This discussion focuses on fur production from both farmed and wild sources. It details US laws that impact fur, both federal and state, including a discussion on state trapping laws. Laws from countries that are major producers of fur products are analyzed as well as those countries that have imposed bans on fur farming or trapping methods.
I. Introduction: Basic Facts about Fur
Throughout the ages, fur pelts from animals have been traded and worn for their warmth and as a fashion statement. Wild fur-bearing animals have been both trapped and hunted in many countries for ages. In Russia, fur served as a form of currency, was used as gifts and as part of a bride’s dowry, and became a significant part of trade during the tenth and eleventh centuries. [ 1 ] In the 1530s, the beaver became a main trading item between the American Indians and the colonists, and beaver pelts were regularly shipped to Europe. [ 2 ] By the late 1500s, fur was extremely popular in Europe. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, created a trading post in Quebec, which became the center of fur trade in America. [ 3 ] In the seventeenth century, Siberia’s unification with Russia helped to propel Russia to become the largest fur-supplier, which it remained until the nineteenth century. [ 4 ] Around that time, fur farming started in North America, and was introduced into Europe in the early twentieth century. [ 5 ]
A. Facts about Fur Farming
Today, fur farming comprises about 85% of the fur trade, [ 6 ] while fur from the wild accounts for the rest. [ 7 ] Fur farming is a separate industry from animals that are bred for meat. The meat from some animals bred for their fur, such as rabbits, is sometimes used. However, due to the nature of the intensive confinement systems in which they live, the fur from rabbits bred for their meat is usually not high quality, and thus is often not used. [ 8 ] On fur farms, with the help of strict methods of breeding and diet plans, farmers have been able to create “desirable mutations” and high-quality furs. [ 9 ] The two most commonly bred animals on fur farms are mink and fox. Other fur-farmed animals include fitches (also known as European polecats, which are related to the ferret), finn raccoons, chinchillas, and nutria. Additionally, goat, sheep, fetal and newborn karakul lambs are sometimes bred for their fur. In 2009, 64.73% of the world’s mink and 55.6% of the world’s fox fur came from European fur farms. [ 10 ] Denmark produced the most farmed mink pelts in the world (30.1%) while China produced 19.3% (the U.S. had the fifth highest amount). [ 11 ] The Netherlands (producing the third most, or 9.7% of all farmed minks), [ 12 ] Finland, and Sweden are also top producers of fur in the EU, [ 13 ] with Finland producing the largest quantity of fox pelts in Europe. [ 14 ] Additionally, fur farming is considered a “key industry” for Poland (producing fourth most, or 7.9% of all farmed minks). [ 15 ] Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia [ 16 ] are also fur producers as is Kastoria, a Greek town that is one of the main fur manufacturing centers in the world. [ 17 ]
North America also plays a significant role in the fur market. Fur farms in North America were the first to breed black mink, which is the most popular mink pelt. In 2009, black mink pelts accounted for 52% of all pelts produced in the United States. [ 18 ] Fur Commission USA, which is an association representing 400 mink farmers in the U.S., reports that in the U.S., most fur farms are “family businesses, often operated by two or three generations of the same family.” [ 19 ] In 2010, the Commission reported having farmer members in Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. [ 20 ] The U.S. also hosts mink, fox, chinchilla, rabbit, bobcat, lynx, and finn raccoon farming.
