Alan Herscovici, Senior Researcher, Truth About Fur
Alan Herscovici is the senior researcher and writer for Truth About Fur.
Alan was raised in a fur family. His grandfather came to Canada in 1913 as a young fur artisan, having learned the craft from his own father in Paris. Alan’s father was a respected Canadian fur manufacturer and sales agent.
After receiving his BA from McGill University (First Class Honours, Political Science and Economics) and an MA from the University of Sussex (Political Economy), Alan worked as a writer, freelance journalist and communications consultant.
Alan’s published work includes the award-winning Second Nature: The Animal-Rights Controversy (CBC, 1985; General Publishing, 1991), the first book to present a balanced critique of the animal-rights philosophy from an environmental and social justice perspective.
From 1997 to 2016, he served as Executive Vice-President of the Fur Council of Canada where he initiated pioneering programs to increase understanding and appreciation of the fur trade including, notably, www.Furisgreen.com.
He shares his life with a pampered Lab-Golden rescue dog, an aquarium of fish, the latest in a long series of budgerigars, and some wonderful humans.
It was in March 1964, that a film on Radio-Canada, the French-language network of Canada’s public broadcaster, rocketed the northwest Atlantic seal hunt into the media spotlight for the first time. No matter that the shocking scenes of a live seal being poked by a sealer’s knife (“skinned alive”) would later prove to have been staged for the camera. (1)
In the 50 years that followed, the modus operandi of a lucrative new protest industry was refined: shocking images of questionable origin, celebrities to attract media attention, and emotional fund-raising campaigns that generated piles of money to drive more campaigns.
Markets for sealskins were weakened (with a US import ban in 1972 and a partial European ban in 1983), but the newly formed International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was soon pulling in $6 million annually – more than 3,000 Canadian sealers made risking their lives on the ice floes each Spring. Greenpeace and other groups jumped onto the gravy train, with help from Brigitte Bardot. (2)
In the 1980s – with wild furs more popular than they had been since the Roaring Twenties – the protesters turned their newly-honed media, fund-raising and political skills against trapping (3), a campaign that resulted in the European Union banning jaw-type “leg-hold” traps, in 1997. No matter that traps used in Europe were untested or that other methods used there to control wildlife (e.g., poisoning muskrats in Belgium and the Netherlands) had far-reaching animal-welfare and environmental consequences. Canadian diplomats were told: “Don’t worry about your scientific studies, don’t you understand that this is about politics?”
While campaigns against sealing and trapping continue, the anti-fur focus has now shifted to calls for a ban on fur farming – but the tactics are the same.
Absent: Voice of the Fur Trade
Throughout this debate, one voice was conspicuously absent: the voice of the people whose livelihoods and reputations were being attacked. There are several reasons for this, including the imperatives of modern media, where confrontation is “news” and “celebrities” are irresistible. Hunters, trappers and farmers, moreover, do not live in cities where most journalists are based, so they are rarely heard.
The structure of the fur trade itself – small-scale, decentralized and artisanal – also made it difficult for the industry to muster an effective response. And it didn’t help that those closest to the media and consumers – retail furriers – have little knowledge of production issues. Asking a furrier about trapping standards makes about as much sense as asking a seafood chef to explain fisheries management policy.
All this is about to change. After 50 years of turning the other cheek, the fur trade is finally speaking out more effectively. Under the banner “Truth About Fur”, fur farmers, trappers, biologists and veterinarians are setting the record straight.
Animal Activists Scrambling
The reaction of animal activists is revealing. Used to having the soapbox to themselves, they are scrambling to block or discredit the industry’s voice. I have experienced this personally.
When we refute lies or misinformation on-line, it doesn’t take long before a cyber-bully tries to shut down discussion. Rather than risk having their dogmatic beliefs shaken by facts, they shoot the messenger. Typical attacks include: “He’s paid to write this, don’t listen to him!” “He’s a fur industry troll!” Recently I was called “a sock puppet”.
I suppose it is better to be a sock puppet than a marionette, which would mean that someone was pulling my strings. But the bad news for these cyber-bullies is that we are not puppets. We are the people of the fur trade, and we will be silent no longer.
If the vicious lies and slanders leveled by activists against the fur trade for the past 50 years were directed at any other group in society, they would be denounced as hate crimes. It’s time that animal activists were exposed for what they are: intolerant bullies with little understanding of modern environmental thinking.
Aboriginal (or other) trappers do not need lessons about respecting nature from urban activists. Mink farmers do not need lessons about caring for animals from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). The fur trade is not a crime against nature; it is a prime example of “the responsible and sustainable use of renewable natural resources”, a principle supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and every other environmental authority. These are some of the facts that are documented by Truth About Fur.
It is encouraging that close to 500 international designers now include fur in their collections, compared with only about 40 in the early 1990s. And it is wonderful to see people of all ages with coyote and fox trim on their parkas this winter. But it is especially satisfying to know that, whatever people choose to wear, the fur trade’s story is finally being told by the people who live it.
* * *
1) Alan Herscovici, Second Nature: The Animal-Rights Controversy (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1985; Stoddart Publishing, 1991), p. 74.
Ontario trappers have launched an exciting new campaign to inform the public about how they protect people and property by responsibly managing… Read More
Ontario trappers have launched an exciting new campaign to inform the public about how they protect people and property by responsibly managing wildlife populations.
“We are trying to reach that 80% of the population that simply does not know what we do or why and how we do it,” says Robin Horwath, General Manager of the Ontario Fur Managers Federation (OFMF).
