Ethical Furs Are Anything But Ethical

Op-Ed, Nov 12, 2011


My, what a difference a few years can make... It seems not too long ago that the majority of people decided to empathize with animals who were farmed and killed for only their furs. Now, it’s everywhere I look and I was shocked to read that the fashion industry has launched a new “ethical fur” campaign. I mean, I never really “got” fur, I think for the most part it’s hideous and unnecessary, not to mention a totally passé status symbol (I immediately think gangster’s wife- but maybe that’s just me). Ethical fur is anything but ethical. And the only reason they call it “ethical” is so that consumers can free their guilt consciences. It’s like chemical-filled cleaners that proclaim themselves to be good for the environment; or sugary cereals that pretend they’re healthy for you. It’s all just smoke and mirrors.

The fur industry has, no doubt, suffered over the last decade or so (here in Vancouver we recently celebrated the bankruptcy of Pappas Furs), but about two years ago it started an insidious campaign to try and make people feel better about themselves for buying and wearing furs by putting “ethical” in front. And judging by all the winter collections I’ve seen lately it seems to have been working.

The crux of the “ethical fur” argument is that “in nature, each plant and animal species generally produces more offspring than the land can support to maturity” - so then why wouldn’t you let nature take its course and have those animals serve as food for predators, rather than be taken out of the eco-system completely and be used solely for their skins- not for subsistence purposes. The fur industry is basically claiming that they utilize trappers to acquire their skins. However, realistically most of the fur is still obtained from animal farms, most of which exercise unethical practices where animal welfare is a secondary concern at best. If one wanted to ensure that their fur was killed by a trapper, as usual the onus is on the consumer to obtain this information.

Yet another point the industry tries to make is that they only exploit certain species that are overpopulated. Pretty hypocritical of a mammal that is not only the most populous mammal on the planet (like, thrice-over), but also one who is overpopulated itself (the seven billionth person was born last week and we’re expected to reach twelve billion in ten years). Moreover, scientists are coming out to refute this claim (see CBC article).

The fur industry also argues that producing furs is more environmentally friendly than making synthetic ones (e.g. they take less energy, are recyclable, etc.). Well that may be so, but the reasons against fur are based more on the factor of animal cruelty. However if you want to get into whether it’s more green: while fake furs are estimated to take up to four litres of petroleum to make ranch farms whereas fur animals are raised produce a ton of carbon dioxide as well as methane (which is so much more damaging than CO2). Additionally furs need potent and harmful chemicals during their production and for maintenance afterwards. So you can be the judge I suppose, and weight out which is worse.

Although I am a vegetarian, and probably in many ways I am a hypocrite myself, I try to take animal welfare into account as much as possible, I truly believe in empathy, for both humans and animals. But I can understand when the byproducts of animals who are raised or hunted for subsistence are used- I get that and support it. Not everyone is gong to become a vegetarian or vegan, not should they if they feel it’s not for them. But foxes and possums are not raised for food; they are killed only for their furs. That we think that we humans have the right to exercise our hubris and our ability to be cruel constantly upon animals is unfair. We continue to mess with nature all the time, whether it’s shark finning, deforestation of the Boreal and Amazon forests, or trophy hunting, and we continue to be ignorant to its effects. Moreover, the hypocrisy of designers who claim to love and be inspired by nature is just fascinating when they don’t hesitate to kill the very nature they claim to love to put in their designs. Frankly, you are inspired more by the death of nature than nature itself. If you are really, -truly-, inspired by nature than preserve it, instead of tearing it down and trying to eternalize it in a piece of clothing that will inevitably be tossed out for next season’s fad.

I leave you with a quote from Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”

Here are some interesting reads:

I hate to give them any more promotion or viewership, but here it is: the Fur is Green website.
An article weighing out pros and cons from the Guadrian (UK).
And one from the CBC.

NataOriginally from Ontario I moved out to Vancouver with my family when I was in high school. I currently am an undergrad at UBC majoring in Classical Studies and will be attending Graduate School next year studying Ancient Archaeology. I also volunteer for the David Suzuki Foundation when my schedule allows it. While I do not consider myself an outdoorsy person I have a profound respect for nature and her marvels. It is only natural that I have adopted a lifestyle to try and accommodate it as much as possible. I believe that at the grass roots level, if everyone makes small changes they can really add up to a huge movement for a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
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