Ethical Fur Versus Intolerant Animal Activists

ethical fur, deborah hinter, rawhide
Deborah Hinter, an Alberta woman who married a trapper, talks on the Web site TruthAboutFur.com about the “heritage of the bush” and the “calming rhythm of learning to dry scrape rawhide.” Photo: Gordy Klassen.

This article was first published in The Villager, March 16, 2017. 

As someone brought up in the Canadian fur trade and who has spent much of the past 35 years studying the environmental ethic of North America’s founding industry, I am troubled by the arrogance and ignorance displayed by self-appointed “animal-rights” activists protesting the opening of the Canada Goose boutique in Soho.

Responding to complaints about neighbors disturbed and consumers harassed, activists Nathan Semmel and Leonardo Anguiano recently argued in these pages that “it is solely the vile ethics of the Canada Goose corporation that brought about our presence.” (“Call of the Wild: Why we protest Canada Goose,” talking point, March 2):

By “vile ethics,” they mean that Canada Goose uses animal products — goose down and coyote fur — to make their remarkably warm parkas.

Goose down and fur are two of nature’s best insulators, but it is not surprising that these protesters object. Most of them are — or aspire to be — vegans, and embrace the radical “animal-rights” philosophy, which means they oppose any use of animals, even for food. Most Americans, however, do eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Most of us also wear leather, wool and silk. This does not mean we condone the mistreatment of animals. Research confirms that most people believe that humans do have a right to use animals, but only if four important criteria are respected — namely, that animals should be used sustainably, humanely, for an important purpose and with minimal waste.

Let’s see how the use of coyote fur stacks up against these widely accepted ethical criteria.

Sustainability: Only part of the natural surplus produced in abundant wildlife populations is used for fur today, never endangered species. This is assured by strictly enforced state, national and international regulations. Coyotes are highly abundant and expanding their range across North America; they are, in fact, the number-one predator problem for ranchers in many regions. There are also increasingly frequent reports of coyotes devouring pet dogs and cats. And even if we did not use fur, coyotes (and other predators) often must be managed to protect nesting birds, the eggs of sea turtles, and other endangered species. When fur prices do not provide sufficient incentive to control coyote populations, several states (and Canadian provinces) have been obliged to offer bounties. But if we have to cull some of these animals, surely it is ethical to use them.

Humaneness: Millions of dollars have been invested over the past 35 years in scientific research to ensure that humane methods are used to capture wild, furbearing animals. Many coyotes are now taken with quick-killing devices. Others are taken with live-holding traps designed to minimize injuries to the animals. These are the same traps used by biologists to capture and release wolves, Canadian lynx and other animals, unharmed, for radio-collaring (for research) or reintroduction into regions where they were previously eliminated. Clearly, these are not the diabolical instruments that activists would have us believe. Nor are nature’s ways of controlling wildlife populations — starvation and disease — necessarily preferable. A coyote with sarcoptic mange (a parasitic mite) may scratch itself raw for weeks before dying. Nature is not Disneyland. If humaneness is the concern, modern trapping methods may actually reduce suffering, by maintaining more stable and healthy wildlife populations than would occur naturally.

Armand Herscovici, ethical fur
Armand Herscovici, the writer’s grandfather, learned the furrier’s art from his father in Paris, before coming to Montreal in 1913. He is shown here in the 1950s examining Persian lamb skins in his stockroom at A-J Herscovici Furs Ltds, the company he founded with his son, Jack, the writer’s father.

Important Use: Animal activists claim that the killing of coyotes or other animals for fur is “unnecessary”, and therefore morally indefensible. Leaving aside the tricky question of determining which, if any, products are really “necessary,” humans do need clothing, and fur is a natural, long-lasting and ultimately biodegradable material. By contrast, fake furs and other synthetics promoted by animal activists are generally made from petrochemicals, a nonrenewable resource. More troubling, recent research reveals that synthetic microfibers can cause considerable harm to wildlife. According to EcoWatch: “When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing-machine effluent. Less than 1 millimeter in size, they make their way through wastewater plants and into marine environments where they have been found to enter the food chain. Microfibers make up 85 percent of human-made debris on shorelines around the world, according to a 2011 study.” Perhaps natural fur and down are not such frivolous choices after all.

No Waste: Most of us are comfortable wearing leather because it is “the envelope that dinner came in,” but we may wonder what happens to the rest of the animals that provide fur. In fact, beaver and muskrat are often eaten by northern Cree and other trappers and their families in remote regions where store-bought food is very expensive and alternate income may be hard to come by. Raccoons, opossums and other furbearing animals also provide food in more southern regions. And while coyotes and other predators are not usually eaten by humans, their carcasses are returned to the bush where they feed birds, mice and other animals through the winter, when food is scarce. Nothing is wasted.