OFMF’s posters carry a bold headline stating that, "Trappers Manage Wildlife While Protecting People!" This message is accompanied by three large photos of forest land under water and a road closed by beaver flooding.
For more information, the posters direct people to the Ontario Fur Managers’ website at www.Furmanagers.com.
The campaign over Christmas featured large posters in two major Ontario malls, one in Ottawa’s Bayshore mall and one in Toronto’s The Path mall. In March, the campaign will shift to street-level advertising in Toronto and ads on six Ottawa buses.
“Last year, I saw some street-level info ads about the oil sands and I thought: that’s what we’ve got to do; we’ve got to get out there and tell our own story!”
“People are intelligent, but they can’t make the right decisions if we don’t give them the facts,” says Horwath.
Of course, a few posters will not change the world on their own, at least not immediately. But imagine if trappers’ councils across North America did the same thing!
Public morals and their protection are certainly a concern for governments, but is the EU abusing its authority in using… Read More
Public morals and their protection are certainly a concern for governments, but is the EU abusing its authority in using morality as an excuse to ban trade? The World Trade Organization thinks not, and that should worry all of us.
On May 22nd, the WTO Appellate Body released a long-awaited decision about the EU ban on importation of seal products "to protect public morals". While activist groups were quick to trumpet victory, it will take some time to understand the full impact of this complex 250-page judgment.
Nonetheless, it is clear that this ruling will have far-reaching implications for anyone involved with animal production or trading in animal-based products.
On the positive side, the ban (implemented in 2010) was condemned by the WTO’s highest authority for “arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination” against products of other countries, and the EU was instructed to amend its legislation accordingly.
The main issue here is an exemption for Inuit hunters. The WTO noted that “virtually all” Greenlandic (i.e., EU) seal products benefitted from this indigenous exemption while the “vast majority” of Canadian seal products did not.
It therefore found that the ban was discriminatory against Canada. In reality, the exemption did little for Inuit hunters anywhere, because the ban (and related campaigning) eroded markets for all seals. (1)
The real goal of the exemption was to provide cover for activists and EU politicians, since concern for indigenous rights is almost as politically correct as animal rights among the chattering classes, in theory at least.
The WTO, to its credit, saw through the ruse and denied that such racially or culturally defined exemptions “can be reconciled with, or is related to, the policy objective of addressing EU public moral concerns regarding seal welfare”.
The EU was hoisted by its own petard. If the way in which seals are hunted is so morally repugnant that a trade ban is justified, how can these same hunting methods be acceptable when employed by Inuit people? It will be interesting to see how the EU responds.
Of much greater importance, however, is that the WTO accepted the EU’s claim that trade restrictions based on animal-welfare concerns can be justified“to protect public morals”.
Until now, the WTO has refused to tolerate any ban based on the “means of production”. And for good reason: Say goodbye to world trade if countries can ban each other’s products because they don’t agree with their worker-safety regulations, environmental-protection controls – or now, animal-welfare concerns. (2)
No wonder that animal activist groups are cheering: a brave new world of political campaigning has just opened for them!
"This is a very exciting development,” gushed Sheryl Fink, director of Canadian wildlife campaigns for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “Hopefully it will have positive repercussions for other animals that are affected by trade as well." (3) Fur trappers and cattle ranchers take note!
But whose “morality” is really being protected here?
The EU had argued that “because of the way in which seals are killed, the EU public regards seal products from commercial hunts as morally objectionable and is repelled by their availability in the EU market.”
To justify this claim, activists and EU politicians often cite an Ipsos MORI public opinion survey commissioned by Humane Society International (HSI) and IFAW. Conducted in 2011, in 11 countries, the study found that 72% of Europeans supported the import ban on seal products. (4)
The responses to another question in this study, however, are less often quoted. Europeans were asked “how much –if at all – would you say you personally know [about the seal hunt]”. The findings are astounding: 25% of Europeans admitted that they had “never heard of it”.
Another quarter (23%) said they had heard of the seal hunt, but knew “nothing at all”. And another 30% said they knew “not very much”.
In summary: 78% of Europeans say that they know little or nothing at all about the seal hunt. So much for the burning moral issue that justified putting the world trading system at risk!
But despite knowing nothing, 72% of Europeans support the import ban on seal products. That shows what 50 years (sic!) of activist campaigning can do. And it shows why anyone involved with animal production should now be very concerned.
* * *
(1) Inuit leaders have claimed from the start that the exemption for the products from Inuit hunting would not protect their people.
“…Father believed that there was an animal even more dangerous than [humans], and one that was extremely common too: the… Read More
“…Father believed that there was an animal even more dangerous than [humans], and one that was extremely common too: the redoubtable species Animalus anthropomorphicus, the animal as seen through human eyes. We’ve all met one, perhaps even owned one. It is an animal that is ‘cute’, ‘friendly’, ‘loving’, devoted’, ‘merry’, ‘understanding’….In [all these] cases, we look at an animal and see a mirror.” Life of Pi, Yann Martel.
Two recent news stories cast a revealing spotlight on our muddled thinking about animals.
First, in Sochi, president Vladimir Putin was photographed caressing a young Persian leopard cub at a newly-constructed breeding and rehabilitation center.
“The restoration of this endangered species will be part of the heritage of these games; the natural environment is much improved thanks to the Olympics,” said Mr. Putin.
Take that, environmental activists with all your whining about the construction of Olympic installations in a pristine wilderness!
