By: Teresa Platt  Date: 01/15/2012 Category: | Animal Rights Extremism | Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare |

The "Fur Free 2000" campaign of the Humane Society of the United States has moved to stage two: legislation. As you recall, Christmas 1998 brought the world video clips of a German Shepherd being bled and skinned alive, supposedly somewhere in China.1 As the dog howls, one wonders how this could happen to a single animal, let alone the millions HSUS says are abused like this throughout Asia. Why would anyone skin a live, struggling, large animal? And will HSUS ever release the uncut footage, with depositions identifying the people involved, to the authorities?

In 1998, in the US, HSUS found some 400 made-in-China coats with trim labeled "Mongolian dog." HSUS's DNA testing showed the fur, or hair, had come from a member of the canine family, "dog." What kind of dog - domestic, feral or wild - was up to speculation since many Asian countries do not keep dogs and cats for pets but do use them for meat and hides. Most international buyers, of course, know their goods and, when trading across cultural lines, are careful to purchase products acceptable to the consumer while meeting the labeling laws of the countries they sell to.

For a twist, in Finland the Fur Free 2000 campaign claimed "dog and cat fur" products were mislabeled as "FinnRaccoon," a small segment of the local fur farming industry. FinnRaccoon came to Finland from Russia, where it is called Ussurian raccoon and has been raised for fur since the 1920s. However, this "raccoon" is actually a member of the canine family and is native to Asia, where it is called "raccoon dog." Its real name is Nyctereutes procyonoides and it frequently carries rabies, so its proliferation in the wild is controlled for health reasons. The hide and meat from this animal with so many names, from farmed and wild sources, is used by humans in many countries for a range of purposes. Is this the animal that was labeled "Mongolian dog" in the US? HSUS connected all these far-flung dots and insisted that products made from domesticated dogs and cats, implying our cherished pets, were flooding the borders carrying misleading labels.


Protecting consumers from fraud

Most countries have laws protecting consumers from labeling fraud. In the US, product labeling is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission under the Fair Packaging & Labeling Program. Fur comes under Subchapter IV - Labeling of Fur Products.

In this law, Congress stated, "Informed consumers are essential to the fair and efficient functioning of a free market economy. Packages and their labels should enable consumers to obtain accurate information as to the quantity of the contents and should facilitate value comparisons. Therefore, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to assist consumers and manufacturers in reaching these goals in the marketing of consumer goods." We couldn't agree more.

The Labeling Law defines fur as "any animal skin or part thereof with hair, fleece, or fur fibers attached thereto, either in its raw or processed state, but shall not include such skins as are to be converted into leather or which in processing shall have the hair, fleece, or fur fiber completely removed." Congress clearly detailed at what point fur becomes leather. Let us all praise Congress for, quite sensibly, defining fur before attempting to regulate it.


Legislative spree

Since this federal fur labeling law already exists, why doesn't HSUS simply push the FTC to do its job and ensure labels are clear, perhaps demand species' scientific names? Instead, on the shaky ground that consumers are being duped, it is making a full court press for state and federal bans, or trade barriers, to be placed on this yet-to-be-defined "dog and cat fur." The following is HSUS activity on this issue, in its own words, for the first quarter of 1992:

  • Florida: SB 1262/HB 379, both of which would ban the sale of dog and cat fur products. H.B. 379 has already passed two committees. Calls are needed in support of SB 1262. Please call today!
  • Maryland: HB 866, which will ban the sale of dog and cat fur. A hearing was held on March 9. Incredibly, the committee voted to kill the bill.
  • Minnesota: SF 697/HF 1211, which would prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products.
  • New Jersey: AB 274/AR 150 to prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products.
  • Oregon: SB 599, which would ban the sale of dog and cat fur products and would ban the sale of a pelt from any wild fur-bearing mammal.
  • Pennsylvania: SR 27/SB 474/HB 768, which address the dog and cat fur problem.
  • South Carolina: HB 3409, which would prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products.
  • Washington: HB 2280, to prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur."
  • Virginia: SB 1259/SB 1260/HB 2323 to prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products. Signed into law.

Tracking the bill in Virginia reveals a furious pace! Introduced on January 21 as a bill that "Prohibits killing dogs for their fur and provides a fine," it raced through the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and through the House. After amendments to include cats and add the word domestic, it hit the Governor's desk on February 25 and was signed into law:

"The Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 3.1-796.128:2 as follows: §3.1-796.128:2. Selling garments containing dog or cat fur prohibited. It is unlawful for any person to sell a garment containing the hide, fur or pelt which he knows to be that of a domestic dog or cat. A violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000."

Thank goodness for the word domestic, which Webster's Dictionary defines as "Of or pertaining to the family or household." We assume the Virginia legislature means pets. However, foxes have been raised long enough to be considered livestock and come under the regulations of state agriculture departments as domesticated animals - animals that have been changed for human benefit. Is selling fox fur collars now illegal in Virginia? Goodness.


Legislation by urban myth

At the Federal level, on April 30, Congressman Gerald Kleczka (D-WI) introduced HR 1622, which would ban "the importation, manufacture, transport or sale of any product made with dog or cat fur." It would also "direct the Customs Service to inspect goods entering the US suspected of containing dog and cat fur, and impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation and criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and additional fines at the discretion of the judge. A similar ban would be placed on goods made or advertised in the US to prevent foreign manufacturers from setting up operations in this country." According to HSUS, Klecka's bill would "prohibit the import, export, or sale in the United States of dog and cat fur, which has infiltrated the US market in garments and inexpensive fur toys." Is this a reference to the urban myth that Furbys contain pet fur, not acrylic fur?

Lack of definition

In none of the bills are dog or cat defined, so let's start there.3 In the kingdom of Animalia, class of Mammalia, order of Carnivora, resides the family Canidae, canines, which includes species we call dog. Coyote, wolf, jackal, raccoon dog, bush dog and more - canines include a vast array of animals. We all know of the need to control canines around people4 and, yes, their meat and hides are used for a variety of products. With about 21 distinct species, foxes comprise the largest canine group, ranging from deserts to the Arctic. Foxes are also bred for fur and may even pass for pets. Which one of these is dog? The family Felidae, felines, include domestic cats and at least 34 other species. Lion, tiger, jaguar, jaguarundi, spotted cat, lynx, bobcat, ocelot, pampas cat, puma. Which one of these is cat?

All of the above animals occur in the wild, are raised in captivity for human benefit and, yes, many are kept somewhere as pets. Trade in any species at risk, of course, is already tightly controlled by international treaty. And then there are the cultural taboos in the US against using pet fur - it would be like selling beefsteak to India. Are trade barriers necessary when, quite simply, the consumer would never buy the product?

We can see where this campaign is heading. Start by creating an air of crisis, write legislation that lacks clarity, set up trade barriers that tie up garments produced by even the most responsible fur traders, create confusion at the borders and generate lots of ill will among neighbors. For the price of all this activity, HSUS could have built a shelter in China and actually helped some animals. Or is that too simple?

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