by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
How the fur trade hurts native trappers (but pretends to care about them)
Three cheers for Delaware for signing into law, on July 3rd, a new law that says that garments made from animal fur must be so labeled. The law goes into effect on June 1, 2010. New York State has a similar law. But oh, I wish those laws had gone one step farther. Let me explain.
Recently I wrote here about how some folks in Newfoundland were concerned about the stench of neighborhood fur farms. They had no concerns about the poor animals incarcerated in these so called “farms,” just the smells related to the rotting excrement and skinned carcasses such institutions create to the detriment of the environment.
But fur farms do something else, something that is simply ignored. To explain what it is I have to go back a couple of decades to when a secret document was produced by a private public relations firm for the Canadian fur industry. The document was called “In Defence of the Fur Trade,” and some colleagues of mine managed to get their hands on a copy. It set down some principles and methodologies designed to sell fur and to undermine concerns of humane and compassionate people who opposed the cruel practices associated with fur production.
Recognizing that many folks inclined to support compassion for animals were also likely to be sympathetic to the concerns of aboriginal people, the document urged the fur industry to emphasize the connection of aboriginal people to the fur trade and how trapping is a native tradition that provides income and dignity to native people living in wilderness regions, living off the land as their people have done for millennia.
Yeah, right, and earning a faltering pittance in the process. You can be sure that the fur sellers, promoters, and advertisers would not be satisfied by such low and uncertain wages.
Many years ago I attended a meeting in Ottawa where a native representative complained how “Greenpeace” had caused declines in values of arctic foxes trapped by native in the far north. Of course Greenpeace had done no such thing. The guy had been fed a load of nonsense by the government and/or fur industry. In Canada they are pretty much one and the same. At the time I was a part time columnist and, wearing my journalist’s hat, I called the North Bay fur auction to learn why the value of trapped arctic fox pelts had declined
I was told the values had gone down for the simple reason that fur farms increasingly produced a far more reliable product of much higher quality than could be achieved from traplines. “Farmed” white, more or less domesticated foxes bred for “quality” produced large, uniform, perfectly prepared pelts close to market and thus undermined the value of what native trappers could produce on distant traplines.
But, as that public relations firm realized from its research, people who might be inclined to worry about the abuses of the fur trade, people with a well developed conscience, are also inclined to be concerned about the environment, and native rights. That is why the fur industry continues to promote fur as a “natural” product and as a manifestation of respect for native rights.
Ah ... but most fur, the vast majority, now comes from these animal concentration camps euphemistically called “farms.”
Anyone who thinks buying furs promotes native rights or environmentalism should know how the furs they buy were produced. That is why I’ve urged the fur industry to label those products that derive from native traplines.
But of course they never will; that would reveal the truth. As ironic as it may seem to some, the biggest threat to that romanticized figure, the lone native trapper living off the land in some pristine wilderness, is by far most endangered and most hurt not by the animal rights movement, but by the fur industry itself, and its dependence on the ecologically damaging and horribly cruel practice of fur farming.