Cat and dog fur being passed off as ‘ethical’
IN THE latest twist in the ongoing battle against the fur trade, pelts from slaughtered cats and dogs are being passed off as ‘ethical’ fur. Last month, the US fashion industry cracked down on ‘dubious labelling’, but this was not good news for British shoppers as fashion experts have predicted a flood of rejected cat and dog fur goods from the US surfacing in the UK.
A video issued by the leading US animal welfare agency, the Humane Society of the United States, has been issued to make would-be fur coat buyers stop and think about their choice. The video depicts a grey longhaired German Shepherd puppy being hauled from its cage by the neck before being strung up by a wire noose, which slowly strangles it to within an inch of its life. It is then skinned alive whilst blinking helplessly and moaning in agony.
Seen as a PR disaster for the fur trade, this video is part of a huge campaign by the HSUS.
The campaign culminated two weeks ago in the international animal rights charity exposing shocking new evidence that coats purchased from the top-end US designer store, Nordstrom, which stocks designer labels including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, were found to be trimmed with fur from domestic dogs, even though the fur was advertised as fake.
There was public outrage and the fashion industry in New York is still feeling the shockwaves. Panic set in as top names Calvin Klein, DKNY and Rocawear, and celebrities including Beyonce and P Diddy whose fashion lines were stocked in store, rushed out statements expressing disgust.
Described in shock news headlines as the ‘biggest industry-wide deception’ in recent years, it began after a tip-off from a customer who bought a surprisingly soft coat marked ‘faux fur’.
DNA tests revealed it to be domestic dog originating in China, which supplies well over half of the fur to the global market and is renowned for its inhumane killing methods. Other coats were found to be the skins of similarly banned members of the canine family, such as Racoon, dog and wolf.
In America importing cat and dog furs into the country has been outlawed since 2000. But in the UK – a nation famed for its animal lovers – there is no law banning the import of cat and dog fur at all, making it even more likely that a similar scandal could emerge.
The British Fur Association has signed up to a voluntary EU labelling scheme in a bid to reassure shoppers that its pelts are not tainted by cat and dog fur, and this autumn it plans to launch the Origin Assured (AO) label which will confirm that ‘a product comes from a country where national or local regulations or standards governing fur production are in force’.
But unlike Australia, New Zealand and a number of other EU countries, the UK government has so far refused calls to sign up to a blanket ban on such imports.
‘Because fur is often dyed and treated, it is almost impossible to establish with 100 per cent certainty the true origin of the fur in our stores and markets,’ says Mark Glover, UK Director of Humane Society International.
‘With DNA testing proving expensive and time consuming, and garments needing to be sent abroad for analysis, it is also impossible to check every garment that enters the market.
‘It is now widely established that much of the exceptionally real feeling faux fur on sale in street market stalls across the country, like that in the US, is actually real.’
The US clampdown is also expected to have a huge knock on effect globally - with imports of dog and cat fur now flooding the European market where legislation is more lax and demand for fur is equally high.
But with most high street retailers and several top designer brands moving production to China in a bid to keep costs down, the question is how long will it be before a major UK fashion chain is caught out? And when a cat pelt can be bought in China for less than two dollars (£1.50), it is not surprising that many retailers turn a blind eye to its origins.
Cat fur is soft and luxurious enabling it to be passed off as any number of more expensive furs. While German Shepherd is the most popular breed of dog because its long fur so closely resembles that of wild animals such as coyote or racoon, Labrador and Alsatian pelts have also been found.
Recent figures reveal that China slaughters over two million cat and dogs every year to satisfy Western demand - supplying 50% of the fur in America.
‘How much of this is cat and dog pelt is impossible to tell but official figures reveal that 5,400 cats and dogs are slaughtered across China every day with the majority shipped to the West - someone has to be buying them,’ adds Glover.
While campaigners are pushing for EU-wide measures to ban the sale of cat and dog in all 27-member nations, the RSPCA says there is a strong likelihood that cat and dog fur is being worn by unsuspecting customers in a variety of fur trims.
One major high street chain was even also forced to withdraw all fur from its collections after jackets trimmed with ‘coyote’ were found to be dog fur.
Posing as potential buyers, animal charity Care for the Wild International (CWI) went undercover in London and Hong Kong to reveal the extent to which Chinese fur is flooding the UK market. They were offered a range of skins including leopard and domestic cats skins.
While many originate from Spain, the vast majority are Chinese. The vast majority of ‘rabbit’ pom-pom scarves – popular for the past two winters, and a snip at £5, available in markets up and down the UK - were exposed as cat fur.
The Humane Society International first revealed Europe’s role in the dog and cat fur back in 1998. As part of the original inquiry, investigators followed pelts across the world to France and Germany, where the fur was being made into coats, clothing trim, glove linings, and children’s toys. The fur was also found in Spain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Sickening evidence collected included a blanket made out of 4 Golden Retrievers bought in Copenhagen, individual cat skins complete with eye holes, paws and tales in Barcelona and a full length coat made out of up to 42 GSD puppies bought in Berlin. And in spite of anti-fur campaigners, the demand for fur in general on our high streets this winter was higher than ever before.
Sales in the UK topped 50 million for the first time – up 30 per cent on two years ago. But because of dubious labelling, there is no official data on the trade.
‘It is the importer of the fur garment who chooses how the product is to be labelled,’ says Glover.
‘We have recordings of Chinese factory owners admitting to us during undercover investigations that they are happy to attach any label to garments to make them more marketable.’
The fur industry’s new labelling initiatives have been seen by many as a step in the right direction. Regulations include guidelines that protect the environment and ensure sustainable wildlife programmes and humane farming practices.
‘The labelling programme is part of a commitment to openness and transparency,’ says Andrea Martin of the British Fur Association. ‘As an industry, we deplore and work against the mistreatment of all animals.’
But it is the people who operate outside the official fur industry who are the worry, as investigations by animal rights organisation PETA reveal.
Undercover film footage shows dogs and cats in cramped factories or being rounded up on the street where they are sold for their skin. Many still have their collars on at the time of slaughter – a sign they were domesticated pets.
Dogs can be seen cowering in dark, cold unsanitary rooms, surrounded by the bodies of dead skinned dogs suspended from hooks.
Cats are strangled with nooses one by one in wooden cages. This summer the EU will decide whether to impose a blanket ban on the imports of all cat and dog pelts, which at least is a step in the right direction. But the Internet is set to be the next hurdle.
The rise in web shopping means that hundreds of China-based companies can carry on passing off cat and dog fur under various guises to customers and fashion retailers online - no questions asked.
In January this year, EU governments unanimously supported a proposal to ban the sale, import and production of dog and cat fur in the 27-nation bloc, responding to growing calls to outlaw the practice.
EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said he hoped the ban could be adopted by the end of June, after the European Parliament – hopefully - gives its consent to the measure.
15 EU nations already have individual cat and dog fur bans in place, but an EU-wide ban is expected to bring clear guidelines for all member nations… and hopefully an end to the vile trade in domestic pets’ fur.