The International Fur Trade Federation (“IFTF”), which is comprised of national associations within 35 countries, [ 21 ] alleges that it promotes strict codes of practice that “meet or exceed established and accepted standards for animal welfare . . . [f]ur farming is well regulated and operates within the highest standards of care.” [ 22 ] However, the animal rights organization PETA alleges that animals on fur farms are killed by “anal and vaginal electrocution.” [ 23 ] Animal advocacy organization Born Free USA reports that animals confined in cages at fur farms suffer “physical and behavior abnormalities” and also may be killed from being gassed, having their necks broken, or being injected with poisons. [ 24 ]
B. Facts about Wild Fur
The most commonly traded types of wild fur are North American beaver, coyote, ermine, grey fox, red fox, marten, mink, muskrat, nutria, opossum, raccoon, Russian sable, and Chinese weasel. Most wild fur is obtained from Canada, Russia, and the U.S. [ 25 ] Trappers generally use “baited and concealed traps” during the time of year when the desired animal has the highest quality coat (this is usually at the start of winter). [ 26 ] Wild fur is mainly traded by hunters and trappers in U.S., Canadian, European, and Russian auction houses, where pelts are bought and subsequently processed into clothing. [ 27 ]
The IFTF states that the majority of wild fur is obtained from wildlife management programs, which are necessary for “maintenance of biodiversity and healthy eco-systems, population and disease control and the protection of public lands and private property.” [ 28 ] Additionally, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies alleges that trapping is beneficial to conservation efforts. [ 29 ] However, animal welfare organizations say that trapping has many harmful effects on wildlife. First, they argue that trapping can cause species to become endangered once popularity of pelts rise and those species become more prone to extinction. Second, they allege that trapping can increase the spread of disease, as healthy animals are more likely to be lured into traps than weak animals, thus reducing the “genetic strength” of the animals. Third, they argue that trapping can contribute to the overpopulation of wildlife, as it can cause some species to reproduce more quickly than normal, which can upset the “delicate and complex balances that exist in nature.” [ 30 ] PETA reports that animals in the wild are drowned, trapped, or beaten to death. [ 31 ] Born Free USA reports that animals caught in traps may remain there “for several days before starving or dying from exposure.” [ 32 ] Snares can slowly strangle animals to death, and animals whose limbs are caught in leg-hold traps may chew off their paws to escape and then subsequently die from the injury. Additionally, traps can be dangerous because they can kill or injure any animal that comes into contact with them. Animals that are trapped by mistake are deemed “trash animals” because they do not have any economic value to the trappers, and according to Global Action Network, an animal and environmental protection organization, “[t]rappers themselves report that three to ten ‘nontarget’ animals . . . are caught in the trap for each intended victim.” [ 33 ]
C. Other parts of the Fur Trade
Some aquatic animals such as harp seals are hunted for their pelts. Canada and Greenland’s commercial seal hunts make up 50% of all seals hunted, [ 34 ] while Namibia hosts the only hunt south of the equator. [ 35 ] Baby harp seals in Canada cannot be legally hunted until they begin to shed their white coats of fur. However, this happens at a very young age. In 2006, the Humane Society International, an animal protection organization, reported that “97 percent of the seals killed in the commercial seal hunt over the past three years have been younger than 3 months, and most were younger than 1 month old.” [ 36 ] Polar bears are hunted for their fur and meat by indigenous communities in the Arctic, but they are also used as trophy pelts. Additionally, dogs and cats are part of the fur trade. Global Action Network alleges that 2 million dogs and cats are killed in primarily China and South East Asia every year for the fur trade, and that dogs are traditionally killed by being hung from their paws and are bled to death from an artery cut in their thigh, while cats are often “strangled with wire nooses.” [ 37 ]
II. Animal Rights Organizations and the Future of Fur
In 1988, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, an alliance of animal welfare organizations, launched its “No Fur” Campaign, which was subsequently adopted by over fifty other organizations. [ 38 ] In the same year, PETA launched an undercover investigation of a Montana beaver farm, which led to its closure, and started to use donated furs in demonstrations and educational displays. [ 39 ] Around the same time, PETA also made headlines when one of its members put a dead raccoon onto Editor-in-chief of fashion magazine Vogue Anna Wintour’s plate at the Four Seasons, and hit fashion designer Oscar de la Renta in the face with a tofu cream pie. Anti-fur campaigns successfully created a negative image of fur, and activist protests led to a decline of fur used in fashion during the 1980s; however, fur has been making a comeback since the 1990s, and in March 2010, “[f]or the first time in more than two decades, more [New York fashion] designers are using fur than not.” [ 40 ]
III. Production and Fur Sales
In 2008, about 56 million pelts of fur were produced worldwide. [ 41 ] Fur trim is a large market and the number of animals killed for it is predicted to exceed those killed for clothing made entirely by fur. [ 42 ] The U.S. is a “major exporter of pelts,” but its fur apparel production has decreased significantly, thus making it a net importer. [ 43 ] The U.S. is able to acquire some of the highest prices for its mink pelts, but now it has less than 300 farms, mainly in Wisconsin. [ 44 ] In 2008, the U.S. imported fur mainly from China (44.4%), Canada (16.4%) and Italy (13.9%), and exported fur to China (21.5%), Canada (13.4%) and Italy (8.2%). [ 45 ] In March 2010, the IFTF reported that global fur sales remained stable during the 2008-2009 global recession, and while fur sales in Europe have remained around $4 billion for 2007-2009, Asian markets have experienced increased demand, for a total global fur sale figure “at just over $13 billion.” [ 46 ] This number is stable from the past few years, but lower than the global $15.02 billion in 2006-2007. [ 47 ]
Russia and China are increasing their production of and market for fur, and China’s cheap labor and lack of regulatory oversight have attracted more business. It is difficult to get a true sense of China’s market share, since most of its fur farms are family-owned businesses, the pelts are often “sold on the free market” (as opposed to auctions), and the country lacks official statistics about its fur production, yet at the same time the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) believes that China is the world’s leading fur processor. [ 48 ]
A. Real Fur Sales Versus Faux Fur Sales
For people who like the look of fur, but do not want to kill animals, faux fur can be an attractive alternative. Faux fur is usually made of acrylic fibers that can be dyed to look like animal fur. There has been recent controversy over real fur which is unlabeled or mislabeled as faux fur. Due to this fact, HSUS has created a guide to help people to determine whether a product is made of real or faux fur:
1. Check the base of the fur for skin or fabric. Push apart the fur and look at the material at the base of the hairs. If the base material is not visible or unclear, and you own the garment, break the stitching and look at the non-hair side of the fur base, being sure to peel away all the layers of the lining.
