FUR COMMISSION USA COMMENTARY, MAY 6, 1999
THE “FUR FREE 2000” campaign of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has moved to stage two: legislation. As you recall, Christmas 1998 brought the world video clips of a German Shepherd being bled and skinned alive, supposedly somewhere in China. (1) As the dog howls, one wonders how this could happen to a single animal, let alone the millions HSUS says are abused like this throughout Asia. Why would anyone skin a live, struggling, large animal? And will HSUS ever release the uncut footage, with depositions identifying the people involved, to the authorities?
In 1998, in the US, HSUS found some 400 made-in-China coats with trim labeled “Mongolian dog”. HSUS’s DNA testing showed the fur, or hair, had come from a member of the canine family, “dog”. What kind of dog – domestic, feral or wild – was up to speculation, and HSUS never shared with the public the paper trail that follows such imports. Many Asian countries do not keep dogs and cats for “pets” but do use the remains from the control of feral or wild populations of canines and felines for meat and hides. International buyers, of course, know their goods and, when trading across cultural lines, are careful to purchase products acceptable to the consumer while meeting the labeling laws of the countries they sell to. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes sure that any product, no matter what the price, is labeled correctly. Additionally, the Fur Products Labeling Act, administered by the FTC, has additional and specific controls over labeling of fur products over $150 in value.
For a twist, in Finland the Fur Free 2000 campaign claimed “dog and cat fur” products were mislabeled as “FinnRaccoon”, a small segment of the local fur farming industry. FinnRaccoon came to Finland from Russia, where it is called Ussurian raccoon and has been raised for fur since the 1920s. However, this “raccoon” is actually a member of the canine family and is native to Asia, where it is called “raccoon dog”. Its real name is Nyctereutes procyonoides and it frequently carries rabies, so its proliferation in the wild is controlled for health reasons. The hide and meat from this animal with so many names, from farmed and wild sources, is used by humans in many countries for a range of purposes.
HSUS connected all these far-flung dots and insisted that products made from domesticated dogs and cats, implying our cherished pets, were flooding the borders carrying misleading labels.
Protecting the Consumer from Fraud
Most countries have laws protecting consumers from labeling fraud. In the US, product labeling is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Fair Packaging & Labeling Program. Fur comes under Subchapter IV – Labeling of Fur Products.
In this law, Congress stated, “Informed consumers are essential to the fair and efficient functioning of a free market economy. Packages and their labels should enable consumers to obtain accurate information as to the quantity of the contents and should facilitate value comparisons. Therefore, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to assist consumers and manufacturers in reaching these goals in the marketing of consumer goods.”
We couldn’t agree more.
The Labeling Law defines fur as “any animal skin or part thereof with hair, fleece, or fur fibers attached thereto, either in its raw or processed state, but shall not include such skins as are to be converted into leather or which in processing shall have the hair, fleece, or fur fiber completely removed.”
Congress clearly detailed at what point fur becomes leather. Let us all praise Congress for, quite sensibly, defining “fur” before attempting to regulate it.
Since this federal fur labeling law already exists, why doesn’t HSUS simply push the FTC to do its job and ensure labels are clear, perhaps demand species’ scientific names? Instead, on the shaky ground that consumers are being duped, it is making a full court press for state and federal bans, or trade barriers, to be placed on this yet-to-be-defined “dog and cat fur”.
The following is HSUS activity on this issue, in its own words, for the first quarter of 1999 (2):
- “Florida: SB 1262/HB 379, both of which would ban the sale of dog and cat fur products. H.B. 379 has already passed two committees. Calls are needed in support of SB 1262. Please call today!
- “Maryland: HB 866, which will ban the sale of dog and cat fur. A hearing was held on 3/9/99. Incredibly, the committee voted to kill the bill.
- “Minnesota: SF 697/HF 1211, which would prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products.
- “New Jersey: AB 274/AR 150 to prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products.
- “Oregon: SB 599, which would ban the sale of dog and cat fur products and would ban the sale of a pelt from any wild fur-bearing mammal.
- “Pennsylvania: SR 27/SB 474/HB 768, which address the dog and cat fur problem.
- “South Carolina: HB 3409, which would prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products.
- “Washington: HB 2280, to prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur.”
- In Virginia, HSUS has succeeded in passing a bill:
“Virginia: SB 1259/SB 1260/HB 2323 to prohibit the sale of dog and cat fur products. Signed into law.” Tracking the bill in Virginia reveals a furious pace! Introduced on Jan. 21 as a bill that “Prohibits killing dogs for their fur and provides a fine,” it raced through the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and through the House. After amendments to include “cats” and add the word “domestic”, it hit the Governor’s desk on Feb. 25 and was signed into law: “The Code of Virginia is amended by adding a section numbered 3.1-796.128:2 as follows: §3.1-796.128:2. Selling garments containing dog or cat fur prohibited. It is unlawful for any person to sell a garment containing the hide, fur or pelt which he knows to be that of a domestic dog or cat. A violation of this section shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000.” Thank goodness for the word “domestic”, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “Of or pertaining to the family or household.” We assume the Virginia legislature means “pets”.
However, foxes have been raised long enough to be considered livestock and come under the regulations of state agriculture departments as domesticated animals – animals that have been changed for human benefit. Is selling fox fur collars now illegal in Virginia? Goodness.