Peter Noer, shown here with his son, is a second-generation fur farmer who came to Newfoundland from Denmark to raise mink. “We give our animals the best possible care and humane treatment,” Noer says on TruthAboutFur.com. “Fur is our province’s most valuable agricultural export.” Photo: Newfoundland and Labrador Fur Breeders Association.

This short review shows that the North American fur trade does satisfy the four criteria that determine whether the use of animals is morally acceptable for most people.

Furthermore, while we all “care” about nature, most of us now live in cities with little direct knowledge about what really happens in the wild. Activists protesting against Canada Goose, for example, claim that “trapped coyote mothers leave behind starving pups.” They are apparently unaware that trapping occurs in late fall and winter when the young of the year are no longer dependent upon their parents.

Trappers, by contrast, live close to nature and have the knowledge — and a direct interest — to sound the alarm when wildlife habitat is threatened by industrial activity. It is trappers, for example, who lobby and work with timber companies to maintain uncut forest corridors for wildlife around waterways or important nesting areas. It is the destruction of habitat — not hunters or trappers — that threatens the survival of wildlife.

While animal activists like to see themselves as “progressive,” their words and actions reveal an arrogant disregard for the knowledge and values of the hard-working rural people who feed and clothe us.

None of this means that anyone is obliged to wear fur. But it does cast doubt on activist claims to have a “moral” justification for imposing their personal choices on the rest of us. If those promoting the radical “animal-rights” philosophy want to maintain any credibility, they would do well do show more tolerance toward those who make different choices. Too often, while preaching “compassion,” their actions seem to be driven by ideological fundamentalism, aggression and “alternate facts.” Surely, we have enough of that already in Washington.

12 Comments

  • Ok so it seems like part of the “pro fur” argument I am reading on this site is based around it being sustainable and more eco friendly than synthetics. Whilst it being bio degradeable and less damaging to the environment than some synthetics is certainly truth. I still feel like it is an unnecessary luxury which warrant unnecessary suffering and killing of animals.

    My opinion is this because if this is truly your concern then I would assume you completely avoid using petroleum derived products, synthetics and plastics in general as this would line up with the moral obligation you are projecting. If this is not the case then it can only be a false projection and in fact a hypocritical attempt to protect a morally conflicting view.

    How about swapping out plastic bottles and other non essential non eco friendly damaging synthetics first? A synthetic coat will last a long time! Your weekly consumption/use of said harmful to the environment synthetics is more than that used to produce a synthetic jacket/coat!

    For these reasons I feel it can only be a contradiction used to protect simply another luxury. If your telling me that you live in harmony with nature out in the wilds somewhere and don’t make use of these synthetics which are worse for the world then fair play and your point is valid as you are making use of natural resources. Until then it is simply a farce.

    • Hi Savve, we don’t believe there is any hypocrisy here. Your main point seems to be that advocates of natural and sustainable resources like fur should not use any petrochemical resources. As you suggest, this is simply impractical. It’s a fact that advocates of fur also use gasoline, just as animal advocates also use animal products or products tested on animals. No one is striving for an absolutist position (except deep vegans). We’re all just trying to reduce our “footprint” on the environment, not to eliminate it completely. That would be impossible. Everything we do has a negative impact.

      • I feel like you are pushing my opinion to the absolute extremities In order to make it seem like fantasy and not thought about. What I am saying is that surely If we truly value animal welfare as well as the environment we would reduce our use of unnecessary materials as this would line up with our moral standpoint and opinion more accurately. Im not suggesting we stop using certain materials completely as yes that would be unrealistic:

        If by not using plastic bottles or petrolium derived synthetics for 1 week we have saved double the amount of materials as it would cost to make one synthetic jacket, then we have not only reduced our footprint for that week as opposed to if we was wearing fur and using the normal amount of plastic bottles or petrolium derived synthetics for that week. But also not had “needed” to kill the animal who we care so much about its welfare. This would mean our impact is less and we haven’t “had” to kill/support the unnecessary killing of something simply because it is more convenient and less effort to do so.

        So my point is that we can make more of a positive impact at a much higher rate by choosing not to buy as many perishables/food/drink packaged in plastic bottles or petrolium derived synthetics where possible which we use at a much higher rate than we buy a jacket, Or by not supporting non organic fruits and veg, Or by reducing the consumption/use of any damaging products which are used at a high rate in comparison to the jackets materials, then why wouldn’t we prioritise that first?

        Yes it is up to you which you choose to use less or more but given the fact that your impact is much less by my example, then making that choice supported by the fact that its “more eco friendly” than a synthetic jacket is pretty much a straight line to hypocrisy and turns it into a luxury as opposed to necessity as you have chosen to increase/not reduce your footprint in one much more significant area out of convenience/tradition.

        • Hi Savva, your argument is perfectly valid and logical, but it is too simplistic to suggest that people support fur because it’s eco-friendly. The fur trade plus consumers of fur are an enormously diverse group of people who have their own reasons for choosing fur, and it would be impossible to try to sum up all of their motivations in a few words. However, it can be said that the trade does NOT exist simply as a means of providing eco-friendly clothing.