One local activist was just sent to prison for three years for painting protest graffiti on the wall of a construction site. But there’s nothing to soften a tough politician’s image like cuddling a baby animal…especially a “charismatic” leopard or other big cat.
Next stop, Denmark, where the Copenhagen Zoo sparked animal activist ire – and an international media feeding frenzy – for euthanizing an 18-month-old giraffe named Marius.
As part of the European breeding program, the zoo must maintain genetic diversity in its limited space, so Marius was redundant.
The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) fully supported the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision. But many were horrified when Marius was lured to lower his graceful 2-meter-long neck with a piece of rye bread – his favorite snack – and then shot through the brain with a captive-bolt pistol.
Even more shocking to many was the zoo’s decision to chop dead Marius into large pieces in front of visiting children and their parents, before feeding him to the lions.
Bengt Holst, scientific director of the Copenhagen Zoo was admirably calm and intelligent as he cut through the media sensationalism with plain talk.
“I know the giraffe is a nice-looking animal, but I don’t think there would be such outrage if it had been an antelope, and I don’t think anyone would have lifted an eyebrow if it was a pig,” said Holst.
“There are 600 deer culled every year in a nature park north of Copenhagen, and no one gets upset. Humans have changed nature and we have a responsibility to maintain a balance.
“Humans kill and eat more than 50 billion animals a year. We have killed 5 giraffes since EAZA’s record-keeping began in 1828. Inbreeding can increase a population’s susceptibility to disease and other chronic conditions that can threaten the future survival of species under our care,” he explained patiently.
Nor did the zoo make any apologies for cutting Marius apart in front of children.
“It is not cruel, it is natural. Carnivores eat meat. If it was not the giraffe, it would have been a cow – what is the difference?
“Nature is not Disneyland where animals are only born but never die. In nature, animals must also die. Lions eat giraffes in nature. Why ‘protect’ children from reality?
“These children had the opportunity to see the wonder of the giraffe: for example, the huge heart that is needed to pump blood two metres up to their brain. They learned something in a way they would never learn from a book,” said Holst.
All very logical and scientific. But did he really like these animals, asked a journalist? “Of course I like these animals, that is why we are working so hard to protect their future. Sometimes you have to do things that are not so pleasant, but it is important to be intelligent about such things,” said Holst.
Not least interesting in this story, of course, is our own conflicting feelings about “charismatic animals”. Like it or not, Putin’s leopards (or, in this case, Danish lions) eat giraffes like Marius.
This reminds me of one of the most impressive scenes in the 2005 film The March of the Penguins when, after enduring incredible hardships, our heroes finally make it to the sea, only to be torn to bits by leopard seals.
For some reason, anti-seal-hunt activists never feature this footage on their protest websites?!
But let’s be honest: none of us are totally free of anthropomorphism. It takes a pretty cold-hearted person not to feel some sympathy for long-lashed, dewy-eyed Marius. Or for fluffy “baby” seals. Or for almost any animal staring wistfully into a camera lens. Especially when most of us now live in cities and rarely see a wild animal.
When overpopulated beavers flood our roads or raccoons move into our attics, however, it is remarkable how fast perceptions can change!
In their attempt to discredit the environmental credentials of the fur trade, activists often cite a “life cycle assessment” (LCA)… Read More
In their attempt to discredit the environmental credentials of the fur trade, activists often cite a “life cycle assessment" (LCA) produced by CE Delft, a Dutch research consultancy (see: NOTES, below). This study (The environmental impact of mink fur production, Delft, January 2011) found that: “Compared with textiles (including polyester, cotton, wool, and polyacrylic ‘fake furs’), fur has a higher impact on 17 of the 18 environmental themes, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions.”
Because these claims, if true, would contradict our belief that fur is an environmentally responsible choice, we decided to take a closer look. It is lucky that we did!
Stated simply, we found that CE Delft’s negative assessment of fur results from several methodological assumptions or questionable statistics.
Among the most important concerns:
CE Delft used a significantly inflated figure (almost double our findings!) for the amount of feed required to produce farmed fur.
They ignored the fact that, because this feed is composed mostly of wastes from our food-production system, it could be considered an environmental benefit rather than a cost.
Mink manure made from soiled straw bedding and carcasses could also be assigned environmental credits rather than costs – for replacing synthetic fertilizers and fossil fuels.
Not least important, CE Delft discounts the environmental benefits of real fur apparel lasting much longer than fake furs or other textiles, i.e., if a real mink last five time longer than a fake fur coat, its environmental impact should be compared with that of five fakes, not one!
Let’s look at this CE Delft report in more detail ...
CE Delft (“Committed to the Environment”) describes itself as an "independent research and consultancy organization specialized in developing structural and innovative solutions to environmental problems. CE Delft’s solutions are characterized in being politically feasible, technologically sound, economically prudent and socially equitable.” [Socially equitable? Except for mink farmers, it would seem!]
This study, was commissioned by three European “animal-rights” groups that strongly oppose the use of fur: the Dutch Bont voor Dieren, the Belgian GAIA (Global Action in the Interest of Animals) and the Italian Lega Antivivisezione LAV). (No comment!)
