Animal-rights activists argue that we are not morally justified to kill animals for any purpose, and certainly not for products… Read More
Animal-rights activists argue that we are not morally justified to kill animals for any purpose, and certainly not for products they consider to be non-essential, such as fur. But this view of morality may say more about the activists' understanding of society, of nature and of their own unique place within the big scheme of things than it does about people who produce or wear fur.
This thought came to me just before Christmas during a moving performance of Handel’s Messiah, by Montreal’s Metropolitan Orchestra and Choir with star conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Handel’s magnificent oratorio was premiered in Dublin, in 1742, under the direction of the composer; the beautiful libretto by Charles Jennens (1700-1773) is drawn from Old and New Testament texts.
"All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way."
– Isaiah 53:6 (from libretto of Handel’s Messiah)
The music is transcendental, but my thoughts returned to more earthly matters as the choir sang the verse: "... we have turned every one to his own way." Nine words that neatly sum up the guiding philosophy of modern Western society.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not romanticizing the time when the individual was required – often ruthlessly – to conform to the demands of family, clan, nation or religion. But the fact is that we, in our privileged Western societies, have ventured into uncharted waters: for the first time in human history, individual freedom and personal fulfilment are widely considered to be the most important goals, the ultimate "good".
We no longer accept that our marriage partners be chosen by our families, or that what we eat and how we behave be dictated by tradition or a parish priest. Today, each of us claims the right to make our own decisions. The individual is king.
What does this have to do with the radical shift in thinking proposed by animal-rights philosophers? Maybe a lot. Because, above all, believers in animal rights assert that the rights of each animal must be recognised as inviolable. It is the individual animal, not the population or species that is important, according to this view. And this has far-reaching implications. Let’s see how.
Livestock and Humans Depend on Each Other
Most of us believe that humans have a right to use animals for food and other purposes, so long as animal populations are not diminished and species are not endangered. This is known as “sustainable use”. In other words, we eat chickens, but we don’t eat them all. Individual chickens are killed and eaten by individual humans – who will, in turn, one day themselves be eaten by worms, bacteria and other organisms – but both chickens and humans continue. In fact, with North Americans annually consuming some three billion chickens, and billions more eggs, one could argue that both chickens and humans are now very dependent on each other for survival.
A concern for animal welfare complements and deepens our sustainable-use values by acknowledging the individuals involved in this species-level symbiosis. The fact that individual animals die to provide for our needs implies, we believe, a responsibility to protect these animals from unnecessary suffering. In this sense, “animal welfare” seeks to balance the interests of groups and individuals.
The animal-rights philosophy, however, makes a quantum leap: the interests of individual animals are suddenly all that matter. According to animal-rights theorists, the individual chicken’s will-to-life is morally non-negotiable and irrevocable, no matter how useful their proteins may be for the health and well-being of humans – or, for that matter, for the survival of chickendom.
In other words, the animal-rights doctrine perfectly reflects our celebration of the individual in modern Western societies. And perhaps this explains, at least in part, why the animal-rights philosophy has considerable appeal in Western societies, especially among younger people.
Of course, our glorification of the individual is far from universal. Even today, most people live in societies where the individual has less autonomy, where their dependence on the group is more explicit. The moral force or “truth” of animal-rights arguments probably seem less evident in such societies.
And isn’t the dependence of the individual on the group a fundamental reality in all human societies? We live in cities, speak languages, use technologies, and have our spirits lifted by music that were all created by others, often people who are no longer with us.
Rights Not Rooted in Nature
A more profound challenge to the “truth” of the animal-rights philosophy comes from the fact that nature doesn’t show much consideration for individuals. In nature, individuals are short-lived and expendable; it is populations and species that continue.
This ecological truth does not diminish the importance of respecting human rights, but it reminds us that such rights are not rooted in nature or universal truth; they are created by human societies.
What is rooted in nature, however, is the dependence of all animals on other species – especially for food. Like it or not, only the living cells of other organisms can provide us with sustenance. No philosopher or activist can change this fundamental fact of our existence.
Nature is not moral or immoral, it just is. But humans do develop codes of morality, precisely because we live in groups and need each other. Without moral codes we would indeed be lost sheep. But if the animal-rights insistence on each animal’s irrevocable right-to-life is not defensible, what moral code regulates our use of animals?
Our Morality Towards Animals
When it comes to our relationship with animals, our moral code includes four main precepts. Two have already been mentioned: we should use only part of the surpluses that nature provides (“sustainability”), and we should protect the animals we use from unnecessary suffering (“animal welfare”). The other two moral precepts governing our relationship with animals are that we should not use animals for frivolous purposes (“important use”), and we should use as much of the animal as possible (“no waste”).
As I have explained in a previous article, the modern fur trade does respect all four of these important moral precepts. The use of fur, when it is responsibly and sustainably produced as it is today, is indeed morally justifiable, because it balances the needs of species and individuals in a way that is consistent with the way our world really works.
It is animal activists who are lost, who “have turned every one to his own way”, because their fundamentalist philosophy considers only the individual. In fact, as the great humanitarian and animal lover Albert Schweitzer once wrote: insisting that we harm no other life is not a solution to the moral problem that living beings kill and eat each other to survive – it is pretending that there is no problem.
The public debate about fur (and other animal products) is often distorted by confusion between two important concepts: animal welfare… Read More
The public debate about fur (and other animal products) is often distorted by confusion between two important concepts: animal welfare and animal rights. These terms sound similar and are often used interchangeably, but they describe two profoundly different ideas. Caring about the welfare of the animals we use – for food and other purposes – is very different from assigning them the rights that activist groups are now proposing.
Do you believe that farm animals should be treated humanely and spared unnecessary suffering? Then you are a proponent of animal welfare. Animal-rights advocates, by contrast, argue that humans have no right to use animals at all – not for food, clothing, or anything else. They believe that all livestock production should be shut down completely. “Not better cages, no cages at all!” is their rallying cry.
It is rare that we agree with PETA on anything, but its views on the chasm separating animal welfare and animal rights are spelled out clearly on its website for all to see:
“Animal rights means that animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation ... Animal welfare allows these uses as long as ‘humane’ guidelines are followed.”
