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The Fur Trade Today - 02/08/06

Published 02/08/06

Virtually all levels of the fur trade around the world had cause for celebration in 2005, a year in which advancing skin levels produced a healthy income for most farmers and higher price tags were accepted by consumers. It was the second consecutive such year — a rarity in the past two decades — and augured well for the coming year. Retail sales, which faltered occasionally because of inconsistent weather conditions, nevertheless were on the positive side for most of the year, while the skin markets were stoked mainly by the still-growing appetites of China and Russia. Although furs were prominent in the fashion picture, December’s seasonably cold temperatures provided much of the impetus for a strong windup.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/09/06


For the first time in its history, American Legend held both of its auctions away from Seattle — across the nearby Canadian border in British Columbia — the first in Vancouver and the second in Whistler. This was a direct result of the U.S. Justice Dept. investigation into possible price fixing and the reluctance of many foreign buyers (who had received subpoenas to testify) to return to the U.S. Both auctions were extremely successful from the standpoint of both attendance and the prices paid. Later in the year, a Toronto-based broker’s home was searched by Canadian police at the request of the Justice Dept., which indicated to foreign buyers that staying out of the U.S. would not insulate them. Although the investigation still continues, Legend said at the year end that the 2006 auctions likely will return to Seattle.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/09/06


Total world production of mink reached an all-time high of more than 40.2 million pelts in 2005, an increase of 7.3%. Steadily rising prices for two consecutive years presented ranchers with a strong incentive following many years of depressed prices. Contributing to that increase was a huge advance in China which, according to the best estimates, has become the second largest mink producer in the world after Denmark. China’s crop was reckoned at about 8 million, up 23% over the previous year, and triple that of the U.S. The Danes produced an estimated 12.9 million, a gain of 3.2%. Ranched fox production rose 5.2% to 6.5 million. Here, too, China was the main contributor with 3.5 million, mainly consumed domestically.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/09/06


Greenland bans Canadian sealskins

NUUK, Greenland (UPI) — The home-rule government in Greenland has decided to halt imports of sealskins from Canada.

Great Greenland began importing Canadian skins in 2003 because of a quality decline in Greenlandic skins. But officials say they do not want to risk bringing in skins from seals that have been beaten to death.

“Great Greenland’s production of sealskin is based on traditional trapping of seals in Greenland, just as it always has been,” Premier Hans Enoksen told the Copenhagen Post. “Sealing with a pickaxe is not a method that is used in Greenland, and it has never been a part of Greenland’s culture. It is an unacceptable method.”

Enoksen said that bad publicity in the 1980s about the Canadian seal hunt hurt Greenland’s exports, and trappers do not want a repetition.

Source: Science Daily, 01/09/06


Bedo Goes Fur Free (Canada)

Two weeks into a campaign launched by Global Action Network to pressure the retail chain into going fur free, Bedo has pulled all fur from their stores across Canada. In a letter dated Friday, 13 January 2006, Bedo’s Controller stated that the company was sensitive to animal welfare concerns, and as such, had made the decision to stop selling fur.

Global Action Network’s campaign focused on educating consumers and Bedo employees about the gruesome origins of the rabbit fur they were selling. Bedo’s fur came from China, a country without a single animal welfare law, where recent undercover investigations revealed that animals are routinely skinned alive. “Rabbits on fur farms spend their entire lives standing on the thin cage wires, never having a chance to dig, jump or play. What’s more, there is a thriving, extremely cruel dog and cat fur industry in China, much of which is often falsely labeled as ‘rabbit fur’ before export to Western markets. Without expensive DNA tests, it is virtually impossible to know exactly what kind of animal you are actually wearing if you choose to wear fur,” said Global Action Network Director Andrew Plumbly.

Global Action Network congratulates Bedo on making a compassionate decision that will save many animal lives and hopefully influence other Canadian retailers to follow suit.

Bedo joins Jacob, a major retailer that recently went fur free after negotiations with Global Action Network, and other major fur free retailers, Gap Inc., Banana Republic, Reitmans, ZARA, Suzy Shier and Roots, in promoting the concept that “compassion is the fashion.”

