What Fur Really Symbolizes

A guest blog by Samuel Hartman

As the holiday season approaches in the United States, many consumers anticipate “Black Friday” (this year November 25) as a day to shop and spend wantonly. Long a token of luxury, the fur industry expects increased sales in the colder months, and will often use Black Friday as a jumping-off point. This had led many animal right groups to declare the day “Fur Free Friday” amidst a slew of protests and activism. To consumers, this may appear brash, over the top, or even ludicrous – why protest the sale of a garment, especially one with such a classic history as fur?

While vegetarianism has generally been accepted by the mainstream as “okay,” the anti-fur activist continues to be marginalized as a “radical” or “offensive.” Sure, we know that animals are killed for their fur, but so what? So are cows for leather, and pigs for pork. Such is the way of the world. It was monumental, then, when the West Hollywood City Council voted in September to ban the sale of fur, or any product made with the “hair, wool, or fur” of an animal. While furniture (leather in origin) was exempted, and the bill has an effective date in 2013, the symbolic nature of this legislation is no less grand: West Hollywood decreed what many who have researched the fur trade have known for decades, namely that the fur-farmed animals killed for clothing endure unimaginable suffering, unnaturally short lives, and filthy, inhumane conditions.

Ironically, the United States banned the import/export and sale of dog and cat fur in 2000, citing, among other things, that “the trade of dog and cat fur products is ethically and aesthetically abhorrent to United States citizens.” Indeed, a quick reflection by most citizens will support this, imaging their own pet being killed, skinned, and used for some form of clothing. But why is there an exemption for fox, mink, rabbit, and other animals? Largely, this is due to the literal trading of fur, which generated huge profits for Russia, Canada, and the United States as far back as the 1600s. While the perception of animals used for clothing, food, or entertainment has improved, most still believe that animals outside the realm of dogs and cats are available to be farmed and exploited.

“Exploited” is a relative term, and defenders of fur, particularly those who wear it, often feel that precautions are in place to protect the animal from undue harm. Unfortunately, this sort of faux (no pun intended) protection is a myth: the laws that reference fur trade and production in the United States are vague, and consistently defer to state laws instead of federal mandate. Again, the local laws fall short as most anti-cruelty measures specifically exempt animals used for fur. Indeed, the regulations are more often concerned with fur labeling rather than the treatment of the animal itself. Ignorance is bliss, however, regarding said treatment – many consumers of fur are in the dark, sometimes by the choice, of the cruelty involved at a fur farm.

A recent Photo Blog on MSNBC shows the stark reality: manual laborers, most likely dulled to the killing of countless animals, carry, process, and create the pelts that make the coats of the wealthy. Consider the animal, a mink or fox, as one as loving and similar to your dog or cat as the following is illustrated:

  • Each animal may self-mutilate or cannibalize as a result of stress
  • Each animal undergoes inbreeding to produce specific “fashionable” coat traits, inbreeding that leads to genetic defects
  • Each animal lacks interaction with its natural environment: grass, water to swim in, or companionship
  • Each animal is typically killed by being gassed, poisoned, suffocated, or severely injured, sometimes resulting in the animal being skinned alive

While fur once represented a form of commerce and clothing when no other alternative was available, it is now time for the trend and consequent cruelty to end. Faux fur, produced using synthetic textiles and “greener” materials, satisfies the need for aesthetics, while synthetic fleece made from recycled materials provide warmth and sustainability. Fashion will often dictate our mindset, but remember that we, the consumers, dictate fashion. If what we choose to wear can be obtained in a compassionate and just way, sparing the needless death of millions of animals, then we are obligated to do just that.

Samuel Hartman has traveled far and wide looking for incredible vegan food, but calls the Midwest home. Believing that food is one of the best forms of activism, Sam enjoys making delicious vegan meals for his friends while volunteering with animal rights organizations. He lives with his fiancée and two rescued French bulldogs in Louisville, KY. Amidst his goal to eradicate speciesism, he still finds to time to bike, play music, and blog. His writings can be found at thenailthatsticksup.com

You can also follow him on Twitter as @TNTSU

Notes & References:

West Hollywood endorses first fur ban in United States, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/10/us-fur-ban-california-idUSTRE7A909T20111110

United States Title Code, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode19/usc_sec_19_00001308—-000-notes.html

Overview of Fur Laws and Fur Production, http://www.animallaw.info/topics/tabbed%20topic%20page/spusfur.htm

Fur Farms, http://www.mercyforanimals.org/fur_farms.asp

Fur, Mean Not ‘Green’: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/environmental-hazards-of-fur.aspx

Environmental impact of mink fur production, http://www.cedelft.eu/news/146/Environmental_impact_of_mink_fur_production/?PHPSESSID=6acd2c69b0143060f34a7a752f499bd3