Question 1: 'What do you mean by saying fur is green?'
The answer begins, "We want people to know that fur is an excellent choice if you care about nature — because fur is a natural, renewable resource.”
Those animals who die in traps are not able to renew themselves, but the concept that furs are “renewable” comes from the idea that animals produce more young than are mathematically necessary to maintain their population. Therefore, the theory goes, as long as trapping stays within the “surplus” number it is “renewable.” That is, the population size will stay stable, with the individuals not trapped producing enough young to replace those who are.
The sustainability argument does not apply to the majority of furs used in the industry because they are not trapped in the wild. According to The International Fur Trade Federation, “wild fur represents about 15 percent of the world’s trade in fur” (International Fur Trade Federation “Fast Facts” accessed Oct. 15, 2008, cited in Toxic Fur) since it is not “natural” for wild animals to be in cages. Being caged requires, at the very least, concentration of food and waste that would never occur “naturally.” 3 We will deal with the environmental implications of fur farms below.
But we do challenge the very concept of animals trapped under regulations being surplus from an ecological perspective, or that individual animals are of no consequence to the environment from which they are abruptly removed by traplines.
We agree that in North America, following the loss of numerous large populations of various species of wildlife as a result of poorly or non-regulated trapping and hunting (the sea mink went extinct; sea otters were critically endangered and populations of beaver and various other species were reduced or eliminated through significant parts of their ranges) enough controls were put in place to reduce the actual loss of animal species, but problems remain. The IUCN lists the wolverine, for example, as near threatened. “Fur trapping has contributed to a decline in numbers and distribution in the wolverine.” (Wilson, D.E. & Mittermeier, R.A. eds. (2009) Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Vol. 1., Carnivores. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, hereafter HMW, 2009). The species is also killed by trappers because it eats carrion, and will eat the bodies of animals found in caught in traps and snares (HMW, 2009).
But the admittedly more subtle point to be made is that significant removal of large parts of the population of a species cannot exist without consequences. These include the removal of potential prey species; reducing interspecific competition (competition within the species for such things as food, shelter and mates); forcing predators to put more than “natural” pressure on other, possibly less suitable, prey species; and the removal of those animals best suited to survive, but for being killed, thus compromising the process of natural selection that drives the process of evolution. 4
Since traps are non-selective in terms of fur quality (unlike fur “ranches,” where animals are bred for the appearance or texture of their fur without regard to what best contributes to survivability of the species in the wild), they do not change the trajectory of evolutionary process to the degree that trophy hunting does (by constantly removing the largest animals or those with the largest horns or antlers, smaller animals with smaller antlers or horns are “selected for”). But they do impact the balances of predators and prey, unnaturally reducing populations of targeted species in relation to non-targeted species. Non-target species, including those who may be rare or endangered, are also susceptible to being unintentionally caught in traps.
Trapping does select against animals based on behavior. Trapping of predators employs bait, thus selects against animals who are more likely to eat carrion, removing them from competition with predatory animals more likely to prefer going after live prey (possibly including livestock). None of this is “natural” and only “renewable” in the sense that if enough animals are not trapped, they will produce enough young to maintain the population.
The next sentence of the FCC’s answer reads, “The Canadian fur trade is very well regulated to ensure animal welfare.” There are links, but the first, in reference to wild trapped animals, is to the fur industry’s arguments in support of the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS), which is a work in progress occasioned by the fact Canada, the United States and Russia were so far behind Europe in animal welfare legislation.
At the moment AIHTS primarily is directed toward finding traps that are as species-specific as possible and which, when they function properly, cause the animal to die within a certain time frame, either quickly (for example, by virtue of a broken neck or crushed skull) or not so quickly (strangulation, drowning) or that hold the animal until the trapper arrives to make the kill, or it dies from some other cause. In effect “humane” is redefined to include the degrees of suffering imposed upon animals by these traps.
The effort has consisted, in part, of years of experiments whereby captive animals were subjected to death from various trap models, modifications of traditional traps and prototypes, trying to find ones that cause a “humane” death (with drowning, a process that can be very prolonged in aquatic species such as otters and beavers, considered “humane”). They can deliver a quick death, but in order to do so everything must work perfectly, with the right-sized animal of the right species entering the right trap from the right direction. The requirement to use even those traps does not apply to all species, although they do apply to 19 commonly trapped species, meaning quite a few species intentionally trapped for fur are not even included by AIHTS.
Both the Canadian government and the fur industry rejected the concept of international standards until, after much pressure from their constituents, the European Union threatened to ban the import of furs from countries still using leg-hold traps. The fur industry, far from wanting humane standards, brought the issue to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which, in turn, ruled that the EU ban was not allowed because it would interfere with legal trade and business.
But the writing was on the wall and in order to address the European concerns (which could easily lead to boycotts or other regulations that would effectively limit imports of furs), Canada, the United States and Russia promised to develop “more humane” traps.