Turning to the substance of this study: the feed used to produce mink is identified as one of two elements that account for most of the environmental costs of fur. This claim, however, is based on several assumptions:
- CE Delft sets out to compare 1 kilogram (kg) of mink fur with 1 kilogram of fake fur and other textiles. To this end, they propose that 11.4 mink pelts are needed to produce 1 kg of fur, and that each animal consumes close to 50 kg of feed (including a share for the mother). From these assumptions, CE Delft concludes that 563 kilograms of feed are required to produce one kilogram of fur (49.4 kg of feed x 11.4 pelts/kg of fur.), and this is the figure on which they base all their subsequent calculations of environmental impacts. [p.6]
- Our own survey of North American and European farmers – including statistics published by the Danish Faculty of Agricultural Science, Aarhus University (2010) -- suggests that it actually requires from 38-45 kg – or an average of about 41.5 kg of feed to produce a mink pelt. CE Delft’s figure for how many pelts are required to supply a kilogram of fur is also higher than what we found -- perhaps because their calculation was apparently based on two sample pelts provided by the Dutch activist group Bont voor Dieren, which may not represent a true average size? Using the same methodology as CE Delft but with a large data set provided by European fur auctions, we find that 1 kg of fur represents about 7.75 pelts – not 11.4, as CE Delft proposes. If an average of 41.5 kg of feed is required to produce one mink pelt, multiplying this by 7.75 pelts indicates that 322 kg of feed would be required to produce 1 kg of fur – i.e., a little more than half (57%) the amount of feed used by CE Delft in their calculations. This discrepancy alone explains much of the higher environmental impact they attribute to real fur.
- CE Delft also assumes that mink food is comprised of 70% chicken waste and 30% fish offal. But feed composition varies according to local availability. Thus, in Denmark (which produces three times more mink than Holland, where CE Delft is based) feed is more commonly composed of 80% fish offal and 20% chicken waste. But the environmental cost of fish offal is much lower than that of chicken wastes. In fact, in a 2013 follow-up study, CE Delft acknowledged that a mink diet based on fish rather than chicken would lower environmental impacts by 30%. [See, #6, below.]
- Most important of all: other uses would have to be found for this meat and fish waste -- or it would go into landfills or be incinerated -- if mink weren’t eating it. It could therefore be argued that an environmental CREDIT should be applied to mink food production, since the environmental costs of disposing of these meat and fish wastes are avoided.
In summary: Since mink feed is the predominant factor in 14 of the 18 environmental impacts that CE Delft considered, their assumptions raise serious questions about the credibility of their findings.
4. The second major source of environmental impacts identified by CE Delft is emissions associated with mink manure and other farm wastes.
Here again, CE Delft ignored the subsequent use of this manure and the environmental CREDITS that could be associated with reducing the need for artificial fertilizers when mink manure and other wastes (soiled straw bedding) are properly managed and applied to local agricultural lands. Mink carcasses and wastes are now also used to produce biofuels, thereby reducing the need for fossil fuels.
5. Finally,the way in which CE Delft framed the scope of its study has skewed its findings:
CE Delft did not do a complete, “cradle-to-grave” Life Cycle Assessment in its 2011 study. Instead, it did a partial (“cradle-to-gate”) analysis which included the environmental costs of raising of the mink on the farm, pelting, transportation, auction sale, and processing (dressing) – but stopped at the point when the fur would be made into a garment.CE Delft therefore completely ignored one of the most important environmental attributes of fur apparel, i.e., that it is much longer-lasting than most other clothing materials. Clearly, it matters whether the environmental costs of production are amortized over 5-10 years (fake fur coats) or 40, 50 or more years (real fur coats)!
6. To address this blatant methodological flaw, CE Delft published a follow-up study in June 2013 (“Natural mink fur and faux fur products, an environmental comparison”). This study completed the “life cycle” by assessing the manufacture, use/maintenance and ultimate disposal of real and fake (polyacrylic) furs – but again concluded that real fur apparel has a greater environmental cost than fakes. Here’s why:
- The new study used the same assumptions and calculations about mink feed production and manure/waste management that were presented in the first study – and these two elements still accounted for most of the environmental impacts.
- Furthermore, to blur the environmental advantages of fur apparel lasting much longer than fakes, CE Delft proposed several “scenarios”. It acknowledges that real fur may last as much as five times longer than fake, e.g., 30 years vs 6, as proposed in an LCA prepared for the International Fur Federation [DSS, 2011). But then it backtracks, suggesting that “it is conceivable that the lifespan is determined by the change in fashion; in this case the lifespan of a natural fur coat and a faux fur coat could be equal.” (p.5) This statement reveals ignorance or deviousness:it doesn’t seem to know (or doesn’t want its readers to know?) that fur apparel can be taken apart and completely reassembled (“remodeled”) as fashions change. This is one of fur’s important environmental attributes; no one throws away a fur coat because styles change. In fact, with the current revival of fur in fashion, retailers are busy remodeling coats their customers bought during the last fur boom, in the 1970s and 1980s, i.e. coats that are already 30–40 years old!
- CE Delft also claims that the longevity of real fur coats may be off-set by the environmental costs of cold storage during the off-season. They suggest that 30 years of seasonal cold storage would have more impact on climate change, for example, than the entire process of raising the mink, processing the pelts and producing the coat! (Figure 7, p. 34.) The energy costs of fur storage as estimated by CE Delft, however, are considerably higher than figures collected from real fur storage facilities. More to the point, most fur coats are simply not kept in special cold-storage vaults, especially now that many homes are air-conditioned through the summer months. Furthermore, off-season storage of furs has always been less common in Europe than in North America, and is almost non-existent in Russia and the booming new markets of Asia.
- More fundamentally: we could question CE Delft’s core contention that real and fake fur coats can be compared at all. The fact that people are prepared to pay considerably more money for real fur coats than for fakes would seem to confirm that they have different qualities and “value”.
- Finally, we note that neither CE Delft study appears to have been submitted for peer review.