Let’s see how this distinction plays out in the real world.
Eating Meat, Fish and Dairy
Animal-welfare advocates have worked for the past 100 years to ensure that the animals that provide us with meat, dairy products and eggs receive good nutrition and care. Thanks to their efforts we have humane-slaughter regulations, codes of practice and other provisions to minimize stress and suffering. This is an on-going process. For example, while modern production methods have made animal protein more affordable for millions, promoting healthy brain development for infants and children, they also raise new animal-welfare challenges.
Animal-rights advocates do not seek better conditions for farm animals. Rather, they oppose all killing and consumption of animals no matter how humanely this is done. Their openly-stated goal is to shut down all livestock farms and to end the consumption of meat, dairy, eggs, and any other animal products – even honey. They demand everyone becomes “vegan”, and argue that animal-welfare improvements only serve to justify what, for them, can never be justified, i.e., the killing of animals.
Animal-rights campaigners oppose any use of all animal products for clothing or accessories. They often show examples of shocking abuse in their campaigns against fur, leather, and wool – which can make it look like they are concerned about animal welfare – but their goal is not better standards or regulations. They don’t believe humans have a right to use animals at all, which means no more wool, leather, fur, cashmere, down or even silk.
Animal-welfare advocates believe that owning a pet is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. A pet needs to be housed, fed, and cared for properly, to ensure an acceptable level of well-being.
Animal-rights activists consider pet ownership to be a form of slavery. In their Brave New World there would be no more cats, dogs, fish, hamsters, bunnies, budgies, or other pets. In fact, the shocking kill-rate at PETA’s “shelter” confirms that it prefers to euthanize pets rather than find new homes for them, despite receiving more than $50 million annually from well-meaning donors.
Animals for Entertainment
Zoos, circuses, racetracks and other activities that use animals for entertainment are obliged, by law, to respect the welfare of their animals, ensuring they receive appropriate nutrition, housing and care.
Animal-rights activists, by contrast, want to ban all such activities. If they have their way, there will be no more animals in circuses, no more horse-back riding or dog shows, not even zoos that support breeding programs for endangered species. If giant panda conservation had been in PETA's hands rather than those of the Chinese government, it would probably be extinct by now.
Animals for Medical Research
The efforts of animal-welfare advocates ensure the responsible care of animals used for medical research. The “3-Rs” require that researchers “Replace” animals with other techniques when possible, “Reduce” the number of animals used to the minimum required to achieve their objectives, and “Refine” experiments to minimize suffering. Experiments using animals must be justified to show that the benefits could not be obtained otherwise.
Animal-rights activists want to ban any use of animals for medical research, no matter the benefits. To understand the implications of this position, consider that, according to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, “Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century - for both human and veterinary health. From antibiotics to blood transfusions, from dialysis to organ transplantation, from vaccinations to chemotherapy, bypass surgery and joint replacement, practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, treatment, cure and control of disease, pain and suffering is based on knowledge attained through research with lab animals.” This does not impress animal-rights activists. According to PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk, “Even if animal research produced a cure for AIDS, we’d be against it.”
Animals at Work
People have long used animals for all sorts of work: horses and oxen pull loads and plow fields; pigs root out truffles; service dogs help a range of people in need while others pull sleds and sniff out bombs; and now, falcons are taking down intrusive drones. Most people who work with animals care about their partners and provide them with excellent care, and these animal-welfare concerns are increasingly codified in regulations.
Animal-rights activists seek to end this important relationship that humans have long enjoyed with animals.
Bottom line: while “animal welfare” recognizes that animals enrich our lives in many more ways than we usually consider, “animal rights” denies that humans have any right to use animals for our own ends.
Groups like PETA blur this distinction by showing extreme examples of animal abuse in their campaigns. Their goal is not to improve the treatment of animals we use. It is to end all animal use completely.
As someone brought up in the Canadian fur trade and who has spent much of the past 35 years studying the environmental ethic of North America’s founding industry, I am troubled by the arrogance and ignorance displayed by self-appointed “animal-rights” activists protesting the opening of the Canada Goose boutique in Soho.
Responding to complaints about neighbors disturbed and consumers harassed, activists Nathan Semmel and Leonardo Anguiano recently argued in these pages that “it is solely the vile ethics of the Canada Goose corporation that brought about our presence.” (“Call of the Wild: Why we protest Canada Goose,” talking point, March 2):
By “vile ethics,” they mean that Canada Goose uses animal products — goose down and coyote fur — to make their remarkably warm parkas.
Goose down and fur are two of nature’s best insulators, but it is not surprising that these protesters object. Most of them are — or aspire to be — vegans, and embrace the radical “animal-rights” philosophy, which means they oppose any use of animals, even for food. Most Americans, however, do eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Most of us also wear leather, wool and silk. This does not mean we condone the mistreatment of animals. Research confirms that most people believe that humans do have a right to use animals, but only if four important criteria are respected — namely, that animals should be used sustainably, humanely, for an important purpose and with minimal waste.
Let’s see how the use of coyote fur stacks up against these widely accepted ethical criteria.
Sustainability: Only part of the natural surplus produced in abundant wildlife populations is used for fur today, never endangered species. This is assured by strictly enforced state, national and international regulations. Coyotes are highly abundant and expanding their range across North America; they are, in fact, the number-one predator problem for ranchers in many regions. There are also increasingly frequent reports of coyotes devouring pet dogs and cats. And even if we did not use fur, coyotes (and other predators) often must be managed to protect nesting birds, the eggs of sea turtles, and other endangered species. When fur prices do not provide sufficient incentive to control coyote populations, several states (and Canadian provinces) have been obliged to offer bounties. But if we have to cull some of these animals, surely it is ethical to use them.