The leg-hold trap was never banned, but it was modified, some lined with hard rubber, or “offset” so as not to snap completely shut. The best way to convince anyone of what these traps are like is to place one on a finger, toe, wrist or ankle, tight enough to prevent escape, but not so tight as to break bones. If it is offset to just the right distance and the person remains motionless, it may be bearable, but if even slightly too tight the interference with blood flow soon leads to pain that becomes relentless and excruciating.
Meanwhile, the fact remains that the traditional leg-hold trap still remains and is still legally used for various species of animals (or the non-target species they attract).
Fur-Bearer Defenders has produced a video showing the different types of traps still legally used to catch animals in various jurisdictions.
The AIHTS essentially redefined what most of us would consider “humane” to include such forms of animal abuse as broken teeth, amputations, drowning and strangulation.
Another reference is to the Recommended Codes of Practice for so-called ranched or farmed fur-bearing animals. It is not a law and sets voluntary standards of animal care that are so cruel that in most jurisdictions, including Canada, you would be in line to be charged for cruelty to animals were you to apply them to a dog or cat. Canada’s federal laws against cruelty were fashioned in the 19th century and effectively exempt animals abused for commercial purposes by stating that cruelty to animals fails to be cruel if it is “necessary,” and commerce is regarded by the courts as “necessary.” Animals are regarded as property under Canada’s antiquated laws. All efforts to reform the law and update it were furiously and successfully fought by industries and interests that hurt animals, including the FCC.
The answer to Question 1 continues: “The furs we use are abundant, never from endangered species.”
Some of the species used by the fur trade in Canada, species such as the muskrat or the red squirrel, are, indeed, abundant, their ranges dependent on habitat. They are herbivorous and thus, in natural circumstances, generally live at higher population levels than do predators. However, most species killed by the fur industry are predators and thus more susceptible to persecution. One remarkable exception is the coyote, which has thrived in areas where it is heavily persecuted, extended its range and is evolving in eastern North America at a rate measureable within human lifetimes.
But one must also consider that, in Canada, such species as the wolverine, gray wolf, fisher, long-tailed weasel, Canada lynx, beaver, harp and hooded seals and North American river otter are among fur-bearing species that have seen significant reductions in parts of their range as a result of habitat loss and/or a variety of forms of persecution, including trapping for fur, or to eliminate “nuisance” animals.
Some of these species, such as the fisher, are being restored by releasing animals into areas where they were previously depleted, while the eastern Canadian population of the wolverine remains endangered. Other species — the beaver, for example — are increasing in response to a decline in the value of their fur and subsequent decrease in trapping.
In Ontario, some rare furbearing species, such as the northern gray fox and the American badger, are unlikely to be intentionally trapped for their furs, but the same traps set for more-common species can and do catch them. Both these species reach the limits of their respective ranges in Ontario, and if they were birds or non-fur-bearing mammals they almost certainly would long since have been listed as species of at least some level of concern, if not outright endangered under Ontario’s Endangered Species Act.
The answer to Question 1 then states: “And fur apparel is long-wearing. This is more ecological than today’s disturbing trend to `cheap,’ disposable fashion — like the tons of unwanted materials (80 percent non-biodegradable synthetics) that end up in landfills.”
The fur industry always presents “synthetics” as the only alternative to fur, but apart from the fact that “synthetics” are not the only other source of outer-wear clothing material, when an animal is killed the process of decay sets in. The skin, when removed, will either mummify (dry out and harden and thus be useless to the fur industry) or rot. In order to prevent these things from happening, complex and very unnatural processes must be employed utilizing both energy consumption and various toxic substances that are bad for the environment.
The processes are called “tanning” or “dressing” and they can involve formaldehyde or chromium, which will kill bacteria but are recognized carcinogens. According to the FCC, formaldehyde is used in small amounts “to protect follicles during dressing or dyeing.” 5 The first sign of a pelt rotting, even before there is a noticeable odor, is “slipping,” whereby individual hairs start to come out. Formaldehyde or other strong chemicals are needed to halt this quite natural process. But formaldehyde is toxic, and it is, for example, listed as a reportable toxic substance in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency on its Toxics Reporting Industry list, and is on the American Apparel and Footwear Association Restricted Substance List.
Chromium, used by the tanning industry (not just for furs, but also leathers) in “chrome tanning,” because it works more quickly and produces a more desirable effect than safer products, is toxic and is, like formaldehyde, listed by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.
Other products that may be used in the tanning processes and that are variously considered toxic include aluminum, ammonia, chlorine, chlorobenzene, copper, ethylene glycol, lead, methanol, naphthalene, sulfuric acid, toluene and zinc.
We understand that the world is filled with manufactured products that contain chemicals and compounds that can be dangerous to human and animal health and the environment. These can range from such obviously dangerous things as cigarettes or gasoline (both “natural” to the degree a fur coat is “natural,” being highly changed products that originally derive from such natural products as plants and subterranean oil) to subtle elements such as Bisphenol-A (BPA), used in numerous food containers but implicated in concerns about its effect on human development (Canada banned baby products containing BPA in 2009 and is now looking at a complete ban). But no one claims these products are “natural,” or come without ecological risks.