In conclusion, CE Delft’s often-quoted claim that “fur has a higher environmental cost than fakes” appears to be based on a series of questionable assumptions and calculations. CE Delft is cautious in how it presents its findings, especially in its 2013 study where it provides a number of different “scenarios” to account for the uncertainties it acknowledges. Activists, however, show no such caution when they cite these findings.
The biggest threat to climate change, in fact, may be activist “hot air”!
Here are a few examples where the “CE Delft” study is cited in an attempt to discredit the environmental credentials of the fur trade:
1. “A study by consultancy firm CE Delft in 2011 found that the impact of fur production on 17 out of 18 environmental issues – such as climate change, ozone pollution and soil acidification – was found to be more harmful than when compared to common textiles.” From Cruel or cool? Worldwide sales of fur top £10 billion by Hayley Leaver, Metro.co.uk, 22 May 2013.
2. “PETA points to a 2011 study by a Netherlands consultancy firm CE Delft which compared the impact of fur production with common textiles on 18 different environmental issues such as climate change, ozone pollution, soil acidification and water and land use. ‘For 17 of the 18 issues, fur was found to be much more harmful than common textiles,’ says Ben Williamson, a spokesperson for PETA.” From Is the fur trade sustainable? By Tansy Hoskins, The Guardian, 29 October 2013.
3. “A 2011 study by Dutch independent researchers CE Delft calls fur production worse than textile production, in terms of environmental degradation. Carcinogens like chromium and formaldehyde, employed in dressing and dyeing processes, compromise fur’s biodegradability, not to mention ecological stability.” From Fur is Green. True or Faux? By Jody McCutcheon, Eluxe Magazine, 22 February 2013.
In our last post, we exposed how activists lie when they claim that the World Bank condemned fur dressing as… Read More
In our last post, we exposed how activists lie when they claim that the World Bank condemned fur dressing as “highly polluting”.
Today we turn our “Truth-About-Fur-Detector” to another oft-repeated but equally fraudulent claim.
Activists often insist that “a coat made from wild-caught fur requires 3.5 times more energy than a synthetic coat, while a farmed-fur coat requires 15 times more energy.” (see: NOTES, below)
These “facts” are attributed to “a study by the University of Michigan” or sometimes the “Scientific Research Laboratory at Ford Motor Company”. Wow, pretty credible sources, right? Except that a quick search reveals that neither institution ever published such a study!
This report does indeed exist, although it is very old – it was published in 1979. The author, one Gregory H. Smith, is identified as an engineering graduate of Michigan U., who worked for Ford. But he prepared his report at the request of The Fund for Animals (a Michigan-based animal-rights group), “to augment its arguments for abolishing the cruelties to animals resulting from the procurement of natural animals furs for human adornment.”
The methodology of this report is equally suspect.
According to Smith, more than 90 per cent of the energy attributed to the production of a farmed mink coat is accounted for by a single item: the feed used to produce the mink pelts. Smith claims that mink feed represents 7.7 million of the 8.5 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) he calculates is required to make a fur coat. But BTUs, scientific as they may sound, don’t tell the whole story. Like the mink themselves, mink feed is organic material. Specifically, mink eat the parts of chickens, cattle, fish and other foodstuffs that we don’t eat. Mink feed, in the language of ecology, is “a renewable resource". The petroleum used to produce poly-acrylic fake fur, by contrast, is a non-renewable resource. Comparing the energy used to produce natural mink and fake fur is comparing apples and oranges. (Or, more accurately: apples and the plastic bag you carry them home in!)
Furthermore, much of this abattoir and fish-packing waste would end up clogging land-fills if mink were not consuming it. Far from being an environmental “cost”, this recycling of wastes from our own food-production system can be seen as an environmental “credit”. (Mink also help to keep down the cost of human food, since food processors would have to pay to dispose of these wastes if mink farmers weren’t using them.)
Smith also misses the point in his analysis of wild-captured furs.
He guesstimates the amount of gasoline trappers might use touring their trap lines, heating their cabins – and even the energy required to make steel for traps that may be lost or require replacement. His numbers are arbitrary and questionable, to say the least. But, more to the point: he ignores the fact that furbearer populations would often have to be managed even if we did not use the fur – e.g., to protect property, control diseases and protect endangered species. Overpopulated beavers can flood roads, farmland, and forest habitat. Coyotes and foxes prey on livestock or the eggs (or chicks) of nesting birds; without predator control, it would be difficult to protect endangered whooping cranes or sea turtles. Raccoons and skunks spread rabies, and on it goes. Without fur sales, wildlife population control work would still have to be done, but trappers would be paid by the taxpayers – as they are in many European countries. (E.g., muskrat control in Belgium and Holland.) Again: the conservation work done by trappers can be seen as an environmental credit, rather than a cost!
Bottom line: the real wasteful BTUs expended here would seem to be in quoting this poorly researched and misleading “study”. We can only hope that Mr. Smith kept his day-job at Ford!
Here are a few examples where the "University of Michigan / Ford Motor Company" report is cited to claim that fur requires more energy to produce than fakes:
“One article commonly cited by anti-fur groups is a study by the Ford Motor Company comparing the energy requirements of fur production. The study concluded that a fur coat made from wild trapped animals required 3.5 times the energy input compared to a synthetic fur coat." From Fur is Mean by Eric Simpson, The Queens Journal, 8 November 2013.
"According to a study by the University of Michigan, the energy needed to produce a real fur coat from ranch-raised animal skins is 20 times that required for a fake product." From Fur - the fake debate, The Independent, 23 November 2004.