Humaneness: Millions of dollars have been invested over the past 35 years in scientific research to ensure that humane methods are used to capture wild, furbearing animals. Many coyotes are now taken with quick-killing devices. Others are taken with live-holding traps designed to minimize injuries to the animals. These are the same traps used by biologists to capture and release wolves, Canadian lynx and other animals, unharmed, for radio-collaring (for research) or reintroduction into regions where they were previously eliminated. Clearly, these are not the diabolical instruments that activists would have us believe. Nor are nature’s ways of controlling wildlife populations — starvation and disease — necessarily preferable. A coyote with sarcoptic mange (a parasitic mite) may scratch itself raw for weeks before dying. Nature is not Disneyland. If humaneness is the concern, modern trapping methods may actually reduce suffering, by maintaining more stable and healthy wildlife populations than would occur naturally.
Important Use: Animal activists claim that the killing of coyotes or other animals for fur is “unnecessary”, and therefore morally indefensible. Leaving aside the tricky question of determining which, if any, products are really “necessary,” humans do need clothing, and fur is a natural, long-lasting and ultimately biodegradable material. By contrast, fake furs and other synthetics promoted by animal activists are generally made from petrochemicals, a nonrenewable resource. More troubling, recent research reveals that synthetic microfibers can cause considerable harm to wildlife. According to EcoWatch: “When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing-machine effluent. Less than 1 millimeter in size, they make their way through wastewater plants and into marine environments where they have been found to enter the food chain. Microfibers make up 85 percent of human-made debris on shorelines around the world, according to a 2011 study.” Perhaps natural fur and down are not such frivolous choices after all.
No Waste: Most of us are comfortable wearing leather because it is “the envelope that dinner came in,” but we may wonder what happens to the rest of the animals that provide fur. In fact, beaver and muskrat are often eaten by northern Cree and other trappers and their families in remote regions where store-bought food is very expensive and alternate income may be hard to come by. Raccoons, opossums and other furbearing animals also provide food in more southern regions. And while coyotes and other predators are not usually eaten by humans, their carcasses are returned to the bush where they feed birds, mice and other animals through the winter, when food is scarce. Nothing is wasted.
This short review shows that the North American fur trade does satisfy the four criteria that determine whether the use of animals is morally acceptable for most people.
Furthermore, while we all “care” about nature, most of us now live in cities with little direct knowledge about what really happens in the wild. Activists protesting against Canada Goose, for example, claim that “trapped coyote mothers leave behind starving pups.” They are apparently unaware that trapping occurs in late fall and winter when the young of the year are no longer dependent upon their parents.
Trappers, by contrast, live close to nature and have the knowledge — and a direct interest — to sound the alarm when wildlife habitat is threatened by industrial activity. It is trappers, for example, who lobby and work with timber companies to maintain uncut forest corridors for wildlife around waterways or important nesting areas. It is the destruction of habitat — not hunters or trappers — that threatens the survival of wildlife.
While animal activists like to see themselves as “progressive,” their words and actions reveal an arrogant disregard for the knowledge and values of the hard-working rural people who feed and clothe us.
None of this means that anyone is obliged to wear fur. But it does cast doubt on activist claims to have a “moral” justification for imposing their personal choices on the rest of us. If those promoting the radical “animal-rights” philosophy want to maintain any credibility, they would do well do show more tolerance toward those who make different choices. Too often, while preaching “compassion,” their actions seem to be driven by ideological fundamentalism, aggression and “alternate facts.” Surely, we have enough of that already in Washington.
Eating seal meat is not something many of us have tried. It’s not a regular feature on restaurant menus, nor… Read More
Eating seal meat is not something many of us have tried. It's not a regular feature on restaurant menus, nor is it abundant in grocery stores. Vancouver restaurant Edible Canada made headlines in January when it announced that its menu for the restaurant festival Dine Out Vancouver was going to feature seal meat.
The two dishes, a pasta dish featuring pappardelle with seal mince and a starter of seal loin served rare, caught the attention of media and culinary enthusiasts, but where there are seals, there are activists. Not only did protesters turn up outside the restaurant, they also went on a cyber attack, downgrading the restaurant’s reviews on Facebook by posting hundreds of one-star reviews (since reversed, to an extent, thanks to our loyal followers; see below).
We had a chat with Edible Canada's executive chef, Eric Pateman, described as “one of the leading ambassadors of Canadian cuisine”, about eating seal meat, protesters, and Canadian cuisine.
Truth About Fur: You knew there was going to be some backlash, so why did you decide to go ahead and put seal on the menu?
Eric Pateman: It was the right thing to do. Part of what we do as a business is define Canadian food culture and seal has such an important historical as well as present-day context to it. By not doing it, we would have been doing a disservice to part of what we do as a business, which is educating and informing people on what it is that makes Canada so unique.
TAF: Did you have any plans in place to deal with the activists, or did you just deal with it as it happened?
EP: We definitely had had some conversations about what some of the potential backlashes could be, but we never anticipated the impact on social media that we saw. We expected some protesters, etc. ... The online impact was far more significant than we expected, but the in-person protests were less than we anticipated.
TAF: Well it is January, people don’t want to go outside, and it is much easier to criticize people anonymously from your computer.
EP: And most of the online attacks were international.
TAF: You posted on Facebook that the response to the seal meat was quite good. Can you talk about the feedback from customers?
EP: We had no idea how this was going to go, we thought it would be a great educational piece for the consumer. Obviously our customer base really likes the innovative and the obscure, and to try things that are truly reflective of our culture. When I looked at our numbers over the weekend, after the first three days [of the Dine Out Vancouver event] the seal dishes were the number one selling dish, by two to one over the next most popular dish, and the next was lamb heart. So we definitely attract a clientele who is interested in trying different proteins and dishes from across Canada.
[Editor’s note: lamb heart comes from a very cute, baby animal, but strangely there were no protests about that.]
We never anticipated that the pasta and the seal loin would do as well as they did. We didn’t make the call to add the seal loin to the menu until three days before Dine Out Vancouver. People were saying, “We really want to come in and try it, and we really want to taste it in its own right.” And almost every single table in the restaurant was ordering it. At the end of the day, the general perception has been incredibly positive. Ninety-five percent of the people who have tried it said “it wasn’t at all what I was expecting” to “it was better than what I was expecting.”
TAF: I expected it to be more liver-y. I didn't expect it to taste like steak.
