Pub­lic im­age of fur farms is a lit­tle fuzzy

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FASHION - By XU HAOYU

An­i­mals walk down the run­way draped in hu­man body parts, such as ears, hands and hair, wear­ing them like clothes; more hu­man bod­ies hang on a wooden stand back­stage, while peo­ple crouch in cages, half dead and hope­less.

This bizarre, ghoulish im­agery comes from an award-win­ing video en­ti­tled Feel How the An­i­mals in the Fur Farms Feel which was made by the an­i­mal rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals (PETA) early in 2013.

The fi­nal frame zooms in on a lit­tle girl hud­dled in the cor­ner with di­sheveled hair and a dirty face, hold­ing tight to the bars of the cage while un­con­sciously shak­ing. Tears glis­ten in her big round eyes and above her lip.

The video switches the roles of hu­mans and an­i­mals, two kinds of species that don’t speak a com­mon lan­guage. It aims to trig­ger the trans­po­si­tional con­sid­er­a­tion of hu­mans, which be­lieve them­selves su­pe­rior and who seek to control the des­tiny of lesser species.

The pro­tec­tion of an­i­mals is al­ways a hot-but­ton is­sue, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to an­i­mal prod­ucts like fur. Ques­tions of sus­tain­abil­ity and ethics al­ways arise.

Last Oc­to­ber, one of the most fa­mous in­ter­na­tional lux­ury fash­ion brands, Gucci, an­nounced its de­ci­sion to join the Fur-Free Al­liance begin­ning with its spring/sum­mer 2018 col­lec­tions.

Marco Biz­zarri, the CEO of the brand, claimed that the de­ci­sion to re­move fur from all of its col­lec­tions was the re­sult of long con­sid­er­a­tion and a se­ries of dis­cus­sions with the com­pany’s top de­signer, Alessan­dro Michele — whose de­but col­lec­tion in­cluded Gucci’s best sell­ing fur- and hide-cov­ered Prince­town slip­pers.

“Tech­nol­ogy is now avail­able that means you don’t need to use fur. The al­ter­na­tives are just as lux­u­ri­ous. There is just no need,” said Biz­zarri, re­fer­ring, of course, to faux fur.

Joh Vind­ing, chair­man of Fur Free Al­liance, said, “For decades an­i­mals in the fur in­dus­try have been sub­jected to im­mense cru­elty, liv­ing their en­tire lives in mis­er­able, filthy cages. Gucci’s new fur-free pol­icy is a game-changer and an ex­am­ple for the whole lux­ury fash­ion in­dus­try to fol­low.”

Gucci’s an­nounce­ment cer­tainly brought the war be­tween the fur in­dus­try and an­i­mal pro­tec­tion move­ments to the fore, but the Ital­ian fash­ion gi­ant is not the first big name that has cho­sen to turn its back on the fur trade.

Among oth­ers, Gior­gio Ar­mani, Hugo Boss, Vivien West­wood, Kate Spade, Zara and Calvin Klein have all taken a stand with a “no fur” pol­icy.

Stella McCart­ney, whose late mother, Linda, was a staunch ve­gan and an­i­mal wel­fare ac­tivist, never al­lowed fur or any an­i­mal prod­uct in the de­signs of her epony­mous brand. In fact, in its au­tumn/win­ter 2015 col­lec­tion, the brand won at the Bri­tish Fash­ion Awards with a fur-free fur coat.

How­ever, faux fur may not be the per­fect an­swer, raising a num­ber of ques­tions about sus­tain­abil­ity.

While it takes around half a year for real fur to fully biode­grade, the faux fur is usu­ally made with non­biodegrad­able plas­tic.

Ac­cord­ing to MadeHow, a web­site that ex­plains and de­tails the man­u­fac­tur­ing process of a wide va­ri­ety of prod­ucts, faux furs are typ­i­cally made from syn­thetic poly­meric fibers such as acrylic, modacrylic, and/or polyester, all of which are es­sen­tially forms of plas­tic; these fibers are made from chem­i­cals de­rived from air, wa­ter, coal, petroleum and lime­stone.

Plas­tic can be very harm­ful for the en­vi­ron­ment when it’s im­prop­erly dis­carded, es­pe­cially when the faux fur sheds just like it’s or­ganic coun­ter­part.

As pointed out by The Ocean Con­ser­vancy, plas­tic has been dis­cov­ered in­side the bod­ies of more than 60 per­cent of seabirds and 10 per­cent of sea tur­tle species, which they con­sume dur­ing the process of look­ing for food. Ac­cord­ing to Forbes, plas­tics might be one of the rea­sons the ris­ing ex­tinc­tion rates of nu­mer­ous an­i­mal species.

