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January 4, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: The Feds close a loophole

Ohlone Humane Society: The Feds close a loophole

By Nancy Lyon

It may not have made the front page of newspapers but a very special advance in animal protection became U.S. law last month. On December 18th, President Obama signed an important bipartisan bill designed to protect animals and consumers, The Truth in Fur Labeling Act (H.R. 2480) will bring much-needed accuracy and disclosure to fur products.

Motivation for the legislation came from many sources. Investigators from Swiss Animal Protection/EAST International toured fur farms in China's Hebei Province and it quickly became clear why outsiders are banned from visiting. There are no penalties for abusing animals on fur farms in China - farmers can house and slaughter animals however they see fit. Investigators found horrors beyond their worst imaginings and concluded, "Conditions on Chinese fur farms make a mockery of the most elementary animal welfare standards. In their lives and their unspeakable deaths with many skinned alive, these animals have been denied even the simplest acts of kindness."

An investigation by three international animal protection organizations into the Chinese fur trade in 2004 and 2005 asserted that approximately 1.5 million raccoon dogs are raised for fur in China. The raccoon dog, a member of the canine family that closely resembles a raccoon, is in fact... a dog. They also comprise 11 percent of all animals hunted for fur in Japan and twenty percent of domestically produced fur in Russia.

Previously, federal law allowed some animal fur garments to go unlabeled if the value of the fur is $150 or less, leaving consumers in the dark as to whether they are buying synthetically manufactured or real animal fur. Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) investigations have found jackets trimmed with animal fur sold across the country without labels or falsely advertised as "faux fur."

On April 24, 2008, HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF) filed a false advertising complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission alleging at least 20 retailers in the U.S. had been mislabeling raccoon dog fur. They assert 70 percent of fur garments they tested were raccoon dog but were mislabeled as faux fur, coyote, rabbit, or other animals. Many labeled as "faux" were actually made with domestic dog or wolf fur. The HSUS investigation found that not a single retailer properly identified the animal in advertising or labeling.

Investigators in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento areas found unlabeled animal fur jackets for sale at well-known stores, and in several instances being described by the salespeople as fake fur. Although a federal law requires labeling of most animal fur apparel, many fur-trimmed jackets were exempt under the $150 loophole and did not require labeling.

Under the new federal legislation, this information gap will no longer exist. All products containing fur must be labeled with the species of animal, the country of origin and the manufacturer; allowing the public to make informed decisions.

In 2000, similar legislation The Dog and Cat Protection Act banned the trade in domestic dog and cat fur after an HSUS investigation revealed the gruesome deaths of two million dogs and cats a year in China and other parts of Asia for the fur trade. They found domestic dog and cat fur for sale in the United States. Later, they found domestic dog fur slipping into the country on unlabeled jackets.

The Truth in Labeling Act, in addition to addressing ethical issues, provides protections from contact with real fur garments that can cause serious health problems for people with animal-related allergies. Labels must clearly state the material content and origin.

Congressman James P. Moran, D-VA, one of the sponsors of the federal bill, said "Most people would be outraged to learn that their favorite hat or pair of gloves was lined, not with faux fur, but with the fur of their favorite companion animal."

Ironically, the wisdom and humanity of such legislation recognized by a bipartisan U.S. Congress and President Obama, evidently missed California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Earlier in 2010, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) authored similar legislation, Assembly Bill 1656, to require garments sold in California made of animal fur to say so on the label. Having passed in the State Legislature, when A.B. 1656 came to his desk for signing, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

On a personal note, having viewed, however reluctantly, the videos of fur farms in China and other countries, the inconceivable and nightmarish cruelty inflicted on helpless animals in the name of profit and "fashion" is hard for anyone with even a grain of compassion to watch.

Over 50 million animals are killed each year for their fur; The Truth in Fur Labeling Act will give people of conscience the opportunity to make an informed choice. I would ask that anyone considering a fur garment in any size, shape or form give pause to what they are supporting. Whether wearing real or "faux," it sends a message that fur is cool - it's not.

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