EP: The big thing with seal is if you don’t cook it right, it does taste like liver and it does taste bad. It is very temperamental. I will be interested, when I am traveling across the Arctic circle to Newfoundland and going to the Festival of the Seal in the Magdalen Islands in March, to try other people’s interpretations of it. From what I have been reading online, the much more historical preparations are to cook it to death, and it comes across as a much more intense flavour, versus what we have done with the loin itself, keeping it rare. It mutes a lot of the flavours that come out with excessive cooking.
TAF: Do you think this is something you want to feature regularly?
EP: We are getting asked every single day whether we will keep it on our menu, and based on the response so far, absolutely. How we will keep it on the menu is yet to be determined. We are having guests ask for the loin in a larger portion - more than two ounces, more of a steak style. We might keep the pasta. We will sit down and evaluate that with the culinary team after Dine Out Vancouver and see what we want to do. Once the hunt is done and there is fresh seal meat, I can see us running a seal festival or an event around that.
TAF: I’ve frequently tried to find seal meat in restaurants across Canada and I have struggled to find it on menus. Have you had any feedback from other chefs, and do you think this might encourage them to put it on their menus?
EP: Absolutely. In the last week I have probably been contacted by five or six chefs, ranging from White Horse to Yellowknife to Calgary, and a few in Vancouver, all looking to get in contact with our providers. I can definitely see this starting to kick off. Someone had to be the one to jump in first, but I think we will start seeing other people adding it to the menus. We even had a fishmonger approach us if he could start carrying seal at his seafood store.
TAF: Throughout the dramas with the protesters, have you noticed how animal rights groups use the seal hunt as a money maker? Seals are abundant so there is no question about sustainability, and baby seals haven't been harvested since the '80s. What do you think of campaigners still using images of cute baby seals to raise funds?
EP: In all honesty, I don't know enough about that side of the industry. This was totally new to me, in terms of understanding a lot of the political ramifications and ties around it. Part of the reason I’m going to this seal festival, part of the reason I want to go out on the seal hunt this year, is to get a deeper understanding for myself personally. I had a couple of really good discussions both with the Humane Society and even PETA when they were protesting outside our restaurant the other day, we had a good chat and getting their take on things.
My job is to promote what Canada is, and I think one of the things that makes Canada so unique and special is that we are free to have a voice around things that are important to us, free speech, the ability to protest. I am not opposed to people doing what they are doing, though the cyber attacks were a little off mark, but I didn't have any issues with PETA showing up in front of our restaurant doing what they did. They have the right to do that. I hope to be far more educated by the summer with the hunt itself, really understanding it and all of the ramifications around it.
The Dine Out Vancouver event ends February 5th but keep en eye out for future seal meat specials at Edible Canada. And thank you to all the Truth About Fur followers who helped us get its rating back up on Facebook. Notorious seal-hunt opponent Paul Watson issued a call to his supporters to post poor (“1-star”) reviews, and 550 did just that, dropping Edible Canada’s average rating from 4.5 to 2.1 overnight. Truth About Fur and other responsible-use groups responded and within a week 5-star ratings caught up and pulled ahead. On the day of publishing this post, Edible Canada's average rating stands at 3.3. Check it out and post your review.
The article included a photo of me with Maggie, my 10-year-old Golden-Lab rescue dog. In response, several readers asked, sarcastically, why I hadn't used Maggie to trim my parka instead.
Then, in the past few weeks, activists protesting the opening of the first Canada Goose bricks-and-mortar stores – in Toronto, New York, and London (UK) – deployed the same tactic, bringing their dogs to the demos. If we are not ready to use our pets for fur, they argued, how can we justify using coyotes?
At first glance, they raise an interesting dilemma: since Maggie and the coyote are both canines, it seems morally inconsistent to love and pamper one while killing and “exploiting” the other. But is it really?
Here are five reasons why my dog is not a coyote, and why wearing fur is not like wearing your pet:
1. Coyotes don’t sleep in our beds
Fact is, dogs in much of North America and Europe – at least in urban areas – have become members of the family. Dogs have long helped humans with our work; they have been our devoted companions. But now they have moved into our homes, and for many families they have become surrogate children. Parents living with teenagers may sometimes feel that dogs are, in fact, preferable to human children. Be that as it may, it is clear that pets dogs are no longer on the outside looking in, but have become an integral part of the family. Using dogs for food or clothing has therefore become taboo, akin to cannibalism. Trees, plants, and other animals – including coyotes – are in the other category: consumables. That’s how the world works. (Sorry, PETA.)
2. Dogs chose us to protect them
Dogs split away from their wolf ancestors at least 15,000 years ago, maybe much earlier. And, as Stephen Budiansky (The Covenant of the Wild: Why Animals Chose Domestication) and others have argued, it is very likely that dogs chose us, rather than the other way around. According to this hypothesis, wolves that were not aggressive enough to compete in their pack may have approached human settlements, attracted by bones and other food that humans discarded. Because the most docile animals were more likely to be tolerated, there was a “natural selection” for non-aggressive animals that accepted a subordinate role in their new human “packs”. The wild coyote is a very different beast. As one trapper told me about a coyote he found in his trap: “When I looked into his eyes, I was chilled by the cold, evil stare; this was nothing like a dog!” Only people who have had no close contact with wolves, coyotes or other wild canines can believe that they are “dogs”.
3. Dogs and coyotes occupy different spheres of moral concern
While, theoretically, all humans should enjoy equal consideration, we are generally more concerned about our own children than about the neighbour’s children. And more about our neighbours than about people in another city or half-way around the globe. Without such “degrees of moral concern” we would not be able to function at all, knowing that children are suffering hunger and abuse in many parts of the world while we sip our lattes. Similarly (whatever PETA would have us believe) we are more likely to swerve to avoid hitting a child – even on a tree-lined road; even if it means risking our lives – than we would for a dog in our path. Again: rats, bees and other social animals live harmoniously in large groups, but will tear to shreds any stranger that wanders into their midst. It seems to be consistent with natural law to treat those closest to us differently.