The Fur Council of Canada’s Fur is Green campaign clearly caught animal activists by surprise. In their scramble for a… Read More
The Fur Council of Canada’s Fur is Green campaign clearly caught animal activists by surprise. In their scramble for a rebuttal, they have resorted to fabricating “evidence” about fur's environmental impact that sounds credible – at least until you check their sources!
One of the most commonly-repeated activist claims is that “a World Bank Report has shown that fur dressing is the third worst polluting industry, following pesticides and fertilizers, synthetic resins and plastics.” (see: NOTES, below)
If true, this would be a serious charge, so I hunted down the original study. The report in question is The Industrial Pollution Projection System, produced by the World Bank Policy Research Department (Policy research working paper #1431, by Hemamala Hettige et al.) This study was drafted in March 1995, based on 1987 (27-year-old!) US statistics.
Reading through this highly technical econometric study we learn that “Conclusions are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the World Bank”. Interesting. Also that “Sectorial pollution is thought to be quite responsive to effective environmental regulation in many cases…” (p.9, E-4) Encouraging, because environmental protection regulations have certainly improved considerably over the past 26 years. But let’s read on ...
Ah, finally, there it is: a table listing the most polluting sectors. And what do we find? The sector listed in third place for environmental pollution is clearly identified as “Leather tanning and finishing” (ISIC Code # 3231, Table 4.1, p.23) – NOT “fur dressing and dyeing” (ISIC Code #3232). Fur dressing is a completely different process using much more benign chemicals, because fur dressers must protect the fur and hair follicles. (Leather tanners have no such concerns: they want to remove the fur.) In fact, fur dressing is not even listed in the top 75 polluting industry sectors by the World Bank report! (pg. 23)
Digging further into this study, we find a more extensive list of industry sectors, summarizing their “toxic pollution intensity” (pounds of pollutants per million $ of output.) Here we find confirmation of what common sense would dictate: fur dressing produced only 15% of the air pollutants, 9% of the water pollutants, and barely 7% of the land pollutants compared with leather tanning. (Pg 47.)
In conclusion: it is completely false to claim that the World Bank identified fur dressing as a highly polluting industrial sector. This study showed no such thing. The activists who first quoted this report either don’t understand the important difference between fur dressing and leather tanning, or intentionally misrepresented the findings.
In my next posts we will take a closer look at two other “studies” that are repeated referenced by activists to challenge the fur trade’s environmental credentials.
Here are a few recent examples of activists (falsely) claiming that the World Bank report cited fur dressing as one of the most polluting industrial sectors:
“Fur dressing has been ranked as one of the world's five worst industries for toxic-metal pollution – not by animal rights protesters, but the World Bank. If fur is green, then the term 'green' is meaningless.” From "Fur is not back in style – Britain won't stand for it", by Tansley Hoskins, The Guardian, 29 October 2013.
“The Fur Council of Canada argues that their product is green because real fur is a 'natural fiber'. But after an animal is killed and the fur is removed, it must be heavily processed using carcinogenic chemicals to prevent it from biodegrading. In 1995 the World Bank, in their report entitled The Industrial Pollution Projection System, ranked fur processing (and in particular the tanning process) as number three in their list of toxic industrial processes.” From "Fur is Mean", by Eric Simpson, The Queens Journal, 8 November 2013.
"In fact, the World Bank ranks fur processing as the world’s fifth biggest toxic metal polluter. And ironically, given fur’s allure as a sexy material, tanning relies on chemicals such as toluene and lead. Both reduce human fertility." From "Is 'ethical fur' the fashion industry's most cynical con yet?", by Danny Penman, The Daily Mail, 17 March 2011.
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With fur now so prominent on the designer catwalks, in fashion magazines, and on the street, many publications are hosting… Read More
With fur now so prominent on the designer catwalks, in fashion magazines, and on the street, many publications are hosting debates about the ethics of wearing this noble but much-maligned material. Among all the arguments, for and against, one question is never asked: “Why is fur so controversial?”
True, animals are killed for fur. But more animals are killed for food every day in North America than are used for fur in a year!
But we don’t need fur, you say? Well, PETA and their friends argue that we don’t need to eat meat either.
The real reasons why fur is “controversial” may surprise you.
Let’s take a look ...
10 Top Reasons Why Fur Is “Controversial”
#1. The Fur Debate Is “Class War”: According to “animal-rights” philosophers, eating meat is no more justified than wearing fur. Even Peter Singer - whose book Animal Liberation launched the modern animal-rights movement – wrote that it is hypocritical to protest against the fur trade while most people eat animals daily. In practice, however, fur is an easy target because relatively few people wear it – and most of them are women. And fur apparel is expensive (because much of the work is done by hand) making it easy to dismiss as an “unnecessary luxury”.
Fur is a convenient cross-over issue for those who decry “capitalist exploitation" of both humans and animals. Thus, the “A” in “ALF” (Animal Liberation Front) is often circled – the graffiti code for “Anarchy” – and it is usually left-wing parties in Europe that endorse anti-fur positions.
The fact that those hurt by anti-fur campaigning are working people – aboriginal and other trappers, farm families, craftspeople – is something these “idealists” prefer to ignore. This is why PETA is so upset by the growing popularity of fur for small accessories or trim on parkas: this trend is making fur much more widely accessible, especially for young people.
#2. Fur as Scapegoat: We are bombarded with warnings that human activities are changing our climate, polluting the environment, destroying rainforests and driving record numbers of species into extinction.
