FUR: the Truth
MAY / JUN 2011: ISSUE 17
Remember back in the 90s, when a famous supermodels happily posed for PETA, proclaiming that they would rather go naked than wear fur? For most of that decade fur was, indeed, considered uncool and was rarely used by fashion-forward designers. Then, a few years ago, it was suddenly all the rage again. Many of the fall and winter collections this year seem to be built around candy-colored mink, fox, and other furs. The stars of that famous PETA campaign also seemed to have forgotten all about the promise they made.Cindy Crawford has since modeled in mink and Naomi Campbell in sable.
In fact, of all those supermodels in the “Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign only Christy Turlington has stayed away from pelts (although she did catch some heat for posing with leather goods in a Louis Vuitton campaign last year). What happened?
The fur industry has worked hard to rebrand itself as a “natural” alternative to fast fashion, sometimes claiming that their wares are even ethical. Industry association Fur Commission USA (FCUSA) states: “The North American fur trade is a responsible industry based on the sustainable use of renewable resources. This is a principle that is promoted by conservation organizations around the world.”
Their sustainability argument is based mainly on the fact that fur is biodegradable. That’s true, if it wasn’t for the heavily polluting chemicals used during the tanning process, which is done to all animal skins, not just colored ones (even though it sounds like it). Vegetable tanning has become more popular but is rarely done with furs since the tannins in the vegetable matter can cause discoloration.
The claim that fur is a renewable resource is based on the assumption that animals will keep reproducing at a rate higher than nature can sustain. Since 80-85% of the world’s fur comes from farms, this argument does not apply to the majority. Furs that are sourced from the wild are badly regulated and we’ve already seen species like the sea mink become extinct because of its prized fur.
At the end of last year, President Obama signed the Truth in Fur Labeling Act to require all real animal fur to be correctly labeled. The international fur industry has a label called Origin Assured (OA), launched in 2007. This label aims to assure customers that the animals have been treated humanely and that the product they’re buying is made using only fur from approved species, sourced from approved countries.
The supply chain is monitored by an independent agency to ensure compliance with the country of origin’s ethics standards. This is where it gets murky. In the United States, for example, it is still legal in many states (except Colorado, California, Florida, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington state) for trappers to use steel-jaw traps. These have sharp spikes that clamp onto the animals leg and leaves them in agonizing pain until the trapper returns, often to stun the animal by beating and then sitting on it until it dies from the crushing weight. In fact, crushing is considered “humane killing” according to US guidelines, and is the favored method used by trappers since it does not damage the pelt.
Most of the world’s pelts come from fur farms, where animals are often kept in cramped wire cages for their entire lives, in disease-laden conditions similar to those of factory farmed animals.
The FCUSA, who represents mink farmers in 28 states and opposes any legislation at the state or federal level, because they argue that it would undermine their work, states that “the only method of euthanasia approved for mink by FCUSA is controlled atmosphere euthanasia using bottled gas, either pure carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.” However, violations are constantly discovered, where fur farmers use cruel methods like electrocution, drowning, beating, poisoning, neck-breaking, strangling and sometimes even skinning the animals alive.
I have some vintage furs that I wear with the excuse that since they are second hand the animals did not die for me. But is that really a valid statement? If I wear fur and make it look good (which I like to think that I do on occasion), aren’t I helping the whole fur industry along by being a walking billboard for their ethically questionable product? So what about fakes?
Research by the University of Michigan shows that the energy needed to produce a fur coat from farmed animals is 20 times larger than that needed to make a faux one, so there’s an upside. Sometimes fake fur looks so good that it seems real—and it may actually be! In China, it’s not uncommon for fur farmers to pass cheap off-cuts of cheaper skins—like those from rabbits, cats and dogs—off as fake fur. So even though you think you are choosing the ethical route by wearing faux fur, you may unknowingly be donning the real thing!
Several European countries, including Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands have, or are in the process of, introducing legislation to ban fur farming, which is already outlawed in Austria, Croatia and the UK. Switzerland has put such strict regulations in place that fur farming has become unprofitable.
In 1989, West Hollywood passed a resolution proclaiming the city a “Cruelty Free Zone for Animals.” Soon, it may be the first city in the US to go fur free. “We have pledged to be a place that is free of cruelty to animals and we can no longer support the barbaric fur trade by selling the products of that cruelty in our city,” said West Hollywood City Council candidate and Fur Free WeHo campaign supporter John D’Amico.
“This frivolous luxury can be stopped with consumer and civic action,” said campaign leader Ellen Lavinthal. “This will be another historic campaign showing the nation that West Hollywood is a leader in the protection of animal citizens.”
In the report “The Ethical Case Against Fur Farming,” an international group of ethicists, philosophers and theologians led by the Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey, a member of the Faculty of Theology in the University of Oxford, states: “There is increasing evidence of a link between the abuse of animals and other forms of violence, notably against women and children. It is an increasingly viable assumption that a world in which abuse to animals goes unchecked is bound to be a less morally safe world for human beings.”
Maybe it is time we compost those fur coats once and for all?**