4. If we kill coyotes, we should use them
Coyotes are highly abundant and have expanded their range across most of North America. They are now the number one predator problem for ranchers and, when fur prices do not provide sufficient incentive to keep populations in check, state and provincial governments may offer bounties to encourage hunting and trapping. If we have to cull coyotes, surely it is more respectful – more ethical – to use them. Of course, domesticated dogs and cats can also over-populate, and they too are culled. In modern, Western societies we collect and put down millions of unwanted pets in “humane shelters” rather than leave them hungry, sick and abused in the streets as is done in many parts of the world. That we choose not to use the fur or other parts of so many unwanted pets probably reflects our wealth (we can afford to waste these resources) and the special relationship we have with dogs and cats, more than any moral imperative.
5. Dogs, like their human protectors, have been removed – or at least insulated – from nature
In nature, most plants and animals produce more young each year than their habitat can support to maturity; those that don’t survive provide food for the others. This is the great cycle of life. And like it or not, people are part of this cycle. We too need resources from our natural environment to survive, and we too will feed the worms in the end (unless we attempt to shirk our debt with cremation, but even then our basic chemical components will be recycled). In ecological terms, there is nothing unusual about using coyote fur on parkas. What is unusual is the abhorrence we feel in Western society about making mitts with Rover or Prince – or Maggie. Traditionally, dogs had to earn their keep: pulling sleds, herding sheep, killing rats and other “vermin”, protecting property. When they died, their fur and leather were valuable in societies too poor to waste useful resources. But, as mentioned in our first point, dogs have become part of our families, and in that sense have been removed from nature. We found Maggie at the Montreal SPCA when she was one year old; she had been there a month and came close to being put down. Happily, the number of dogs euthanized in North American shelters has been greatly reduced, thanks to spay-neuter programs and “Adopt, Don’t Shop” campaigns. But we cannot manage wildlife populations with spay-neuter programs. And we cannot live without using the resources that nature provides. The status of “honorary humans” that we have applied to our dogs in wealthy Western societies, cannot be extended to all of creation.
When I mentioned that I was writing this article, a friend suggested a sixth point: she said that we can’t use our dogs for clothing or meat because “they love us”. Unfortunately, as much as I love my dog, I am not at all sure that this sentiment is really reciprocated. I suspect that Maggie’s interest in me is directly proportional to the quantity of kibble, table scraps, ear scratching and interesting walks that I provide. But then, perhaps the love that humans share is not all that different?
So what can we conclude? Animal activists argue that it is an arbitrary distinction to pamper some animals while “exploiting” others. But this short analysis suggests that such distinctions are not so much “arbitrary” as they are culturally determined; they are based on wealth, urbanization, the changing nature of the family, and other socio-cultural factors. Aboriginal people in North America – and traditional societies everywhere – used dog fur and leather, as many still do. Most dogs used to live and work outside; we have brought them into our homes and families. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to use plants and animals and other resources that nature provides.
So the "moral inconsistency" raised by pampering some animals while exploiting others is more apparent than real. And Maggie would almost surely agree, if she were capable of this sort of rational thought; she certainly appreciates the meat, bones and other animal products we offer.
Ironically, animal-rights purists (including PETA) now also oppose the keeping of pets, which they denounce as a form of paternalistic slavery. I am not sure that Maggie would agree.
The world is changing and, with it, our approach to consumption. As the impact of global warming worsens, many consumers… Read More
The world is changing and, with it, our approach to consumption. As the impact of global warming worsens, many consumers are rethinking what they buy, and how much of it. "Local", "organic" and "minimalism" are all buzzwords many of us are drawn to, and some people question the need to eat animals, or wear leather and fur. Where does that leave us with animal use?
The use of animals is an ethical dilemma that many people question, but most people agree that if animals are well-treated, they are not in danger of becoming extinct, none of the animal is wasted, and the animal is put to good use, then it is acceptable for us to use and consume them.
Animal use is an integral part of many people’s lives, and is linked to essential products in our everyday life, such as medication, food, and clothing. Animals are used in medical testing in order to find cures to life-threatening diseases. We eat animals and while some people question the need to do this, there is plenty of evidence it can be done without harm to our planet. In fact, lots of land is better suited for pasture than for cultivation. And remember that animal manure is used to replenish the soil to grow crops. But if we are concerned about possible impacts, a small reduction in the amount of meat we consume – and waste – can go a long way. And lastly, we wear many types of animal products in order to protect ourselves from the elements. Fashion may not be essential, but clothing is. The need to keep warm in cold weather is a matter of life and death.
If you live in a cold country, you’ll need clothing that can protect you from the elements, and your choices should involve leather, fur, and other animal products. Why? Because there are no viable alternatives.
If we really care about the environment (and we all should because nothing else matters if we don't have water and food and clean air), we will want to buy sustainable fashion products that use production processes that are not too harmful to the environment, that are long-lasting, and that are biodegradable. That is exactly what animal skins are. Yes, they aren’t perfect; leathers and furs use chemicals in their processing and finishing (like all other textiles), and sometimes the farming has an environmental impact. But when you consider how long a good fur coat or high-quality leather bag lasts, you’ll realize that the environmental damage is minimal compared to the lifespan of the item.
So here they are, the five reasons why we must all wear leather and fur, and these reasons all point to the fact that there are simply no viable alternatives.
1. There are no alternatives that are biodegradable. The synthetic alternatives to fur and leather take much longer to biodegrade (50 years for treated leather vs. 500+ years for pleather), and even when they have “biodegraded”, there are still remains of the plastic particles in the soil, which we are now finding in our oceans and inside fish. Truth About Fur is in the process of conducting an experiment to prove that real fur biodegrades much faster than “faux”, and the results are more dramatic than even we expected.
2. There are no alternatives that are sustainable. Synthetics are made from petroleum by-products. You probably know that petroleum is not a renewable resource. The problems caused by the extraction and transport of petroleum are only a part of the issue, let’s not get started on the political issues (read: wars) that are caused by petroleum. Animals are a renewable, sustainable resource. (Actually, wool, down, and cashmere and other similar materials are sustainable, so these are certainly viable alternatives when it comes to winter coats. But the animal rights activists are against those, too, since they come from animals. Usually a sensible winter wardrobe would combine fur, leather, down, wool, and cashmere – you’ll never be cold.)
