The fur industry is launching a global campaign to promote sustainable fur, and the environmental benefits of using real fur… Read More
The fur industry is launching a global campaign to promote sustainable fur, and the environmental benefits of using real fur over petroleum-based synthetics, including fake fur.
A hard-hitting video produced by the International Fur Federation is being launched in key markets around the world. In the accompanying press release, Mark Oaten, CEO of the IFF said: “It’s time to call out the fake news about fake fur.” Fake fur is being promoted by animal activist groups as the ethical alternative to real fur.
Sustainable Fur, the campaign video, shows the environmental damage that is being caused by plastic-based fake fur and other synthetics. In North America, the video was prominently promoted on the website of Women’s Wear Daily for a week, before being distributed more widely. In addition to Canada and the US, the video is being promoted in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, and throughout Europe.
“Natural fur is the responsible choice when compared with fake fur or other synthetics,” said Mark Oaten.
“The consumer is being fed a constant diet of fake news by activists when it comes to fake fur,” he said. “Meanwhile, scientists are warning that plastics should be eliminated as much as possible from the retail chain.”
The video shows how fake furs and other synthetics are creating major environmental problems because they are made from fossil fuels (non-renewable resources) and are being linked to the release of microfibers into the environment.
“These are plastics that take decades to biodegrade – if they biodegrade at all – and we are now learning that they are entering the food chain and being consumed by marine life, and eventually by us,” said Oaten.
“Real fur is the sustainable alternative. It is natural and provides decades of use for the consumer.”
The video explains that farmed fur animals (primarily mink and fox) are fed left-overs from our own food supply – the parts of fish, pigs and chickens that humans don’t eat. The manure and other wastes from fur farming are composted to provide bio-fuels or natural fertilizers, completing the agricultural nutrient cycle. This is a much more sustainable and ethical alternative than dumping such wastes in landfills.
The production of wild fur is strictly regulated to ensure that only part of the naturally-produced surplus from abundant populations are used. This is an excellent example of the sustainable and responsible use of renewable natural resources, a key environmental conservation principle promoted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and other conservation authorities.
Many furbearing species must be culled to protect property, livestock, natural habitat and endangered prey species, or even human health, whether or not we use fur. Overpopulated beavers can flood farmland, forests, roads or homes. Overpopulated raccoons and foxes can promote the spread of rabies or other dangerous diseases. Coyotes are the number-one predator of young calves and lambs on ranches. Coyotes, raccoons and foxes must be controlled to protect vulnerable populations of ground-nesting birds and the eggs of endangered sea turtles.
The new video campaign is being released as the fashion industry and consumers are beginning to discuss more seriously the environmental impact of our clothing choices. The confusion caused by animal activist campaigns became apparent when Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri recently announced that his company would stop using fur “because of their commitment to sustainability”. As Truth About Fur explained in "Fur-free Gucci policy contradicts company's 'sustainability' claims", the brand's decision to turn away from fur reveals an astonishing misunderstanding of the real meaning of sustainability.
The first major campaign to promote the fur trade’s important sustainability credentials was launched by the pioneering website Furisgreen.com. This website has attracted considerable media attention, helping to spread the message. It is expected that the new IFF Sustainable Fur video will also generate media interest in response to press releases that were distributed simultaneously in North America, Europe and Asia.
Help to Share the Message
To help spread the message, retailers, manufacturers and people in every sector of the fur and fashion industries are being encouraged to post the new IFF Sustainable Fur video on their websites and Facebook pages.
“At a time when consumers are becoming more interested in understanding the environmental impact of what we buy and wear, we have an excellent opportunity to explain why fur is a sustainable and responsible choice,” said Teresa Eloy, Managing Director of the Fur Council of Canada.
“This video presents some important facts about the environmental credentials of fur in a succinct and easy-to-understand way,” said Keith Kaplan, of the Fur Information Council of America. “This is an exciting campaign and we are encouraging retailers across the country to post and share this hard-hitting video.”
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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