ANIMAL FUR: The surest sign of animal fur is leather/skin (usually white or tan, but possibly the color of the fur if it has been dyed).
FAKE FUR: The surest sign of fake fur is seeing the threadwork backing from which the “hairs” emerge.
2. Check the tips of the hairs for tapering. Both animal fur and fake fur come in many different colors and lengths. However, if animal fur has not been sheared or cut to a uniform length or had the guard hairs plucked out, you may be able to examine the tips of the longest hairs and see that they taper into a fine point—like a cat’s whisker or sewing needle. Good lighting and a magnifying glass are helpful, as is holding the hairs up against a white surface.
ANIMAL FUR: Animal hairs—especially the thicker guard hairs . . .—can often be seen tapering to a point. NOTE: This test can give a false negative for animal fur if the hairs have been sheared or plucked.
FAKE FUR: [There is a] straight across cut [in] fake fur “hair.” NOTE: Tapering has not been seen on any fake fur samples to date, but such a process may exist, or come into existence.
3. The Burn Test (only if you own the coat). Animal hair smells like human hair when burned; fake fur made from acrylic or polyester—the two most commonly used synthetics—does not. Carefully remove just a few hairs and then, holding them with tweezers above a dish or other non-flammable surface, ignite them with a cigarette lighter. Make sure to burn them away from the original garment and anything else flammable. Never conduct the burn test on hairs still attached to the jacket. The burn test should only be conducted by adults . [ 49 ]
There is controversy over whether faux fur or real fur is more “environmentally friendly.” A 2004 British newspaper article quotes Executive Director of Fur Commission USA Teresa Platt as saying that “‘[f]aux fur jackets do not degrade for at least 600 years and may take thousands of years,’” and Ruth Rosselson from In Touch magazine as saying that polyester and nylon, which are used to make fake fur, are synthetic materials that are “‘responsible for large-scale factory pollution of our waterways, rivers, canals and even the sea.’” [ 50 ] However, PETA alleges that it takes twenty times more energy to produce a real fur coat from farm-raised animals than it does to create a faux fur coat, that fur is not biodegradable because it contains chemical treatments to prevent it from rotting, and that “mink factory farms generate tens of thousands of tons of manure annually . . . [and can produce] nearly 1,000 tons of phosphorus, which wreaks havoc on water ecosystems.” [ 51 ]
IV. US Federal Regulation of the Fur Industry
There is very little federal law regarding treatment of fur animals. While U.S. Congress has created the Animal Welfare Act to ensure humane treatment of animals, it specifically exempts “animals . . . used or intended for use as food or fiber.” [ 52 ] Similarly, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act , which requires livestock to be slaughtered humanely to prevent “needless suffering,” does not extend protection to fur animals. [ 53 ] An examination of all the federal laws that reach fur animals is instructive.
A. The Lacey Act [ 54 ]
The Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371-3378 , prohibits wildlife trade in animals that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported or sold. However, this law cannot always prevent poaching because “state laws vary widely. If a poacher kills a bear in a state that prohibits trade in bear parts, the poacher can avoid prosecution by transporting the body to a state that does permit it. Although such transporting is illegal, a prosecutor must prove that the bear was illegally killed in a state that prohibits commerce in bear parts, which can be very difficult to do.” [ 55 ] The Lacey Act only applies to wild fur and not to fur obtained from fur farms.