3. There are no alternatives that are as long-lasting. While a fake fur or leather jacket may be sitting in a landfill for a few hundred years longer than its real counterpart, that doesn't mean it is longer lasting in a fashion perspective. When well cared for, fur and leather items can last for decades, but fake leather and fur hardly do the same. Both look worn out much faster (and not in a cool way – like worn out leather), and they also don't maintain their warmth or waterproof qualities. You don’t find many fake leather bags being handed down from one generation to the next, do you?
4. There are no alternatives that are as environment-friendly. The points above do a good job of making this argument, but we can add to this by talking about the processing. Yes, leather and fur require chemicals for processing (leather requiring more than fur as you need to remove the hairs from leather, whereas with fur you are aiming to protect them). But two important things to consider here are that (1) the chemicals used to “dress” furs are really quite benign, e.g., alum salts (which are sold in the pharmacy to add to your bath water for sore muscles), and (2), the longevity of leather and fur items means that the chemicals per wear are much less than a synthetic alternative. Your leather bag or fur coat may have used chemicals in its production, but the fact that it lasts you 30 years makes it a more environment-friendly option than the synthetic version, made from a non-renewable resource that requires chemicals in its processing, which then looks tatty after two seasons. Another important thing to consider is that no synthetic material looks good in its natural state, while fur is frequently used in its natural state (meaning its natural colours), reducing the need for bleaches and dyes.
5. There are no alternatives that are as safe. We’ve yet to fully understand the bodily harm coming from wearing synthetics, but there’s a great deal of research that shows that synthetic materials may contribute to health issues such as infertility, respiratory diseases, and cancer. Why take the risk when there are natural alternatives?
If you truly care about the planet and its inhabitants, you’ll make consumption decisions based on what’s best for us all. You might refuse to eat animals or watch them being used as entertainment, but it is impossible to deny that synthetic clothing is causing irreparable harm to our planet. Choose materials that are sustainable, long-lasting, and biodegradable. Choose fur and leather because there are no viable alternatives.
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Is fur an ethical clothing choice? The media often seem confused about this question, acknowledging the resurgence of fur in designer… Read More
Is fur an ethical clothing choice? The media often seem confused about this question, acknowledging the resurgence of fur in designer collections while uncritically reporting sensationalist animal activist complaints about this trend. The implied (and often explicit) message is that consumers are less bothered about whether fur is an ethical clothing choice, and more concerned about looking good. In short, "fashion trumps ethics". But is this true?
To answer this question, we must take a step back and ask what makes it ethical to use any animal product.
Some of the best work on this subject was done by the Royal Commission on Seals and the Sealing Industry in Canada (1984-86). Public-opinion research conducted in six Western countries (the UK, France, West Germany, Norway, Canada and the US) showed that “there is no agreement on whether it is ethical or moral to kill seals. The choice is a matter of personal conviction.” [Report of the Royal Commission, Vol. 1, p. 23, 1986.]
The Royal Commission also found, however, that there is “substantial weight of opinion that if the killing of any wild animals is to be accepted as ethical, it should satisfy the following conditions”:
The existence of the species should not be threatened;
No unnecessary pain or cruelty should be inflicted;
The killing should serve an important use;
The killing should involve a minimum of waste.
Let’s see how the modern North American fur trade stacks up when measured against these widely accepted ethical criteria.
The Existence of the Species Should Not Be Threatened
This is a “conservation” or “sustainable use” argument. Simply put, there is no future in using up resources we depend on for our survival.
About one-half of the furs produced in North America today comes from farms, so there's no threat of extinction there. Furs taken from the wild, however, also come from abundant populations. Government-regulated trapping seasons ensure that we use only part of the surpluses produced each year in nature. Most species produce more young than their habitat can support to maturity. Animals that don’t survive feed those that do. Humans are part of this cycle and we too can use the surpluses that nature produces, year after year, generation after generation – so long as we protect and maintain the natural ecosystems that produce this bounty.
This is called “the sustainable use of renewable natural resources”. It is a central pillar of modern conservation policy that was first promoted by the landmark World Commission on Environment and Development [Our Common Future, 1987], and now directs the work of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Thanks to excellent national and international regulations, North American furbearers that were once depleted in parts of their ranges have been restored, and more! Biologists believe that beavers are now as abundant as when Europeans first arrived, while coyotes, foxes and raccoons are more numerous in Canada than they have ever been. This is a real environmental success story.
So without question, the modern, well-regulated fur trade meets our first ethical criterion: the existence of species is not threatened.
No Unnecessary Pain or Cruelty Should Be Inflicted
This is the “animal welfare” argument, i.e., the belief that we have a right to use animals for food and other purposes, but only if we cause them as little suffering as possible.
Based on this research, state and provincial wildlife authorities determine which traps may be used for each species. Most species can now be taken in quick-killing traps or “sets”. For the others (e.g., larger predators including coyotes, foxes, lynx, and bobcats), live-holding traps have been significantly improved to prevent injuries. The new live-holding foot-hold (or “leg-hold”) traps, for example, are often used by biologists to capture and release (unharmed) wolves, lynx, river otters and other animals for radio collaring or re-introduction into regions where they were once (often intentionally) extirpated.
On fur farms, mink and foxes are provided with excellent nutrition and care; this is the only way to produce the high-quality fur required to compete in international markets. Farms in the US are certified by Fur Commission USA, while in Canada farmers follow codes of practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council.
So the North American fur trade also satisfies our second ethical criterion: the responsibility to prevent unnecessary pain or cruelty is taken very seriously in the modern fur trade.
If Animals Are Killed, They Should Serve an Important Use
Activists often claim that it is unethical to kill animals for fur because "no one needs a fur coat". Fur coats are portrayed as "unnecessary luxuries"; raising and killing animals for fur is therefore characterized as “frivolous use”. But is fur really a frivolous or unnecessary product?
Humans need clothing to survive, and in many regions warm clothing is essential. Of course there are other materials to keep us warm, but the best of them (wool, down, leather) also come from animals. Meanwhile, most synthetic fibres (including fake or “faux” fur) are derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, the extraction and transformation of which entails serious environmental risks.
Trapping, hunting and fur farming, it should be remembered, also provide food and important income for people living in rural or remote regions where alternative employment may be hard to find; fur is certainly not “frivolous” for them.