          As you know, the fur trade has been under attack for decades, with every argument animal rights groups can dream up. Some have had merit and have been addressed, e.g., not targeting endangered wild animals, improving the humaneness of traps and the welfare of farmed animals, etc. But other arguments have been demonstrably false, and one of these is that fur is harmful to the environment. By saying fur is eco-friendly we are simply responding to critics who say otherwise, and pointing out that it is certainly more eco-friendly than petrochemical products. In doing so, we don’t believe we are hypocrites. We are simply trying to correct false information. In fact, the trade has never campaigned to put makers of fake fur out of business. Rather, it is others who want to put us out of business. As a defensive strategy, putting out correct information is only sensible and logical.

        • When u say u wanna avoid “unnecessary death” bcs of compassion. U’re not saving any individual life here. What u want is to eliminate them from existence.

          While I think that compassion is selfish. No matter how suck ur life is,living is living,prosperity is prosperity. U’re eliminating a better chance of living for them. Far better than in natural habitat,especially like in some good animal welfare farms. Unnecessary a good thing rather than just satisfying ur feeling of being a hero.

          • That makes 0 sense and is massively non-factual as well as redivulous and but you are entitled to your opinion no matter how amazingly stupid it may be I guess. You are overcome by the darkness which plagues humanity but as more of us begin to live more kind and understanding lives it becomes easier to not hate your opinion and see it for what it is. Humanity is ill and no I can’t change the world and everyone but I can myself, so I will keep out of your evil business from now on I apologise.

        • Bud,are u just suggesting I’m doing some evil business and being stupid for debating ur ethics without explaining anything to justify ur response?

          If u don’t understand what I talk about I can explain it till u can understand what sense I wanna make. And don’t just attack me for no reasons, probably u don’t have any,stupid and ridiculous.

          Say it in this way, normally when people wanna avoid unnecessary killing or suffering bcs we have compassion for a result someone else to live a longer and better life.

          But situation in vegan cases is a little bit special. If u don’t eat meat or use animal products,the animal doesn’t get killed today will be killed tomorrow. At most,we’ll breed less. That’s very factual. U don’t save any living life. Since when eliminate something from existence is an act of giving them rights to life?How irony.

          The result is, no one gets a better life or benefits from it. Someone even gets a worse impact like us.

          Avoiding unnecessary suffering on something doesn’t even exist,is totally MEANINGLESS. Well,as long as it only makes u feel better about how “good”how “clean”u are,not “someone else”,it contradicts the meaning of compassion.

          My life is pretty sucking. Are u suggesting just bcs I’ll encounter cruelty in my life I’d better not even live? Do u understand the preciousness of life?

          Bcs I need to inflict cruelty on them I offer them a better chance oand people can be benefited from it,that’s real compassion,on immoral beings like them.

          Well,usually vegans have a huge problem of discrimination and incapable of ethics,
          I don’t expect some good answers from someone accusing others “evil”,”stupid” for no reason.Hello,discrimination.

          • I’m not continuing this thread here any more.
            Anyone with real compassion care others’ better life will know killing them ourselves is to ensure their possible best life. And appreciate what farmers are doing.
            (What u’re promoting is evil,in my opinion.)

            I seriously feel attacked by people like u. I didn’t have a good sleep reading ur hate words out of void. Sorry I may sound a little bit rude. This is the end of discussion.

          • I’m not sure that I feel sorry that I hurt your feelings pal as if you truly stood behind your words it would not be significant to you. That being said I genuinely love you

            I do hope that one day we can all find a good balance of co-existence and not feel superior to each other or other species but if not I can deal with that also. We are definitely more able than others but my opinion is that we have no more right to life than another especially when it’s under unecessery circumstances. Necessity and luxury are worlds apart.

  • Ethical fur? That’s an oxymoron. How do you kill a Sentient being that wants to live….. ethically?

    • Ethics are more concerned with HOW something is done, rather than the rights and wrongs of whether it should be done at all. These are the domain of morals and laws. The ethical component of the actual killing process refers to how humanely the killing is done. Once society accepts that an animal can be killed for a certain purpose, it is incumbent on us to kill an animal with the least suffering possible.

  • I just want to start out by saying thank you. It is so refreshing to hear from another like minded and well educated individual. I am a graduate Fish and Wildlife Technician and as part of my studies we were required to be educated about the North American fur industry.

    I agree that it is infuriating that so called animal rights activists continue to have the audacity to try and “educate” the public about how cruel the fur industry is. These people have no knowledge whatsoever and their ideologies are fueled purely by emotion.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience and knowledge. I agree with you a hundred percent. The fur industry is an important part of our economy and our heritage. Wearing fur, trapping, ranching or partaking in the fur industry in any way is and should remain a personal choice.

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