Sa­man­tha Ve­sala, who works at a fur auc­tion house ex­pressed worry that the tiny hair­like plas­tic fibers might af­fect wa­ter sources and land­fills, as well as ac­ci­den­tally en­ter­ing the hu­man body through con­tam­i­nated fish or other kinds of meat.

Ve­sala ex­plains that a farm­ing cir­cu­lar econ­omy in the fur in­dus­try, which is widely ap­plied in North­ern Europe, in­clud­ing Fin­land, en­sures that noth­ing is wasted dur­ing the fur pro­duc­tion process.

Fur an­i­mal car­casses and by-prod­ucts from the food and fish­ing in­dus­tries are col­lected to pro­duce feed. An­i­mal fat can be used as a raw ma­te­rial in the man­u­fac­ture of biodiesel. The fe­ces of the fur an­i­mal is rich in phos­phor and ni­tro­gen, and it can be trans­formed into fer­til­izer af­ter com­post­ing, as well as be­ing a po­ten­tial en­ergy source for in­dus­tries such as metal re­fin­ing.

An ar­ti­cle on the PETA web­site, with­out a stated pub­lish­ing date, claims that 85 per­cent of the fur in­dus­try’s skins come from an­i­mals that live their en­tire lives in crowded, filthy wire cages.

How­ever, these days, the in­dus­try is heav­ily reg­u­lated, with an­i­mal wel­fare and sus­tain­abil­ity at the core of its op­er­a­tions in many coun­tries.

In early 1999, a set of rules was drawn up to pro­tect an­i­mals bred for their fur in Europe, but even be­fore that — since the late 1980s — there was Dan­ish re­search into the wel­fare of such an­i­mals un­der­way, with some of the most com­pre­hen­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion in live­stock re­search in Den­mark. Sci­en­tists from the Univer­sity of Copen­hagen and Aarhus Univer­sity per­formed re­search into the wel­fare of mink with consistent fund­ing and sup­port from the lo­cal gov­ern­ment. The re­search re­sults have been in­cor­po­rated into the Dan­ish rules on pro­tec­tion of an­i­mals bred for their fur since 2007.

All Dan­ish mink farms re­ceive reg­u­lar statu­tory vet­eri­nar­ian vis­its each year, which in­volve a rou­tine in­spec­tion to iden­tify any health or wel­fare is­sues on the farm. The Dan­ish Vet­eri­nary and Food Ad­min­is­tra­tion also makes reg­u­lar in­spec­tions.

At the same time, with the break­through in gene stud­ies by Aarhus Univer­sity, fur an­i­mals are now be­ing fed in­di­vid­u­ally. Be­cause each an­i­mal di­gests and ab­sorbs food dif­fer­ently, such a setup guar­an­tees the ef­fec­tive­ness of feed­ing, op­ti­mizes food con­sump­tion and re­duces re­lated costs. A sim­i­lar farm man­age­ment sys­tem also runs in Fin­land. It’s stated on Sa­ga­furs’ web­site that qual­ity is about the well-be­ing and health of the an­i­mal.

The Saga Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by Fin­nish Stan­dards, launched in 2005, has es­tab­lished a close co­op­er­a­tion with the coun­try’s au­thor­i­ties, the EU, and vet­eri­nar­i­ans who spe­cial­ize in ser­vic­ing the fur farms.

On cer­ti­fied fur farms, which ac­counts for up to 93 per­cent of mink farms in Fin­land by the end of last Novem­ber, an­i­mal wel­fare is en­sured by con­trol­ling any in­fec­tious dis­eases, com­pli­ance with FFBA vac­ci­na­tion rec­om­men­da­tions, daily mon­i­tor­ing, doc­u­men­ta­tion of an­i­mal health and eu­th­a­niz­ing an­i­mals within the bound­aries of the farm.

This strict and in­clu­sive ap­proach puts fur farm­ing well ahead of the meat in­dus­try in terms of an­i­mal wel­fare stan­dards.

Boy­cotting real fur out of love and re­spect for an­i­mals is brave, but faux fur is not a bet­ter choice, and the breed­ing and han­dling of an­i­mals for their fur is not al­ways as cruel as many imag­ine or as it is some­times por­trayed.

The de­bate is not go­ing to be set­tled overnight, and will con­tinue to be an emo­tive one, but while it is said that you should never judge a book by its cover, per­haps the same could be ap­plied the next time a per­son draped in fur passes by.

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