Then there is the need, in many regions, for furbearers to be culled annually to maintain healthy and stable populations, to preserve their habitat, to protect endangered species (e.g., by culling predators that attack ground-nesting birds or endangered sea turtle eggs), and to safe-guard human health, livestock and property. If furbearer populations must be culled, surely it is more ethical to use these animals for clothing than to discard them.
Last but not least, fur clothing is remarkably long-lasting, can be worn “vintage” or taken apart and remodeled as styles change, and will eventually biodegrade – all important environmental virtues.
So, in multiple ways, the modern fur trade satisfies our third ethical criterion: the animals serve important purposes.
If Animals Are Killed, There Should Be a Minimum of Waste
Most North Americans eat meat and therefore generally consider it ethical to use leather, a “by-product” that would otherwise be wasted. Fur, however, may seem more problematic if the rest of the animal is not used, as is often assumed. In fact, many wild fur-bearing animals (beaver, muskrat and other species) also provide food for First Nations and other people, especially in northern regions where cattle and other livestock cannot easily be raised. Wild furbearers not consumed by humans are returned to the bush where they are eaten by mice, birds and other animals. Nothing is wasted.
Meanwhile, farmed mink and foxes are fed left-overs from our own food supply – the parts of chickens, pigs, fish and other animals that we don’t eat and that might otherwise go into landfills. In addition to fur, farmed mink provide oil for cosmetics and the preservation of leather. Their manure, soiled straw bedding and carcasses are composted to produce organic fertilizers, to enrich the soil and produce more food, completing the agricultural nutrient cycle. Biofuels made from mink remains now power buses in Aarhus, Denmark, the world’s largest producer of farmed mink. Similar projects are being tested in North America.
So the modern fur trade satisfies our fourth ethical criterion: there is minimal waste.
As this brief summary shows, the modern North American fur trade satisfies all four of the criteria required to determine that fur is an ethical clothing choice.
Of course, this does not mean that anyone is obliged to wear fur. As the Canadian Royal Commission determined some 30 years ago, that decision is ultimately “a matter of personal conviction”. This has been confirmed by public opinion research conducted in recent years showing that about 80% of North Americans agree that wearing fur should be a question of personal choice.
Fur Futures is an initiative of the International Fur Federation to provide financial and professional support for the fur trade’s next… Read More
Fur Futures is an initiative of the International Fur Federation to provide financial and professional support for the fur trade’s next generation. The inaugural program was held by IFF-Americas in Toronto April 6-7 to coincide with a sale at North American Fur Auctions. Seven young professionals and one student, Jacob Shanbrom, attended educational activities covering multiple aspects of the trade, including a visit to a mink farm, and seminars on mink-grading and wild fur.
One of my earliest memories is falling asleep in the back of my mother's SUV covered by her fur-trimmed parka. Since then I have always had an affinity for fur because, to me, fur represents not only luxury and elegance as perpetuated by both of my late grandmothers, but above all, comfort and safety, as a direct reference to my mom.
I bought my first piece of fur when I was 14, a black Mongolian lamb fur collar. I was absolutely hooked and spent my high school years hoarding vintage furs and going on the occasional modern fur splurge. To me, there is really no feeling like wearing a piece of fur. No other material makes me feel so safe and warm, but expensive and luxurious at the same time. I also love that items of fur clothing are often the ones that last the longest and are handed down through generations.
As a student at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I've had experiences I never dreamed I'd have, particularly all of the specialized classes I've had the privilege of taking, such as corsetry, shoemaking, and fur design. In my senior year, I have been extremely interested in material discovery, such as python, crocodile, leather, and my favorite, fur.
I have really enjoyed learning about all of the hard sewing and detail work that goes into building a fur coat. I have always been drawn to fur and fur work by the plethora of Old World techniques, like hand stitching, pick-stitching organza back in, and twill tape, tailoring, and letting out. As a shoemaker as well as a fur designer, all Old World techniques really excite me and fur is most definitely included.
I was thrilled at the beginning of my last semester to get a call that a spot was available on the "Fur Futures" trip happening in Toronto in the spring. I immediately said yes, and before I knew it, I had landed in Toronto airport and was on my way.
The opportunity to participate in Fur Futures has truly changed my life's direction. It gave me the chance to travel with seven other creative individuals all involved in the fur industry, including designers, farmers, tanners, retailers, and manufacturers. I was truly thrilled with the level of conversation fostered by such an extremely diverse group. As the only student participating, my colleagues gave me invaluable advice like not pursuing a typical fashion job but instead focusing on a specialised area like accessories, shoes or fur.
Fur Futures has also changed my outlook on the fur industry. We visited a mink farm outside Toronto to view in person the extremely high standards enforced in North America. I was thrilled to see just how healthy the animals were, and to meet the farmers and discover that most fur farms are family-run businesses, often many generations old. I was even more thrilled to learn how green fur farming is. I had always thought that with mink, just the fur was used and nothing else. Now I understand that every part of the animal is put to use, from fur to manure, being that the animal is fed such a healthy diet. Nothing goes to waste. I now feel confident standing behind fur and speaking with authority to those who may not be so supportive of fur.
We also attended a sale at North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), one of the largest in North America. Meeting with the graders from NAFA was a mind-blowing experience. I am so used to walking into a fur store or furrier and trusting that I am purchasing the highest quality; I had no idea that there are dozens of different levels of quality, especially in the case of mink. Being that fur can be controversial, I am thrilled to learn anything I can about the animals themselves, as well as any other information I can soak up.
This trip has meant a great deal to me. Being a part of Fur Futures has given me not only an opportunity to expand my knowledge, but also to broaden my network with so many new connections with wonderful people. As a designer using a sometimes-controversial material such as fur, I believe it is imperative that I understand where it comes from as well as the ethics.
After my experiences with Fur Futures, I stand proudly behind my work, knowing that fur is ethical as well as a natural product that has been around since the beginning of time. I fully intend to continue using fur and hope that other designers using fur will be able to have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of where it comes from.