Legislation by Urban Myth
At the Federal level, on Apr. 30, Congressman Gerald Kleczka (D-WI) introduced HR 1622, which would ban “the importation, manufacture, transport or sale of any product made with dog or cat fur.” It would also “direct the Customs Service to inspect goods entering the US suspected of containing dog and cat fur, and impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation and criminal penalties of up to one year in jail and additional fines at the discretion of the judge. A similar ban would be placed on goods made or advertised in the US to prevent foreign manufacturers from setting up operations in this country.” According to HSUS, Klecka’s bill would “prohibit the import, export, or sale in the United States of dog and cat fur, which has infiltrated the U.S. market in garments and inexpensive fur toys.” Is this a reference to the urban myth that Furbys contain “pet” fur, not acrylic “fur”?
Lack of Definition
In none of the bills are “dog” or “cat” defined, so let’s start there. In the kingdom of Animalia, class of Mammalia, order of Carnivora, resides the family Canidae, canines, which includes species we call “dog” (3). Coyotes, wolves, foxes, jackals, raccoon dog, bush dog, dingo, dhole and more, canines include a vast array of animals. We all know of the need to control canines around people (4) and, yes, their meat and hides are used for a variety of products. With about 21 distinct species, foxes comprise the largest canine group, ranging from deserts to the Arctic. Foxes are also bred for fur and may even pass for pets. Which one of these is “dog”?
The family Felidae, felines, include domestic cats and at least 34 other species. Lion, tiger, jaguar, jaguarundi, spotted cat, lynx, bobcat, ocelot, pampas cat, puma. Which one of these is “cat”?(5)
All of the above animals occur in the wild, are raised in captivity for human benefit and, yes, many are kept somewhere as “pets”. Trade in any species at risk, of course, is already tightly controlled by international treaty. And then there are the cultural taboos in the US against using “pet” fur – it would be like selling beefsteak to India. Are wide trade barriers really necessary to address a narrow issue when, quite simply, the consumer would never buy the product?
We can see where this campaign is heading. Start by creating an air of crisis, write legislation that lacks clarity, set up trade barriers that tie up garments produced by even the most responsible fur traders, create confusion at the borders and generate lots of ill will among neighbors. For the price of all this activity, HSUS could have built a shelter in China and actually helped some animals. Or is that too simple?
-(1) For background, HSUS Howls for Attention, FCUSA press release, Dec. 24, 1998.
-(2) Prior to HSUS’s latest flurry of activity, two states already had statutes relating to dog and cat pelts: The California Penal Code, Part I, Title 14 Malicious Mischief, 598a, states “Killing dog or cat with intent of selling or giving away pelt; possession, sale or importation of pelt with intent of selling or giving away (a) Every person is guilty of a misdemeanor who kills any dog or cat with the sole intent of selling or giving away the pelt of such animal. (b) Every person is guilty of a misdemeanor who possesses, imports into this state, sells, buys, gives away or accepts any pelt of a dog or cat with the sole intent of selling or giving away the pelt of the dog or cat, or who possesses, imports into this state, sells, buys, gives away, or accepts any dog or cat, with the sole intent of killing or having killed such dog or cat for the purpose of selling or giving away the pelt of such animal. Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 18, Part II, Article F. Offenses Against Public Order And Decency, Chapter 55. Riot, Disorderly Conduct And Related Offenses, 5511. Cruelty to animals states, “(n) Skinning of and selling or buying pelts of dogs and cats. – A person commits a summary offense if he skins a dog or cat or offers for sale or exchange or offers to buy or exchange the pelt or pelts of any dog or cat.”
-(3) For information on taxonomy, see National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution’s Mammal Species of the World.
-(4) Recent news reports indicate that the subject of rabid dogs has not gone away:
Somali dog attacks
One person was killed and 11 others injured when a pack of wild dogs attacked a community in the Lower Shabeelle region of Somalia. The pack of at least eight canines continued the attack for a full day, chasing and biting residents of Bulo Marer, about 75 miles south of the capital of Mogadishu. The village has no hospital or doctor, and residents resorted to treating the victims themselves. This is the second time within a year that dogs have attacked in the Lower Shabeellee region. Last year, a similar attack occurred in the city of Qoryooly, wounding a number of people. Four of the victims contracted rabies from the bites. Somalis do not own or feed dogs for religious reasons. San Diego Union Tribune, Sept. 1, 1999
Rabid Dog Attacks
At least 17 people were hospitalized in northern Egypt after being attacked by a pack of rabid dogs. The sneak attack occurred when the feral canines raced out of a cemetery in the town of Arab al-Ayada and stormed the group of visitors. Local residents attempted to scare the animals away with stones and knives but could not prevent the onslaught. Police managed to kill two of the animals but the rest of the pack eluded capture. San Diego Union Tribune, May 5, 1999
Woman Dies After Fox Attack
ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla.: ” A 79-year-old woman who fought off a rabid fox in April by holding onto the animal for 12 hours until help arrived has died.
Lucy Dover lived at a Zephyrhills nursing home following her release from a hospital two weeks after the April 5 attack.
Her son, David Dover, 57, said it was unclear how much the injuries from the fox attack contributed to her death on Thursday.
“She never really got totally better,” he said. “It’s tough when you’re that age to come back from that much trauma.”
Mrs. Dover had stepped outside her mobile home in Hernando County, some 45 miles north of Tampa, to smoke a cigarette when a red fox attacked, repeatedly biting and clawing her.
She fell to the ground, breaking her hip. The fox kept attacking.
Despite her injuries, the 5-foot-2 woman grabbed and subdued the 15-pound animal in what turned out to be an all-night struggle, authorities said. Associated Press, June 19, 1999
-(5) For a comprehensive overview of the cat family, visit Cats! Wild to Mild, produced by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.