B. The Fur Seal Act [ 56 ]
The Fur Seal Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1151-1187 , makes it illegal to take North Pacific fur seals anywhere in the U.S., and mandates the Secretary of Commerce to regulate the fur seal breeding colonies on the Pribilof Islands, (part of Alaska), to ensure that activities on the Islands do not deter the conservation of the North Pacific fur seals. However, Indians, Aleuts and Eskimos who live on the North Pacific coast are allowed to take fur skins if they are taken for subsistence. Additionally, the Secretary of Commerce is allowed to take North Pacific fur seals or parts of these seals if deemed for education, science, or for an exhibition. The Fur Seal Act only applies to wild fur and not to fur obtained from fur farms.
C. The Marine Mammal Protection Act [ 57 ]
The Marine Mammal Protection Act, (“MMPA”) 16 U.S.C. §§ 1361 - 1407 , was created to protect marine mammals that are in danger of extinction or depletion because of human activities; the Act applies to mammals that primarily live in the water and to all parts of the mammal, including its fur. The MMPA prohibits the taking of marine mammals, except in the case of permits issued by the Secretary of Interior for “scientific research, public display, photography for educational or commercial purposes, or enhancing the survival or recovery of a species or stock or for importation of polar bear parts (other than internal organs) taken in sports hunts in Canada,” [ 58 ] as well as for commercial fishing operations (when marine mammals are taken incidentally). The Secretary can also waive the requirements of the law for specific circumstances. The MMPA only applies to wild fur, and not to fur obtained from fur farms.
D. Polar Bear Bills Pending in Congress
Currently, there are three bills in Congress addressing the taking of polar bears from sports hunts in Canada. H.R. 1054, introduced by Representative Young from Alaska, would have the Secretary issue a permit allowing polar bear parts (besides internal organs) to be imported from Canadian sports hunts that occurred before the polar bear was determined to be “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. [ 59 ] The bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, subcommittee hearings were held in 2009, and no further action was taken. Sen. 1395, introduced in 2009 by Senator Crapo from Idaho, contains very similar language. [ 60 ] It was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and no further action was taken. H.R. 1055, also introduced by Representative Young from Alaska, would allow polar bear parts to be imported from all Canadian sports hunts  (thus, it is broader than H.R. 1054). The bill was also referred to the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife in 2009, and no further action was taken.
E. Fur Labeling [ 62 ]
The Fur Products Labeling Act, 15 U.S.C. § 69, declares that fur products will be considered “misbranded” if “falsely or deceptively labeled” or identified, and/or if the product does not contain a label that legibly shows the name(s) of the animals from which the fur was taken, the name or other identification of the person(s) who manufactured the fur, and the country of origin of the fur. The label must also state, if true, that the fur product contains used or artificially colored fur, and/or if it is “composed in whole or in substantial part of paws, tails, bellies, or waste fur.” However, the law defines “fur product” as an article of clothing that is made in whole or in part by fur, but states that the Commission can exempt articles because of the small quantity of fur they contain. The Federal Trade Commission has deemed “relatively small quantity or value” to equal $150, which means “multiple animal pelts [can exist] on a garment without a label.” [ 63 ]
HSUS has been advocating for an amendment to the law closing this loophole, after its investigators found “dozens” of designers selling unlabeled jackets that contained animal fur, and mislabeled jackets that said they contained faux fur, but really contained animal fur. [ 64 ] In May 2009, Representative Moran introduced H.R. 2480, the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, which would amend the Fur Products Labeling Act by eliminating the exemption for fur products under $150 that allows them to be unlabeled. [ 65 ] This act would not apply to fur from hunting or trapping which is sold by the hunter or trapper “in a face to face transaction,” where the money made is not the person’s primary source of income. [ 66 ] On July 28, 2010, the bill passed the House, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on August 5, 2010. Supporters of the bill think that consumers will be better protected by this legislation because they will be able to make “informed purchasing decisions,” and they allege that companies will no longer be able to take advantage of the $150 loophole (since the loophole allows cat and dog fur to “slip into the United States [undetected] despite the ban.”) [ 67 ] Detractors of the bill compare fur farming killing methods to those used by animal shelters, they say that cat and dog fur are not traded in North America, and that all fur meets appropriate labeling requirements and is farmed legally. [ 68 ]
F. Dog and Cat Fur Protection Act [ 69 ]
The Dog and Cat Fur Protection Act, 19 U.S.C. § 1308 , prohibits the import, export, and sale of dog and cat fur products in the U.S. The law requires that the Secretary of Treasury submit a report to Congress every year on the government’s enforcement efforts and its ability to do so. The report is to include any findings that a particular government has supported the dog or cat fur trade.
