7 February 2019

Let consumers make informed choices about fur


Wearing fur is becoming more and more taboo. The issue is increasingly fraught and some large brands and fashion shows have decided to opt out of fur altogether.

It isn’t just firms and consumers making the choice to ditch fur. Fur farms are outlawed in many European countries, such as the UK, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, or Croatia. Some countries are in the process of phasing out fur production before a complete ban. Those include Belgium, Bosnia, the Netherlands, and Norway.

It’s perfectly fine not to like fur. And yes, in a free society you can yell at people in the street, telling them that their fur is evil. But for all your freedom to do so, you should also accept some realities about fur. For much of the campaign against fur is built on misapprehensions.

First, fake fur, which looks about the same for the non-expert consumer and which doesn’t necessitate animal farming, is not the harmless solution many take it to be. In an age in which every plastic bottle cup is demonised and outlawed, the environmentalist answer to fur is polyester. The same polyester decried as a major ocean pollutant. Fur on the other hand is a product with a long, yet circular approach: the fur on your winter coat is biodegradable. This is not a call to throw last year’s collection into the woods, but adding hair to compost is something you can indeed do.

In many countries, a large amount of fur is the by-product of meat production or hunting. In Germany, red fox hunting produces large amounts of fur as a by-product.

Yes, the fur and leather industry has an interest in selling their product, but the trade surrounding animal-derived fashion products affects millions of others in the supply-chain, including those working directly with animals involved. Be it indigenous Aborigines in Australia, pashmina (i.e. cashmere) producers and entire families involved in goat farming and fibre collection in the Kashmir region, or the 150,000 people associated with the python industry in Indonesia: people and animals are hurt when a ban is introduced, or companies drop fur products. These producers are the conservation specialists needed to maintain a population.

In a powerful recent op-ed, four conservation experts made exactly this point. They also argue: “Apparently, many millennials prefer to buy products that are “ethically sourced.” But the irony is that the economic use of wild animals is far more ecologically sustainable (i.e. ethical) than domestic animal production.”

And there are instances in which countries have failed on a regulatory level without imposing outright bans. Often, existing consumer and retail regulations are not been applied so consumers can make informed decisions about their purchases. Consumers are misinformed or outright lied to on the description of their clothing. Some producers have been negligent about this, others have sought to dupe consumers. However, responsible representatives of the industry itself have called for mandatory precise labelling of fur products and adequate enforcement in parliamentary hearings. Both law enforcement and producers have their role to play.

It is easy to demonise all consumers, but blatant bans will hurt both responsible farmers and consumers in their choice of buying fur products. Initiatives such as Furmark, an industry-led labelling system which uses independent and recognised experts from Baltic Control and NSF for animal welfare checks or ChainPoint as traceability systems, is an effective and logical solution that would help producers and consumers in the fur industry.

The idea that all fur is evil is a myth, and it doesn’t help consumer choice, wildlife protection, or responsible industry behaviour. Consumers should ask for responsible industry-led initiatives in order to have fruitful interaction between those who produce responsibly and those who wear. Screaming at customers won’t do anyone any good.

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Bill Wirtz is a Policy Analyst at ConsumerChoiceCenter.