk-cotton tree and ceiba tree filaments, polyester, and rayon—are easy to find. Go vegan – stay vegan.
The picture attached is that of the Bombyx mori moth.