G. Endangered Species [ 70 ]
The Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1541 , works to develop conservation programs to protect endangered and threatened species, acknowledges the U.S.’ commitment to conserving, as much as practical, wildlife under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”), and encourages states to create conservation programs (with federal financial assistance) that meet national and international conservation standards. A species is deemed “endangered” if it is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range” or “threatened” if it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Fur-bearing animals on the list of endangered species include some types of bears, beavers, cheetahs, leopards, monkeys, rabbits, tigers, yaks, and zebras. Although the Endangered Species Act protects animals on its list, it allows people to own endangered species, and may even allow them to hunt those animals. [ 71 ] Thus, some species that are listed may in fact be hunted for their fur.
V. US State Regulation of the Fur Industry
It is often times unclear under what classification of laws, fur animals belong. Trapping and hunting laws are generally under State Wildlife, Fish & Game, or Environmental Conservation Codes, labeling laws are under Trade Practice Codes and cat and dog fur laws are under anything from the Criminal Code to the Agriculture Code.
Fur Commission USA reports that state departments of agriculture regulate fur farms. [ 72 ] However, specific laws regarding such regulation are scarce, and are mainly confined to defining fur farming as an “agricultural pursuit” and designating the animals as either domestic animals or livestock. For example, Wisconsin, which has the most fur farms in the U.S., has a law stating that fur farming is an “agricultural pursuit, and all such animals so raised in captivity shall be considered domestic animals,” and thus subject to the laws for domestic animals. [ 73 ] Michigan has a similar law, which declares “silver, silver-black, black, and cross foxes” on fur farms to be domestic animals, as distinguishable from livestock. [ 74 ] In California, animals that are fur farmed are considered to be domestic animals, yet the statute differentiates between fur animals and “dogs and cats or other pets,” and states that the animals will be considered domestic animals for the purposes of laws relating to farming and animal husbandry. [ 75 ] In Idaho, fur farming is again defined as an “agricultural pursuit,” but here, the animals are considered to be livestock. [ 76 ] Idaho has some of the most extensive laws, including one giving its Animal Industries Division the right to inspect fur farms at any time. [ 77 ] Minnesota requires a fur farmer to register with the state to provide information about the number of pelts he or she sells. [ 78 ] In Montana, a farmer must obtain a fur farm license in order to operate a fur farm, but the law specifically excludes fox and mink fur farms. [ 79 ]
Born Free USA published a 2009 report which alleged that many states allow fur farms to be unregulated:
No states reported having comprehensive laws specific to the regulation of fur farms and no states monitor the care and treatment of animals housed and killed on fur farms. As a result, fur farms are virtually unregulated in every state where fur farming exists.
In response to formal requests for information from Born Free USA, the vast majority of Departments of Agriculture in fur-farming states reported having no specific responsibilities or regulatory authority over fur farming in the state. Of those states reporting that their Department of Agriculture has statutory authority to regulate fur farms (Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, South Dakota), none had exercised this authority by issuing regulations. [ 80 ]
A. Trapping Laws
Born Free USA alleges that trapping laws are state-regulated and are often poorly enforced. [ 81 ] Trapping laws typically specify the season during which species can be taken. They also set up licensing procedures, with administrative regulations detailing the types of traps that hunters can use. Many states do not restrict the type of traps, how many animals can be trapped, and the regularity in which trappers must check their traps. However, a significant amount of states have banned leg-hold traps, which is a trap designed to hold an animal’s limb so the rest of its fur is not damaged. Colorado, [ 82 ] New Jersey, [ 83 ] Washington, [ 84 ] and Massachusetts [ 85 ] are such states. In Arizona, leg-hold and instant kill traps are banned on public lands. [ 86 ] In Rhode Island, leg-hold traps are banned, but a person can apply for a special permit to use a leg-hold trap on his or her property when he or she has an “animal nuisance” that “cannot be reasonably abated except by the use of the trap.” [ 87 ] In Maryland, leg-hold traps cannot be within 150 yards of a “permanent human residence.” [ 88 ] In other states, such as California, [ 89 ] New York, [ 90 ] and Iowa [ 91 ] leg-hold traps of a certain diameter are banned. Wyoming permits leg-hold traps, but requires that the trapper check them at least once every 72 hours. [ 92 ]
