Debbie McMillan of Odessa, Texas, recently discovered that the coat she bought for her 15-year-old daughter, Melissa, hid an ugly secret. The trim on the jacket was advertised and labeled as raccoon fur, but really it came from a dog. When they learned the details, said Debbie, "We cried a lot." As Melissa told her mother, "I don't want this fur anymore. These animals need it more than I do."
The McMillans are not the only victims of this deception. Even though Congress banned the sale of dog and cat fur in 2000, an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States this winter revealed that dog fur is still slipping into the country and being sold everywhere from bargain retailers to upscale department stores.
Dozens of designers and retailers were found to be selling jackets trimmed with dog fur. Some was from domestic dogs like German shepherds and collies, and some was from "raccoon dogs," an Asian species whose fur is often passed off as raccoon because of its markings. They are raised in China by the millions, in conditions to match anything in the most brutal of factory farms, and undercover video footage shows the dogs being skinned alive.
Every fur-trimmed jacket tested was found to be falsely advertised as "faux," falsely labeled as a different species of animal or not labeled at all. When customers thought they were buying synthetic fur, or fur from a legally killed species like rabbit or raccoon, in most cases they were really getting dog fur.
The problem is that designers, retailers and consumers can have no confidence in what type of fur they are getting, especially when it is sourced from China. Because of the mass infusion of Chinese fur into western markets, and because of a major loophole in the law that allows many fur-trimmed items to be sold without labels, it's easy for fur sellers to put whatever type of fur they want on the garments.
Congressmen Jim Moran, D-Va., and Mike Ferguson, R-N.J., have introduced a bill to close these loopholes. The Dog and Cat Fur Prohibition Enforcement Act, H.R. 891, would require that all fur apparel be labeled properly, and would ban the sale of raccoon dog fur.
The current fur labeling law, passed in 1951, requires a label on fur apparel including the name of the species used, manufacturer, country of origin and other information. But a loophole exempts products with a "relatively small quantity or value" of fur. The Federal Trade Commission defines that value as $150, and leaves consumers guessing as to whether the fur is real or faux, let alone from what animal or country.
Clear labeling and a ban on raccoon dog fur will be a deterrent for fur sellers to try to pass off dog fur as something it's not. By passing the Dog and Cat Fur Prohibition Enforcement Act, Congress can spare millions of creatures from misery, and protect millions of Americans from a cruel deception.
Michael Markarian is executive vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. For a video on the fur scandal, go to www.hsus.org/furfree.