With so many high-quality alternatives to fur, compassionate consumers can spare animals by choosing soft acrylics, brushed cotton and faux fur.

Source: Global Action Network (GAN), 01/13/06


Animal Friends Croatia and Robert Boskovic in a campaign for a ban on breeding animals for fur

This month Animal Friends Croatia launches a big national campaign for the ban on breeding animals for fur in the Republic of Croatia. After a campaign in which Goran Visnjic sent a message of boycott against wearing fur ‘If you wouldn’t wear your dog, please do not wear any fur’ from a billboard three years ago, this year’s campaign for the ban on breeding animals for fur is joined by another Croatian actor. Robert Boskovic will pose with a one-year-old chinchilla Pepo on leaflets, post cards, and 50 billboards which in mid January appeared in seven Croatian towns — Zagreb, Split, Osijek, Rijeka, Varazdin, Zadar, and Pula.

A legal ban of this cruelty is the only solution for the animals bred and killed for their fur. Croatia, in which chinchillas are bred for their fur, should follow the example of countries like Great Britain and Austria that showed ethical and political maturity by banning the breeding of animals for their fur.

During the campaign for the ban on breeding animals for fur in Croatia, at the main city square in Zagreb a big international protest for the ban on breeding animals for fur will take place on February 4, 2006. Protesters from Slovenia, Serbia and Monte Negro, Germany, Austria and other countries will join activists from Animal Friends Croatia and Croatian citizens.

The national campaign for the ban on breeding animals for fur under the slogan ‘Do you know that 200 chinchillas have to be killed for one fur coat?’ was supported by the agency for the integral market communicating Unexgroup.

For information about Animal Friends Croatia’s demonstration in support of the fur farming ban, see www.prijatelji-zivotinja.hr/indexen.html.

Source: Animal Friends Croatia, 01/16/06


Despite its sluggish start, December turned out to be one of the best in recent years, with fur departments of major stores doing relatively better than other outerwear. While sales of other apparel reportedly were soft during the month, the movement of furs gathered momentum as the mercury dropped and a few coatings of snow convinced consumers that a normal winter had indeed arrived. Sales of furs as gifts also proved to be strong, possibly aided by the confluence of three major seasonal observances: Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza. The month’s experience also demonstrated clearly just how weather-sensitive the fur business has become.

Meanwhile, January’s sluggish start — attributed virtually entirely to the return of mild weather — is giving rise to concern among retailers. Considering that January usually runs a close second to December in terms of sales — and for some is the biggest month — how it turns out is critical, especially for those whose fiscal year didn’t end on Dec. 31. However, since last year’s January sales also fell victim to inconsistent weather, those figures shouldn’t be too difficult to meet (SPR, 02/07/05).

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/16/06


Towns in the hunt to outlaw traps

A movement to ban trapping on public land began gathering steam across Long Island after Southampton Town officials said they want to stop the practice on town-owned land after learning a dog was killed last month when it walked into a hunting trap.

Officials from Oyster Bay to Southold said yesterday that they, too, are looking to follow Southampton’s lead in banning trapping in town parks and nature preserves.

At the state level, Assemb. Steve Englebright, a Setauket Democrat, said he would propose a bill later this year giving Suffolk County the ability to ban trapping. Suffolk County legislator Jon Cooper plans another approach, asking the State Department of Conservation — which regulates hunting and trapping — to carve out a special exclusion zone for Suffolk, to get around a state law that allows trapping.

The issue surfaced in Southampton last month after Gail Murphy’s dog Zephyr choked when a grab trap — placed to catch a raccoon — snapped over the dog’s head as they walked on a nature trail near her home in Sag Harbor. Southampton officials found they had no law on the books to ban trapping in their own parks or nature preserves.

Source: Newsday, 01/18/06


Police praised over BB ‘gorilla coat’ move

Hertfordshire Police force has won support from conservation group WWF over its seizure of Celebrity Big Brother star Pete Burns’ alleged ‘gorilla’ coat. The coat, which has drawn criticism from fellow housemates and viewers of the Channel 4 show, was taken by police last week after complaints and sent for analysis to determine its genuine material.