It is precisely because fur, a product that includes both the hair and the skins of dead animals, is derived from carrion that it must be constantly guarded against insects, bacteria, fungus and other natural agents of decay. We recognize that there are very few manufacturing processes, thus very few manufactured goods, that do not involve at least some materials that threaten human health and the environment, and we hope that their use is sufficiently regulated to protect the environment; we don’t claim that they are “green” products.
Fur coats do not outlast other forms of clothing, and the FCC provides no evidence to the contrary. But anyone who has owned fur knows that during warmer weather it must be kept in cold storage (a form of energy consumption not necessary for other types of clothing) and at times treated with toxic pesticides. The fur industry is intently focused on “fashion,” and seeks to persuade consumers to buy “the latest” fashion, often sponsoring designers and fashion shows and fur shows, all having the effect of rendering fur products obsolete before even they can wear out. From makers of sunglasses to telecommunication devices to automobiles, other manufacturers play the same game, to be sure, always playing on the insecurities of consumers to make them want the latest new and improved version of the product, rather than seeking to make products that will last, but they don’t seek to pass themselves off as “green.”
And while the FCC’s own website shows models in the most recently designed fur coats, stoles or half-coats or various novelty garments, in fact increasingly the bulk of fur is used as decorative trim on outerwear garments that are made the same way as any other garment is manufactured, thus has the same lifespan, and are no more or less likely, when worn out, to end up in landfill or be any more or less biodegradable than any other garment.
Fur does do not wear well. Wild mammals never maintain their fur for more than a year, replacing it at least annually, if not more often, and when left alone are frequently engaged in washing and grooming. Yes, they are subjected to much more wear than the furs of a fur coat wearer, but they do not require refrigeration in winter, or use of toxic chemicals, to maintain. They are, when worn on those that they are born on, truly natural, quite unlike the products of the fur industry.
The answer to Question 1 continues: “Those who think that synthetics can replace fur should also know that most synthetics are made from petroleum — a non-renewable resource — and their production and disposal can pose environmental problems.”
Note that again the FCC implies that the only alternative to fur is synthetic fur. While this document focuses on the FCC’s greenwashing, the reason most people reject wearing fur is their compassion for the animals abused by the industry. Thus they not only do not want to wear fur, they do not want to appear to be wearing fur, and modern synthetic fur coats are virtually indistinguishable from actual fur coats. Indeed, actual fur coats are routinely cut or sheared and dyed to look about as unnatural as possible. Some furs are dyed in bright, primary colors that occur in no wild animal whatsoever, but are considered to be fashionable.
From an environmental perspective, the concern is the size of the “footprint” on the ecosystem. Synthetic fur, for those who want it, is derived from petroleum, it is true, but not as much petroleum as is utilized in the manufacture of a synthetic fur coat of similar size. While remembering that fur is mostly derived from animals kept in small cages, registered traplines in Canada can reach up to 500 square miles in size, and are usually patrolled by snowmobiles, and those are fuelled by petroleum. Since traplines are so often in remote areas, the fuel often must be exclusively shipped to them, often by air, utilizing still more petroleum. Furs must be transported from traplines or fur farms to locations where they are dressed, with such transportation utilizing vehicles that are also fuelled by fossil fuels. They must be shipped to and from auctions, and then to manufacturers, all procedures using petroleum, and all procedures not needed in the production of synthetic fur.
Similar issues pertain to fur farms, where it is necessary to constantly ship food into, and excrement out of, these locations. The fur farms, themselves, use energy to store food and to provide light, cooling or heating as required, and to facilitate shipment of the product.
The tanning process requires still more energy and cold storage. And as stated above, unlike a synthetic coat, in order to prevent the natural processes of decay a fur coat should, according to the Fur Information Council of America, have an “air exchange … carefully regulated with temperatures kept below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a constant humidity level of 50 percent.” (Fur Information Council of America website, accessed August 15, 2008, as cited in Toxic Fur).
Finally, there is waste, including toxic waste, from the fur industry. Fur garments themselves are either trimmed with fur or mostly are made from fur. Either way, as explained above, they, as well as garments made out of other materials, both natural and synthetic, also will wind up as waste. The difference is to maintain fur (assuming the wearer is not concerned about changing fashions and wants the garment to last) requires an energy expenditure in order to prevent decay and deterioration that other garments tend not to require at all. Furs are not recycled as compost, and organic waste contributes to methane gas in landfills.
But the hidden waste is the excrement and skinned bodies that accumulate at fur farms. Most fur bearers raised in these facilities are carnivores (foxes, mink) whose excrement is not suitable for fertilizer. Skinned carcasses may be utilized, but because of the odors they produce and the desire to keep them hidden from view, many fur farms are located far from where such utilization is financially feasible, and at any rate, as explained below, skinned carcasses are not really suitable for compost or fertilizer.
The answer to Question 1 concludes: “Sensational and misleading ‘animal rights’ campaigns have created confusion about the true ecological role of the fur trade. It is time to present another side of the story.” It is possible that those opposed to the fur trade have misstated things in some places, but just saying something does not make it so. The fur industry has no positive “ecological role” to play, and on the contrary, as the current document will show, it has caused numerous ecological problems.