Lies Activists Tell: #2 – “University of Michigan / Ford Motor” reportby Alan Herscovici, Senior Researcher, Truth About Fur
In our last post, we exposed how activists lie when they claim that the World Bank condemned fur dressing as…
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 at the University of Michigan, the energy needed to produce a fur coat from farmed animals is 15 times greater than that required for a fake one." From Is ‘ethical fur’ the fashion industry’s most cynical con yet? By Danny Penman, The Daily Mail, 17 March 2011.
- "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.