Tests carried out at the Natural History Museum in London determined that the coat was in fact made from colobus monkey skin.

Source: Green Consumer Guide.com, 01/23/06


Still-higher prices are viewed as of little importance considering the growing nature of their [China and Russia] markets and that the bulk of the skins go into trimmings, hats and other small items, so the increase to the consumer is minimal.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/23/06


January fur sales in the U.S. have not lived up to retailers’ expectations so far, largely because of the return of abnormally mild weather following the wintery stretch that helped make December a banner month. The situation is somewhat similar to a year ago, except that last January turned colder at mid-month and the resultant pickup helped to compensate for a disappointing December. The U.S. Weather Service last week was forecasting colder air and snow for the Northeast, Midwest and some other sections. A spot check in key areas found most retailers involved in their traditional year-end clearance promotions, but not too pleased by the response as yet.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/23/06


Another hot topic at the Mink Show was animal disease and possible problems arising from the recent departure of United Vaccines from the mink vaccine business. United was sold and will discontinue testing mink for evidence of Aleutian disease (AD). This was said to leave only one other such operation, the ASL division of Schering-Plough, as a supplier of vaccines against such common problems as AD, which can be very costly to farmers. United was respected for the quality of its work and supplied the majority of certificates for AD-free breeding stock. Fur Commission USA’s research committee has been charged with developing a list of qualified labs for next season’s testing. For further info (619) 575-0139 or furfarmers@aol.com.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/23/06


The U.S. Justice Dept. investigation into possible price-fixing resulted in an indictment last week against a U.S.-based brokerage firm and its auction representative. Alaska Brokerage International, Inc., and its vice-president, David Karsch, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle for participating in a bid-rigging conspiracy involving the sale of otter pelts. This would confirm reports (Sandy PR, 12/26/05) that the firm was being targeted in the investigation, as well as earlier reports (SPR, 07/18/05) that the DOJ had enlisted the help of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the search for evidence at the home of a Toronto-based broker. That broker was not named in the indictment.

The grand jury charged the company and Karsch with conspiring with other corporations and individuals to rig the bids on otter pelts in February 2004. This would have taken place during the Fur Harvesters Auction at the American Legend facilities in Seattle. According to the indictment, the defendants are charged with engaging in communications with co-conspirators regarding not competing with one another in the bidding for the otters; agreeing to a collusive bidding strategy and subsequently transferring the acquired pelts among themselves. The charges are in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum fine of $10 million and which could be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime. (Ed. note: The 4,000 otters in that auction realized a total of $380,000).

According to the DOJ, these are the first charges filed in conjunction with this investigation, which first came to light when subpoenas were served on buyers during the American Legend sale in May 2004. The reaction among foreign buyers was a leaning not to return to the U.S. for fear of being detained for questioning — as well as the heavy legal costs involved. As a result, American Legend held last year’s auctions across the Canadian border in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. This year’s sales have been moved back to Seattle as a result of Legend’s buyer survey, but reports last week were that a number of major London brokers were not planning to attend and that some major Chinese buyers also would not be present. Legend president/ceo Ed Brennan told SPR “we expect a near-record buyer attendance in February and I am confident we won’t be missing any buying power.” The indictment, he said, “is unfortunate, but it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the trade. American Legend is doing everything we can to enable every interested buyer to participate in our auction.”

The reaction among overseas buyers, however, appeared to confirm trade reports that fewer will return to the U.S. under present conditions. Despite indications that foreign buyers may still be susceptible to the reach of the DOJ even in their own countries, as evidenced by last year’s Canadian investigation, a return to the U.S. apparently would be considered tantamount to tempting the fates.

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/23/06


Is Dog and Cat Fur Being Used in Coats?

Instead of lounging around the family home, some cats and dogs in Europe and Russia have been showing up around jacket collars and in coats, according to a Humane Society investigation.

