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ASOS and PeTA want to ban silk - what is that really all about?

Posted by V. A. Bates Kassatly on

Have you heard? “ASOS firmly believes it is not acceptable for animals to suffer in the name of fashion” [source

So they are banning the sale of silk products from their site.

In the 1950s, if you bit into a plum or peach, you did so cautiously to avoid a mouthful of lurking caterpillar. Before you cooked a cauliflower or cabbage, you soaked it in a bowl of salted water to flush the bugs out.

Today these critters are gone - thanks to pesticides.

And no, eating organic does not absolve you of the crime - if crime there be - because even organic farming uses pesticides; in fact, even synthetic pesticides are permitted as a last resort. [source] Who knew?

So if you buy plants and flowers, eat fruit and vegetables, wear cotton, linen and viscose... your purchases are causing the death of insects and their offspring.

The critters might have been killed through the use of sprays and systemics, but in the case of greenhouse-grown produce, they were most likely exterminated through Biological Control [source].

This sounds a lot more touchy-feely than it is, particularly if you are a caterpillar.

Your earth-friendly, heritage-preserving, organic tomatoes for example, may well have been grown in a greenhouse protected by parasitic wasps. A large group - including Chalcidoidea, Ichneumonidae and Braconidae - their common characteristic is that they lay their eggs on, or inside, the bodies of other arthropods, such as the tomato hornworm caterpillar (below).



A living buffet for the wasps' eggs, the unfortunate host is eaten alive. Most of us would consider this a ghastly fate, not least Charles Darwin, who was inspired to write: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars".

You should note that PeTA urge you to eat tomatoes. In fact, they urge you to eat every kind of fruit and veg - all of which will have been grown using pesticides. They also favour the wearing of cotton, viscose and linen, whilst wanting to eliminate silk. [source]


So why is the tomato hornworm caterpillar, along with the cotton bollworm, flax bollworm, the cabbage moth caterpillar, the….(the list is extensive and I don’t want to bore you)... less deserving than the silkworm caterpillar? PeTA does not say. If you are a supporter, I suggest you ask them.


By comparison with the methods used to eliminate caterpillar pests in agriculture, the death meted out to silk moth caterpillars seems relatively benign. They are generally dropped into boiling water. And note, this doesn’t happen when they are still caterpillars but when they are pupae. Given the extreme transformation that pupae bodies undergo, as they metamorphose into moths, it seems to me, it would have been a cruel God indeed to make them sentient at this point. Under the circumstances - it is difficult to conclude that this death causes silk moth pupae any pain at all.

So why is it that ASOS is banning silk products?

Is it because it has researched and found silk production to be harmful? Is it to win accolades from PeTA and the RSPCA with which to market its environmental credentials? Does someone at ASOS have a grievance against China? Or is it because very few of ASOS's customers actually buy expensive items like silk shirts and cashmere jumpers, allowing the company to cloak itself in an aura of corporate responsibility at almost no expense to their bottom line? A quick check when I first heard of their decision (23/06/18) showed 64 silk items available on the entire site. Given there were 59,616 items in the site's sale alone, I suspect the latter. But if you are one of their customers, I suggest you ask them.

As for the silkworm, the subject of this post and ASOS's misguided 'protection', if its pupae were not steamed, sun-baked or boiled in their cocoon, but rather, after a happy life of mulberry leaf-chomping, allowed to metamorphose and burst forth, breaking those valuable silk threads, how would it's life end?

Would it sing and dance in the sun, flitting and mating until the Fall? Absolutely not.

Like many moths, including the famed Atlas, adult domestic silk moths, cannot eat (they don't have mouths), as they live for at most a week, desperately searching for a mate to ensure the survival of the species. Silk farmers, of course, choose a select few to breed each year and provide eggs for the next production round. The moth's evolutionary role is accomplished.

Not so with the ban on silk production PeTA and ASOS are endorsing. Silkworms have been farmed in China for 5,000 years, more inbred than a poodle, they no longer exist in the wild. The end of silk production would mean extinction for the species.

For our part, here at Commun des Mortels, we defy PeTA, ASOS and anyone else who tries to single out silkworm extermination from that of all other caterpillars. It is unconscionable that rich Westerners are advocating the destruction of traditional livelihoods and ecosystems in poorer nations on a whim.

If ASOS really want to do good, surely the best place to start would be by paying more to their suppliers?

Buy sustainable, buy environmentally sound, buy silk...

Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar image: Stsmith Wikimedia Commons

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