These problems are complicated and solving them will require major changes in our lifestyles. So it may seem reasonable to claim that “if we care about nature, at least we should stop killing animals for frivolous products like fur!”
In fact, the trapping of wild furbearers is strictly regulated by state and provincial wildlife agencies to ensure that we use only a small part of the surplus nature produces each year. Endangered species are never used.
The modern fur trade is an excellent example of “the sustainable and responsible use of renewable natural resources”, a key ecological concept supported by all serious conservation authorities (International Union for Conservation of Nature, WWF, UNEP). Using renewable resources, like fur, is ecologically preferable to using synthetics derived from (non-renewable) petro-chemicals. And giving commercial value to wildlife provides a financial incentive to protect natural habitat, which is vital for the survival of wild species.
But why let facts get in the way of a good story?!
#3. “Media Sluts!” Speaking of stories, PETA co-founder and president Ingrid Newkirk explains its success in using the media to promote its issues (and brand!) as follows: “We’re media sluts ... we didn’t create the rules, we just learned how to play the game!”
PETA understands that media can’t resist running a photo feature about a starlet, supermodel or other "celebrity" – especially if they are female and undressed. So what if these women know nothing about conservation or wildlife biology, “the medium is the message”. Of course, getting on the evening news does not pay the bills. That’s where modern fund-raising technology comes in. (See #4)
#4. Follow the Money! Many people don’t realize that campaigning against fur and other animal-based industries has become a very lucrative business. PETA and its affiliates rake in some $30 million annually; the so-called Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) collects more than $100 million. HSUS execs pull down six-figure salaries. And there are dozens of other groups.
Very little of this money goes to animal shelters; most is churned back into driving more “issues” and fund-raising campaigns.
PETA alone has more than 100 employees writing letters to editors and planning photo ops. The media stunts are quickly followed up with direct-mail, fund-raising appeals: “Please help us to stop this atrocious suffering!”
Computer technology allows this thriving new protest industry to target zip codes most likely to contribute. The money collected far exceeds what the fur trade – an artisanal industry comprised of thousands of small-scale, independent producers – can devote to telling their side of the story. So the activist message is most often heard – creating the impression that “there must be something wrong with the fur trade!”
As a leading animal activist once told me: “You can’t win because you have to spend money to fight us, but we make our money attacking you!”
#5. Fur as Political Football: Lobbying to ban the production or sale of fur is emerging as a favorite activist tactic – especially because they don’t even have to win for it to work!
Political campaigns transform the parochial views of special interest groups into “hard news”. Well-informed journalists may resist providing free publicity for PETA’s street theater, but they cannot easily ignore a political campaign. And legislative bans carry a deeper message: if governments are prepared to shut down a tax-paying business, surely this must be a very evil industry indeed!
In fact, the real message of politics is ... politics.
Political attacks on the fur trade generally succeed only at the municipal level (an incestuous world where very few councillors make the decisions), or in countries with proportional representation. In these countries (including most of Europe), there are so many parties that complex coalitions are needed to cobble together a majority. Mink farmers (or seal hunters) wield limited economic clout – and fewer votes – making them ideal sacrificial lambs to bring left-wing or “green” partners into government coalitions.
Meanwhile, European governments now pay trappers to kill muskrats, (to protect dykes and farmland in Belgium and the Netherlands), or badgers (in Britain, to control bovine tuberculosis) – and destroy the furs. And while the EU banned the import of sealskins, fishermen there can shoot seals to protect their nets, without regulations or oversight, so long as they don’t sell the pelts!
Another revealing example is Israel, where a few members of the Knesset are hoping to ban all fur sales. Because there is almost no fur trade in Israel, it is very tempting for the government to yield to such pressures; there is no domestic downside. A fur ban in Israel would change almost nothing in that country, but activists hope to use it as a precedent for similar initiatives in Europe and North America – a rare example of “progressive” groups citing Israel as an ethical leader!
#6. Nature as Disneyland: Not so long ago, most North Americans still had family on the land. Summers might include visits with grandparents or other relatives on the farm – people who understood that nature is not Disneyland and animals are not talking cartoon characters.
Today, for the first time in human history, most of us live in cities. We have little direct contact with (living) animals that are not pets. We do not know that taking some animals each year may be the best way to keep the rest of the population stable and healthy. Or that wildlife must be controlled to protect property and habitat (e.g., from beaver flooding), to protect nesting birds and their eggs from predators (coyotes, foxes), to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases (e.g., rabies in raccoons, skunks), and for many other reasons.
When our meat comes in Styrofoam trays in the supermarket, we are easily shocked by images of animal slaughter for any purpose. Animal activists complain that industrial/urbanized society has lost respect for nature and animals – but, ironically, their campaigns attack the livelihoods and cultures of the few people who still live close to the land.
#7. Harassment of Women: We are rightfully disgusted when women are attacked in some countries for wearing their skirts too short or not covering their heads. Animal activists, however, have little to learn from religious extremists when it comes to harassing women.
Some notable anti-fur slogans have included: “It Takes 40 Dumb Animals to Make a Fur Coat, But Only One to Wear It!” and “Shame!”, an HSUS campaign showing a woman in fur hiding her face with her handbag. The goal is clearly to intimidate women, to make them feel uncomfortable wearing fur.
One wonders, would anti-fur campaigning have become so aggressive if men wore most of the fur coats? Perhaps PETA would show more moral conviction if they demonstrated against the use of leather by motorcycle gangs!
