Lizza Gebilagin: writer, editor & video producer

Here’s the rest of your fur coat

If you saw what animals had to go through for some jacket, you’d be sick. By Lizza Gebilagin

On a fur farm in China, a man grabs a raccoon dog by the tail with one hand and lifts it out of a crowded wire cage. He drops the animal to the ground, only for a moment while he adjusts his grip, but it’s enough time for the raccoon dog to use its two front legs to kick up dust as it tries to run. There’s no point. The man lifts it higher this time, so that it’s dangling upside down around the man’s waist level. With the other hand, he swings a steel pipe at the raccoon dog’s head.

He throws the animal to the ground. He hits it again straight on the head. And again. He kicks it before walking off to take a look at the other animals. Another man comes around and notices that the raccoon dog’s hind legs are violently convulsing. It’s still alive. He bends down to take a closer look and then smashes its head again, this time with a steel pipe he was about to use on one of the raccoon dogs still in the wire cage. Soon, there will be a row of these animals on the ground, shuddering in pain, dying slowly.

This was just part of the footage from the latest investigation undertaken by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia-Pacific, shot on seven fur farms and two fur markets in China between December 2008 and November 2009. The next part of the video shows a raccoon dog, hanging upside down with its legs tied together, as a man rips the skin and fur off the body. PETA claims, that in previous investigations, they found some of the animals were still panting and blinking their eyes (in other words, they were still alive) as they were skinned.

Fur “renaissance”

Fur, mostly real and some faux, has been everywhere on the recent autumn/winter 2010 runways. From New York to Milan, Paris and London, it’s been estimated that there were 1,500 fur looks, up 385 from last year. The International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF), which represents the worldwide fur-trade community, reports that even during last year’s financial crisis, fur sales added up to $13 billion worldwide and they’re forecasting a huge increase next year as well.

Teresa Platt of Fur Commission USA says it’s been called the “Renaissance of Fur”. “There is so much creativity among the designers working with cold-weather clothing that it’s amazing,” Platt says. Better technology and manufacturing innovations, a marketing campaign espousing the “green” nature of fur (Keith Kaplan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America, says that “fur’s an environmentally responsible textile that is renewable, sustainable and recyclable”), and the associated luxe image, have all contributed to the rise.

There’s another reason for this so-called renaissance: ignorance. Tim Phillips, campaign director of Animal Defenders International (ADI), explains, “The fur trade feeds on ignorance. I invite anyone who might consider wearing fur to watch our video at furstop.com and then decide if it’s acceptable. I do not think people who have fur items, or items with fur trim, are necessarily wilfully cruel, they’re more likely to be simply unaware of the reality of the product.”

The real cost

“When most people imagine fur farms, the first thing they think of is probably the terrifying slaughter of the animals. Few people also consider that they suffer from extreme loneliness and deprivation before that ugly day comes,” says PETA Asia-Pacific director Jason Baker.

Back in 2005, Swiss Animal Protection, Care for the Wild International, and East International released one of the first ever reports on China’s fur farms. (Keep in mind that China is the world’s largest fur producer and is where most of Oz’s fur imports come from.) “In all farms visited in China, animals were handled roughly and confined to rows of inappropriate, small wire cages, which fall way short of European Union regulations. Signs of extreme anxiety and pathological behaviours were prominent throughout. Other indicators of poor welfare include high cub mortality, self-mutilation and infanticide.”

Aside from raccoon dogs, they also visited sites that bred red and Arctic foxes, mink and Rex rabbits. What they found was similar to what PETA caught on tape months earlier. “Slaughter practices used on animals farmed for fur in China involved extremely rough handling and stunning, or attempts to stun, the animals with repeated blows to the head or by being flung head first against the ground. Workers made no attempt to ensure that animals were deceased before skinning. In other cases, animals regained consciousness as their skin was being removed.”

Terrible suffering

This type of animal cruelty isn’t just happening in China, either. The ADI released the results of their investigation earlier this year on fur farming in Finland, the world’s largest producer of blue fox pelts. The organisation wanted to test the Finnish Fur Breeders’ Association’s claim that fur animals “are bred in a manner honouring their wellbeing”. After visiting 30 mink and fox sites over a seven-month period, they concluded that not one of the farms upheld the standards proclaimed by the association on its website.

Phillips says, “Our team filmed horrific suffering, which included foxes with their faces distorted with long-term gum disease; dead and dying animals in cages; animals with open, infected wounds; and foxes that had torn off each other’s tails, leaving bloody stumps.”

On previous trips to fur farms, Phillips personally observed, “Foxes with their claws grotesquely overgrown around the mesh of the cage floors; mink with gaping wounds; dead animals among live animals in cages; severe overcrowding; frenzied animals desperate to escape, racing around their cages, clawing and biting at the cage mesh; and I’ve seen the bins full of bloody, skinned bodies, which is where this suffering finally ends.”

Providing a voice

As hopeless as the situation sounds, there is some positive news. A group of Australian lawyers is taking steps to ban the import of fur and fur products made in contravention of minimal animal welfare standards. The NSW Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee and Lawyers for Animals have put forward the suggestions to the federal government to “protect Australian consumers by prohibiting the import of fur sourced from animals subjected to cruelty not permitted under Australian law”.

“We’re extremely disappointed with the way the government has responded to this issue,” says Angela Radich from the NSW Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee. “However, it took a public outcry before the government made the obvious step of banning the import of cat and dog fur, so we’re continuing to push this important consumer issue.”

You can read more about the proposed ban at lawsociety.com.au. If you want to help them out, write to your local MP and let them know you support the proposal. Otherwise, if you wish to make a smaller difference, just don’t buy real fur; stick to faux.

This article was first published in the June 2010 issue of Cleo magazine Australia.

The End

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