The group’s undercover investigation concluded that the business of killing cats and dogs for fur is thriving in the Czech Republic and other Eastern European countries. This comes as a direct reaction to thriving fur sales and a noted market shift since the U.S. banned the import of domestic pet fur, experts say.

“We have at the doorsteps of the European Union positive proof that this business is not just an Asian issue anymore,” said Richard Swain, a Humane Society vice president and investigator.

Source: ABC News, 01/24/06


The shock waves that reverberated through the international fur trade when the U.S. Justice Dept. subpoenaed buyers in connection with an anti-trust investigation almost two years ago returned last week, when some of those buyers were hit by class-action suits brought by at least two American mink ranchers. The latest development came on the heels of an indictment handed up only two days earlier by a federal grand jury in Seattle against a New York broker for participating in a bid-rigging conspiracy involving the sale of otter skins. Although the two cases are not directly connected, their close timing is being regarded by some as a one-two punch that could have serious implications for the North American skin market.

The two situations have a common ground: federal anti-trust laws prohibiting conspiracy in restraint of trade and/or price-fixing. In separate actions, two Washington State mink ranchers filed class-action complaints against five New York brokerages, charging them with “conspiracy to fix, raise, maintain or stabilize prices for furs purchased at auctions in the United States.” Because of their unlawful conduct, the complaints state, “plaintiff and the class members were paid artificially depressed prices for furs and as a result have suffered anti-trust injury to their business or property.” The actions were filed Jan. 19 and 20 in a U.S. District Court in Seattle by Wanachek Mink Ranch in Cle Elum and Jordan Fur Farm in Olympia. The New York firms charged are Alaska Brokerage International, Global Mink Corp., Mechutan Fur Corp., Klondike International Furs, Delta Trading Corp. and David Karsch, former vice-president of Alaska.

These actions were brought under the Sherman Anti-trust Act and the Clayton Act, which enables them to recover treble damages and legal costs. They are understood to have been under consideration by American ranchers since shortly after the Justice Dept. served its subpoenas. An enterprising Maine law firm circulated notices to mink ranchers (SPR, 09/27/04) that they may have a claim for price-fixing and could realize three times their losses plus legal fees. That company was Preti Flaherty, based in Portland, and is involved in the suits.

In view of that court order, the threat of being served in the newest case has been removed and buyers who were planning to attend the sale presumably are not changing their plans. However, a number of overseas buyers, particularly major London brokers, had indicated prior to the latest suits that they would not return to the U.S. They are still concerned about being detained for hearings connected with the DOJ investigation, which would entail both time and legal expenses. That concern still exists despite a home-search of a Toronto fur broker last year executed by Canadian police at the request of the DOJ, which indicated its ability to reach into other countries and that buyers are susceptible to that reach almost anywhere.

Buyer reaction to the ranchers’ suits was immediate and fairly predictable, namely expressions of shock and disbelief. Some were quick to again trace the blame back to Legend for its marketing reports that attributed depressed mink prices to buyer collusion which, they point out, has yet to be proved. They also note that, while the suits are supposed to represent a class of those who sold furs at auctions in the U.S. from June 1, 2000, through June 1, 2004, the only names listed are of the two who filed the complaints. And both Wanachek and Jordan have been out of business for several years. One major broker attributed the actions to “a couple of embittered retirees.” Actually, only Clarence Jordan is retired. Jan Wanechek told SPR the Seattle auction house “put me out of business” about three years ago, reportedly because he couldn’t pay off his loan.

Meanwhile, buyers and other market veterans see little, if any, immediate effect of the legal actions on skin prices, mainly because of expected heavy demand from China, Russia and other markets. They perceive no problem with auctions outside the U.S. and, in fact, envision increases at next week’s sale in Copenhagen. As for the February sales in North America, they look for similar results even if some brokers/agents don’t participate in person. Modern communications systems are much improved over even a few years ago and non-attending brokers may be able to arrange a virtual presence. According to a London broker, the auctions will be a major success because “business generally is excellent.” He also notes that “if the farmers average a few dollars less because of the legal scenario, they will still probably be getting more than they’ve received in any of the last 10 years.”

Source: Sandy Parker Reports, 01/30/06

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