B. Fur Farming and Trapping under Anti-Cruelty Laws
Lines are also somewhat vague in terms of animal cruelty laws and how they relate to wild fur animals and those raised on fur farms. While state anti-cruelty laws generally exclude legal trapping or agricultural pursuits, sometimes this distinction is not so clear. In Florida, a man was convicted of felony cruelty to animals after he shot an opossum with a BB gun that he had found in his garage, shooting it so many times and injuring it so severely that it had to be euthanized. [ 93 ] Even though the opossum was a “fur-bearing animal,” which meant that a licensed hunter could “take” it, the relevant cruelty law “applies to even the unintended consequence of a lawful act.” [ 94 ] In fact, the court observed that this was a “blurred line between the lawful hunting of an animal and the commission of a criminal act.” [ 95 ]
Alabama’s anti-cruelty law applies to the cruel mistreatment of any animal. [ 96 ] However, most other anti-cruelty laws exempt animals hunted or raised on fur farms. Arizona’s anti-cruelty statute does not “prohibit or restrict” any activities that are deemed to be regulated by Arizona’s Game and Fish Department or its Department of Agriculture. [ 97 ] Similarly, Idaho forbids a person from treating any animal cruelly, but further states that the law is not meant to interfere with “[n]ormal or accepted practices of animal identification and animal husbandry” or “[a]ny other . . . practices or procedures normally or commonly considered acceptable.” [ 98 ] Connecticut [ 99 ] and Texas [ 100 ] have similar laws, but exempt hunting and “generally accepted” agricultural activities. While state cruelty laws do not generally apply to either trapping or fur farming activities, some states have enacted companion laws that require humane euthanasia for fur-bearing animals. For example, New York specifically prohibits electrocution of fur-bearing animals, [ 101 ] while California prohibits using carbon monoxide gas or an injection directly into the heart muscles or ventricles of a euthanasia agent to kill a conscious animal, unless the animal is “heavily sedated or anesthetized in a humane manner.” [ 102 ]
C. Labeling Laws
Five states have labeling laws that are stricter than the federal fur labeling law. Delaware [ 103 ] and New Jersey [ 104 ] require garments containing real animal fur to contain labeling stating so. Wisconsin has a similar law, but the labeling requirement does not apply to garments that are sold for less than $50. [ 105 ] In Massachusetts [ 106 ] and New York, [ 107 ] both real and faux furs must be labeled as such. In California, A.B.1656 passed the Assembly and Senate in August 2010, which would require labels on all clothing that contained animal fur, but the bill still needs to be approved by Governor Schwarzenegger, who has not yet disclosed his position. [ 108 ]
D. Dog and Cat Fur
A handful of states have laws concerning dog and cat fur. Alabama, [ 109 ] Delaware, [ 110 ] New Jersey, [ 111 ] New York, [ 112 ] Pennsylvania, [ 113 ] and Virginia [ 114 ] prohibit trade in domestic dog or cat fur. Virginia also prohibits killing a dog or cat for its fur, [ 115 ] while Florida prohibits killing a dog or cat with the “sole” intention of either selling or giving away the pelt of the animal. [ 116 ] In Oregon, a person cannot buy or sell dog or cat fur that is obtained from “a process that kills or maims the cat or dog.” [ 117 ]
Although fur farming makes up 85% of the total fur production, there are very few on-point laws regulating it. While there are a plethora of laws regarding trapping licenses, and a few laws banning certain types of traps, states do not have laws regulating fur farms, outside of the need to obtain licenses and the definition of the fur animals. Additionally, only a handful of states have fur labeling laws and prohibit dog and cat fur trade, although there are federal on-point laws for each of these subjects.
VI. Commerce in Illegal Fur
Even though the majority of fur obtained worldwide is from fur farms, an illegal wildlife trade still flourishes. This trade, (including the illegal fur trade) is annually worth between $5-$20 billion, with the Congressional Research Service reporting that “‘the illegal wildlife trade is among the most lucrative illicit economies in the world behind illegal drugs and possibly human trafficking and arms trafficking.’” [ 118 ] Much of the illegal fur is obtained from endangered animals that are against the law to hunt.