#8. Politically-Correct Bullies: “If you don’t remove fur from your store, we will picket every day before Christmas with a large-screen TV showing animals being skinned alive!”
When fur represents only a small proportion of their sales, fashion retailers cannot easily resist this sort of threat, even if fur is perfectly legal and their customers want to buy it. Those who persist may find their locks glued or windows broken. Or their homes may be splattered with red paint, their neighborhoods plastered with posters denouncing them as “murderers”. Security costs soon outweigh potential profits – or principles about freedom of choice.
When the mafia targets businesses in this way, it’s called a protection racket. When foreigners use threats of violence to make us do what they want, it’s called terrorism. But retailers targeted by animal activists are on their own; their tormenters are called “idealists”. And if the retailer decides to buy peace, their decision to drop fur is trumpeted by the bullies as a “moral victory” – and more proof that fur is “controversial”.
#9. Seeing Is Believing! Nothing has done more to fuel the fur “controversy” than a number of shocking videos posted on the web. These videos show animals in very bad condition on fur farms and even, in one particularly horrific example, an Asiatic raccoon being skinned while clearly still conscious, in a dusty village square somewhere in China.
Pictures are worth a thousand words and videos don’t lie ... or do they?
The injured animals shown in one “US fox farm” video were actually being kept for urine, to produce hunting lures. The farm never sold fur – fur from such poorly cared-for animals would have little or no value – and was later forced to clean up its act by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. (The video mentions none of this.)
The Asiatic raccoon-skinning video is particularly upsetting, and especially dubious. No one would skin an animal alive. Morality aside, a conscious animal moves, increasing the risk of damaging the fur or cutting the operator. And with the heart still beating, an animal bleeds more, unnecessarily soiling the fur.
The only logical conclusion, shocking as this may be, is that someone paid a poor villager to do this terrible act for the camera.
When this video was first released by a Swiss animal rights group, in 2005, the International Fur Federation requested the full, uncut tape, with information about when and where it was filmed, so an investigation could be launched. There was no response – a strange reaction from a group supposedly concerned about animal welfare. Unless, of course, the real goal was to fuel controversy!
#10. A Culture in Search of Values: Above all, the controversy sparked by fur reflects a confusion of values in our fast-changing society.
Wherever they were from, our grandparents lived in cultures with very clear ideas about what we should eat or wear, how we should speak or act. Urbanization, globalization, secularism and multi-culturalism have changed all that. It is no longer always clear what is right or wrong.
Without a social consensus, we live in constant doubt; sects flourish, politics become increasingly polarized, conspiracy theories abound. A simple trip to the grocery store becomes an existential experience: Should we eat meat? Is it better to buy organic or locally-produced food? What about low salt, high carbs, GMOs?
In this cloud of nutritional, ecological and ethical confusion, fur can become a flashpoint for the clash of urban and rural cultures, for troubling questions about our relationship with nature and animals, and, not least important, for the tension between collective values and individual freedom of choice.
Final Word – Fur Leaves No One Indifferent!
Fur means different things in different cultures. Aboriginal people believed they could partake of animal power by wearing fur and that using these “gifts” showed respect for the animals that gave themselves so that humans might survive. (Much like many of us still say grace before meals.) Furs have also often conveyed status and power: furs adorn ceremonial robes and, in the Middle Ages, strict laws determined which furs might be worn by different classes. Ultra-Orthodox Jews wear fur-trimmed hats (streimels) on the Sabbath, to spiritually elevate both man and animal.
In the golden years of Hollywood, furs represented luxury and sensuality – as they still do for many. Today, animal activists would like to associate the wearing of fur with human arrogance and guilt, even as a new generation of designers rediscovers its natural beauty and makes fur more versatile and accessible than ever before. While some now denounce the fur trade as a crime against nature, others argue quite the contrary, i.e., that wearing and admiring fur can remind modern city dwellers that we are, ultimately, dependent on nature for our survival.
And this, perhaps, is the true nut of the fur debate: are humans “a rogue species”, “a cancer on the planet” that would be better eliminated, as some “deep ecologists” and the “voluntary human extinction movement” would have us believe? Or are we truly part of nature, a natural predator with as much right to be here as any other species (although with greater responsibilities, because of our unprecedented power and knowledge)?
Fur, in summary, has always been more than a beautiful, natural material. Fur has always had symbolic meaning, a powerful hold on the human imagination. The current “controversy” about fur is just the latest example of the on-going attraction of the most precious of natural clothing materials.
As someone raised in the fur trade (my grandfather arrived in Canada one hundred years ago, in 1913, as a… Read More
As someone raised in the fur trade (my grandfather arrived in Canada one hundred years ago, in 1913, as a young artisan furrier), I have long felt that something important was missing from most discussions about fur. What has been missing is the voice of the knowledgeable and passionate people who work in this remarkable heritage industry.
Truth about Fur is intended to fix that. The new web-portal provides easy access to information about the North American trade that has often been difficult to research. And everything is presented by people who are personally involved: wildlife biologists and veterinarians, trappers and fur farmers, processors, designers and craftspeople.
This blog is a place for wider-ranging discussions about the ecological, social and even philosophical implications of fur in our society. Again, you will hear the voices of the real people of the fur trade.
Fur has long been recognized as a prestigious, natural material – some would say the ultimate luxury – but the trade itself has been a black box. The people behind the glamorous coats have been invisible. Often talked about, but rarely heard. That’s too bad because, as you will see in this blog, they have some fascinating stories to tell.
In my first posts, I will explore the reasons why there is a controversy about fur – and why it matters. The real reasons may surprise you!