The next time you walk down a city street on a cold winter day, take a close look at what people are wearing. Chances are you’ll find fur trim on everything from jacket collars and cuffs to sweaters and vests — even handbags and belts. The fur industry is spending big to weave what it calls “the new American fabric” into any item it can convince designers to sell.
But fur is no mere “fabric.” Every piece of fur is the result of horrific cruelty. Animals trapped for their fur can suffer for hours or days in body-gripping traps, chewing through their own feet in a desperate attempt to escape. More than four million wild animals are trapped and killed each year in the United States by commercial and recreational trappers alone. On fur farms, millions more live in tiny, barren cages where they may literally go insane before they are gassed, clubbed, or anally electrocuted. Animals commonly killed for the fur trim trade include fox, coyote, bobcat, raccoon, muskrat, marten, and rabbit.
Public ignorance about the cruelty of fur production has led to a staggering growth in the fur trim trade. Analysts predict that the number of animal pelts used for trim will soon outnumber those used in the production of full-length coats. Fur trim does not carry the same social stigma as coats, perhaps because many people incorrectly assume that trim is an industry byproduct, consisting of unusable scraps that would otherwise be thrown away. According to producers, however, 90 percent of foxes raised on farms are killed for the fur trim market.
In addition, many people do not realize that the trim found on relatively inexpensive cloth and leather garments is real fur — in part because of a loophole in the law. In 2000, after an international investigation into the widespread slaughter of dogs and cats for the fur trade, primarily in Asia, the U.S. Congress passed the Dog and Cat Protection Act. DNA testing had revealed the presence of dog and cat fur in products ranging from trim on jackets to animal-shaped trinkets. This bill banned the importation of products containing dog or cat fur, but left in place a loophole in existing law regarding labeling requirements.
Today, fur items valued at over $150 must be labeled as real and identify the species of origin; fur trim on a collar or purse valued at less than $150, however, requires no label. As a result, many consumers mistakenly believe that the furry ruff donning their new denim jacket is synthetic. Furthermore, because the Dog and Cat Protection Act does not require testing of products nor provide for enforcement, advocates believe it is likely that products containing dog and cat fur still make their way into the U.S. marketplace and the hands of unsuspecting shoppers.
Aiming to appeal to a younger, “hipper” consumer, the fur industry has embarked on a well-funded campaign to popularize fur trim through magazine ads, billboards, cinema commercials, and TV ads. The aim of its $1-million “Fur Works For Everyone” PR effort is to increase fur wearing by women and men 25-35 years old. In a 2002 Fur World magazine article, Fur Council of Canada Executive Vice President Alan Herscovici stated, “Trendy styles and affordability are the key to market expansion, and that is our main objective.”
A recent national survey revealed that women and men ages 25-35 know little about trapping. The survey, conducted by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies as part of an outreach program aimed at increasing public acceptance of trapping, concluded that the American populace is highly malleable and is “free to project on to trapping whatever image first comes to mind.”
Recognizing the critical need to increase public knowledge, API has joined the International Fur Free Alliance (www.inFURmation.com), a coalition of humane and conservation organizations representing tens of millions of people worldwide. The mission of the Fur Free Alliance (FFA) is “to bring an end to the killing and exploitation of all animals for their fur by raising awareness about the cruelty and negative environmental impacts associated with the global fur trade through appropriate legal and non-violent means.”
As a joint effort with the FFA, API and The Fund for Animals helped sponsor a full-page ad in the December 2002 issue of Cosmopolitan, which reaches millions of consumers across North America. Featuring actress Jessica Biel of the popular TV series 7th Heaven, the ad exposes the cruelty behind fur and fur trim and exclaims, “Compassion is the new fashion.” The ad also urges readers to be “real trend-setters” by not buying products made with fur or fur trim.
Advocates Reaching Out
Reaching mainstream America with our message about fur and trapping is not easy. Budgets and media access are often limited. Our one ad in Cosmo may be overshadowed by the dozens placed by fur retailers, designers, and trade groups. But we know from experience that when we do reach consumers with the truth about fur and fur trim, we forever alter their perceptions of these “luxury” items.
In an effort to deliver our message about fur to a wider audience, API produced Cull of the Wild: The Truth Behind Trapping, a documentary available in half-hour and ten-minute versions. This powerful film exposes the inherent cruelty of body-crushing traps and refutes myths perpetuated by proponents.
With the help of grassroots groups from across the country, we’ve been able to reach a broad spectrum of the populace from politicians to mainstream consumers. Members of the New Hampshire Furbearer Protection Team showed Cull of the Wild at protests after learning that the state trappers’ association planned to donate a coat made from the pelts of 25 fishers to the winner of the Miss New Hampshire Pageant. Activists in Indiana showed the video in their efforts to educate state officials about the use of cruel body-gripping traps by “nuisance” wildlife control trappers. As part of its campaign to end a statewide coyote-snaring program, the Maine NoSnare Task Force is using the film to inform residents about trapping.
Individual activists can make a difference as well. Making sure not to buy products containing fur is an important step. We can also counteract myths put forward by the fur industry by educating others. Perhaps the next time you see someone wearing a fur-trimmed jacket, you can politely hand him or her one of API’s wallet-sized “Compassion is Always in Fashion” fur cards. You'd be surprised how many people are open to learning — if the lessons are given in a spirit of compassion and understanding.
Finding Facts about Fur
Visit API’s new website, www.BanCruelTraps.com, for information about trapping and the fur trade. The site includes facts, statistics, action alerts, information on how to mount an anti-trapping/fur campaign, model legislation, and examples of successful anti-trapping campaigns, among other resources. In addition, you can contact API to receive “Compassion is Always in Fashion” informational cards and fact sheets about trapping.