A. Tiger and Leopard Fur Trade
Tigers and leopards are both considered endangered species, and thus their international commercial trade is prohibited under CITES . According to a report conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency (“EIA”) and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (“WPSI”) in 2006, “[t]he illegal trade in poached skins between India, Nepal and China is the most significant immediate threat to the continued existence of the tiger in the wild.” [ 119 ] Although India and China are signatories to CITES, which has given recommendations to help stop illegal trade, the countries have not implemented the recommendations and leopard and tiger skins have been subject to trafficking by international organized crime networks. Poachers can be paid $1,500 in India and $16,000 in China for one tiger skin; fines in India and Nepal are only $440 and $1,420, respectively. [ 120 ]
Tiger and leopard skins originally were used mostly for Tibetan chupas, which are worn at festivals and weddings. However, now there is an increasing demand for the skins to be used as decorations in the home and expensive gifts. Tigers are caught in traps and then shot, or clubbed or speared through the mouth so that the skin remains intact. Professional tiger and leopard poachers from traditional hunting communities have become famous for using steel jaw traps and guns, and also for poisoning and electrocuting the animals. [ 121 ]
In 1993, China illegalized imports, exports, transport, and purchase of tiger products. [ 122 ] However, at a 2007 CITES meeting, China said that the trade ban had proven ineffective because wild tiger populations were still decreasing, and the ban had “seriously impacted . . . the Chinese traditional culture.” [ 123 ] China argued that it should be legal to farm tigers for their bones and skin, and the country has allowed tiger breeding farms. In 2007, China reported having 5,000 tigers on its farms. [ 124 ]
At the March 2010 CITES meeting, all member nations agreed to increase law enforcement and cooperation between countries where tigers exist, as well as to “create a tiger trade database that could be analyzed to develop anti-poaching strategies.” [ 125 ] The South Asia Experts Group on Illegal Wildlife Trade will work to respond to poaching and trafficking issues. Additionally, a potential resolution was introduced at the 2010 CITES meeting to create further limitations on the domestic trade of tigers, but it did not pass, and regulations of tiger farms were not modified. However, HSUS reports that there was a “renewed call” for countries such as China who allow tigers to be bred for commercial trade, to end such activity. [ 126 ]
B. Polar Bear and Bobcat Fur Trade
At the 2010 CITES meeting, the U.S. proposed to change the polar bear’s listing status on the CITES appendices; this was defeated by the European Union’s (“EU”) opposition to such a change. [ 127 ] Such a ban would have moved the polar bear from inclusion on CITES’ Appendix II, where regulated international commercial trade is permitted, to inclusion on Appendix I as an “endangered species,” where no international commercial trade is allowed.
The U.S. also attempted to remove the bobcat from Appendix II, where its skins can only be exported if the exporting country determines that the export will not hurt the species’ chances of survival. However, this proposal was defeated.
VII. Other International Trade Issues
International countries have a wide range of laws pertaining to fur-bearing animals. For an example, China has virtually no regulations protecting such animals. On the other side of the spectrum, the EU has a host of regulations. Animals kept for farming purposes, including fur-bearing animals, are protected under EU Council Directive 98/58, which mandates, (through the enactment of laws in its member states), that animal owners “ensure the welfare of animals under their care and  ensure that those animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury.” [ 128 ] Additionally, EU Council Directive 93/119 protects animals at the time of slaughter or killing, and includes specific methods in which an animal produced for its fur can be killed. [ 129 ]
A. Fur Farming Limitations
Austria and the United Kingdom have banned fur farming, and Croatia began a ten-year phase-out in 2007. [ 130 ] The Netherlands has banned fox and chinchilla farming, and strict regulations regarding farming and imports have effectively banned mink farms in New Zealand, fox farms in Sweden, and all fur farms in Switzerland. [ 131 ]
B. Leg-Hold Trap Bans
Over 60 countries have banned the leg-hold trap. [ 132 ] The EU passed Regulation 3254/91, which prohibits leg-hold traps, as well as fur imports from other countries that were obtained from leg-hold traps or other traps that do not meet “international humane trapping standards.” [ 133 ] The EU reached and ratified an agreement regarding international humane trapping standards with Russia and Canada, and also reached a similar agreement with the U.S. The Commission also proposed a Directive in 2004 which would introduce humane trapping standards for specific species. The European Economic and Social Committee reviewed the proposed Directive, and found that the Agreement’s use of the word “humane” to define the type of trapping allowed, was “controversial, given that these standards are based on the acceptance of high level of suffering for the trapped animals,” and therefore recommended that the word “humane” be eliminated from the text, that the drowning trap should be prohibited and a “transparent system” of licensing trappers should be implemented, in order to ensure that appropriate welfare standards are upheld. [ 134 ] The proposed Directive has not yet been adopted.
C. Imported Seal Products Ban
In 1983, the EU banned the import of seal pup products made from whitecoat harp seal pups seals and of hooded seal pups (the Directive does not apply to products from Inuit traditional hunting). [ 135 ] The U.S., Belgium, Netherlands, Mexico, Slovenia, and Croatia have prohibited the seal product trade. [ 136 ] In May 2009, the EU set forth a regulation which banned seal product trade within its countries. Canada and Norway (who is not a member of the EU) have alleged that the ban is a violation of WTO trading obligations. [ 137 ] Supporters of the ban say that seal slaughter is cruel and inhumane, while those in opposition disagree, and further say that a ban will destroy the hunters’ jobs. [ 138 ] The ban started on August 20, 2010, although some hunters are currently exempt, due to a pending lawsuit. [ 139 ]
D. Fur Products Ban
On September 2, 2010, Israel is planning to vote on a bill which would “prohibit the production, processing, import, export, and sale of fur from all animal species not already part of the meat industry.” [ 140 ] The bill provides a “cultural” exception so that Hasidim Jews can still obtain their fur-covered hats (or shtreimels). [ 141 ] The IFTF believes that there is no justification for the bill, as it says that the fur trade is mindful of animal welfare and conservation. [ 142 ]
E. Cat and Dog Fur Trade and Labeling Laws
In terms of labeling, the IFTF reports that the U.S. Canada, Russia, the Ukraine, China, and parts of the EU have fur labeling requirements. [ 147 ]
CITES is an international agreement that works to create a sustainable wildlife trade. [ 148 ] There are currently 175 parties to the Convention, including China, India, the U.S., the Russian Federation, and Canada. [ 149 ] The EU is not a member, but has implemented the agreement’s provisions in its community law. [ 150 ] While CITES parties are legally bound to the Convention’s terms, each party must adopt domestic legislation in order to implement CITES in its particular country. CITES looks at the international trade of certain species and protects them in three different ways, depending under which Appendix a species falls. Appendix I contains species that are threatened with extinction. CITES permits trade of those species only in rare situations. Appendix II contains species that do not necessarily face extinction, but must have controlled trading circumstances in order to protect them. Appendix III contains species that are protected by at least one country that has asked CITES to help it control the trade of that species. Parties are able to submit proposals at regular Conference of the Parties meetings to try to amend either Appendix I or II. All import and export activity of any species falling within an Appendix must be subjected to the Convention’s licensing system; for example, a species under Appendix I will only be issued an import permit if it is not going to be used mainly for commercial purposes and if the import’s purpose will not hurt the species’ survival. The fur trade is directly affected by CITES because, depending on a species’ listing under Appendix I or II, it is either prohibited from commercial trade, or its trade is monitored.
The fur industry is predominantly supported by fur farming. It seems, due to the ease in regulating an animal’s reproduction and coat quality through farming that this method will continue to predominate over hunting. China’s increasing market share and its lack of regulatory oversight (resulting in alleged cruel slaughter methods and the use of dog and cat fur), have the potential to change the fur industry landscape. Some U.S. states have laws concerning the proper labeling of fur and the prohibition of dog and cat fur. The U.S. also has on-point federal laws for both issues, and the EU and Australia have similar laws regarding the sale of dog and cat fur. There are also international movements to protect endangered animals from the illegal fur trade. The U.S. supports such a movement through its role in CITES; however, its pending legislation at home regulating the taking of certain animals who are at least deemed “threatened,” (such as polar bears), seems largely dependent upon the political party in office. Additionally, sophisticated fur industry trade organizations have denounced unregulated and illegal fur trades. These associations, when faced with the possibility of losing market share to China, could put pressure on China to devise regulations (and to thus “level the playing field”).
At the same time, the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of regulations regarding the treatment of animals that are farmed or hunted for their fur. Many countries have strict rules regulating or banning fur farming. However, the fact that China is the major player in the industry, and also has an increasing demand for fur, begs the question of whether these attempts by other countries are futile, as the fur production is merely “outsourced” to Asia. While the U.S. used to be a big fur producer, this is no longer the case, thus its lack of regulations could soon become moot.
One country, Israel, has introduced a possible ban on the production and sale of fur within its national confines. If this becomes law, its potential to influence other countries – especially ones who have already banned certain fur products – is significant. At the same time, designers have renewed their use of fur on the runway, thus showing fur’s continuing prominence in fashion. In all, the future of the fur industry and its prominence in society is very uncertain. Whether China’s increasing production or laws calling for more regulation will win, remains to be seen.
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