I personally own fur pieces from 60 to 70 years ago, and can only hope that my own fur designs will withstand the test of time. Although fur may not be everyone's cup of tea, the choice belongs to the wearer and no one else.
Neal Jotham has played a central role in promoting animal welfare through Canada’s world-leading trap research and testing program for… Read More
Neal Jotham has played a central role in promoting animal welfare through Canada’s world-leading trap research and testing program for the past 50 years. From his first voluntary efforts with the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping (1965-1977) and as executive director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (1977-1984), to chairing the scientific and technical sub-committee of the Federal-Provincial Committee for Humane Trapping (1974-81) and ISO Technical Committee 191 (1987-1997), to serving as Coordinator, Humane Trapping Programs for Environment Canada's Canadian Wildlife Service (1984-1998), and his continuing work as advisor to the Fur Institute of Canada, Neal has been a driving force. At times mistrusted by animal-welfare advocates and trappers alike, he always remained true to his original goal: to improve the animal-welfare aspects of trapping. Truth About Fur’s senior researcher Alan Herscovici asked Neal to tell us about his remarkable career as Canada’s most persistent humane-trapping proponent.
Truth About Fur: Tell us how you first got involved in working to improve the animal-welfare aspects of trapping.
Neal Jotham: It was 1965, the year the Artek film launched the seal hunt debate. I was concerned about what I saw and wrote a letter to the Fisheries Minister. A colleague – I was an architectural technologist – suggested that I send my letter to a group concerned about trapping methods, the Canadian Association for Humane Trapping (CAHT). I was invited to one of their meetings and met some wonderful volunteers including the legendary Lloyd Cook, who was then president of the Ontario Trappers Association (OTA).
Lloyd was a kind and gentle man, mentoring boy scouts about survival in the woods and introducing the first trapper training programs in Ontario. Once he rescued two beaver kits from a forest fire and raised them in his bathtub until they were old enough to release into the wild. He invited the CAHT to set up an information booth at the OTA annual convention, and he took me onto his trap line, near Barrie, Ontario.
Lloyd and I discussed how great it would be to do some proper research about how to minimize stress and injury to trapped animals. I thought it would be quite a simple matter. Little did I know that it would occupy the better part of the next 50 years of my life.
TaF: So you got involved with the CAHT?
Jotham: I was asked to serve as voluntary vice-president of administration, in charge of publicity and communications. Our main priority was to make the governments, industry and the public aware of the need for animal welfare improvements in trapping, because very few people were even talking about trapping at the time.
TaF: How did you go about raising awareness?
Jotham: We produced brochures explaining the need for improvements. We never called for a ban on trapping – we recognised the cultural, economic and ecological importance – but we were honest about the suffering the old traps could cause and the need for change.
In 1968, because governments and industry were still not engaged, CAHT joined with the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) to establish the first multi-disciplinary trap-research program at McMaster University (to look at the engineering aspects of traps) and Guelph University (to investigate the biological factors).
In 1969, we were contacted by an Alberta trapper and wildlife photographer named Ed Cesar. He had ideas for new trap designs and also wanted to make a film about trapping that he hoped could be televised. CAHT asked if he could film animals being caught in traps, which he did.
CAHT purchased three minutes of this film and I showed it at a federal/provincial/territorial wildlife directors conference in Yellowknife, in July 1970. That resulted in an immediate $10,000 donation to the CFHS/CAHT pilot project from Mr. Charles Wilson, CEO of the Hudson’s Bay Company, then based in Winnipeg, and some smaller donations too.
TaF: But the governments still weren’t involved?
Jotham: No, so we went public. CAHT added narration and sound to the film, titled it They Take So Long to Die, and showed it on Take-30, a CBC current affairs show. That got attention, all right! In 1972, we were invited to a Federal-Provincial Wildlife Conference where we were criticized for “hurting trappers”. We explained that we just wanted to make trapping more humane, we had only broadcast the film because government wasn’t listening.
TaF: How did trappers feel about your efforts?
Jotham: Many trappers understood what we were saying. In fact, Frank Conibear, a NWT trapper, had been working on new designs since the late 1920s, and by the 1950s produced a working model of the quick-killing trap that still carries his name. He got the idea from his wife’s egg-beater, the concept of “rotating frames”: if an animal walked into a big egg-beater and you turned the handle fast enough, it would be there to stay, he figured.
The Association for the Protection of Furbearing Animals (APFA) paid to make 50 prototypes of Conibear’s design and, in 1956, Eric Collier of the British Columbia Trappers Association supported field testing and promoted the new traps in Outdoor Life magazine. Lloyd Cook was another trapping leader who wrote positively about the new traps, and the CAHT offered to exchange old leg-hold traps for the new killing devices, for free.
In 1958, Frank Conibear gave his patent to the Animal Trap Company of America (later Woodstream Corporation), in Lititz, Pennsylvania – for royalties – and a light-weight, quick-killing trap became widely available for the first time. The Anti-Steel Trap League (that became Defenders of Wildlife in the 1950s) had been sounding the alarm about cruel traps since 1929, but it was trappers who did much of the earliest work.
TaF: So trappers associations supported efforts to improve traps?
Jotham: Several did. In the old days, trappers had been very jealous about guarding their secrets; you could only learn the tricks of the trade if you found an older trapper to take you under his wing. But with the emergence of associations, trappers began to share more information. They realized that everyone could benefit if trapping methods were improved. Effective quick-killing traps improved animal-welfare, of course, but they also prevented damage to the fur sometimes caused when animals struggled in holding traps. And trappers did not have to check their lines every day, like they did with live-holding (foothold) traps.
TaF: And you finally succeeded in getting the government involved?
Jotham: Yes, we did. In 1973 the creation of the ad-hoc “Federal-Provincial Committee for Humane Trapping” (FPCHT) was announced.
A five-year program was launched in 1974, with work to be done at McMaster University, in Hamilton, and at the University of Guelph, where our CFHS/CAHT pilot project had started.
I was asked to act as executive director and to chair the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee, because we had already made some real progress in developing methodology and technology to evaluate how traps really work. For example, measuring velocities and clamping forces and other mechanical aspects of traps. In fact, at McMaster we made some important improvements to Frank Conibear’s rotating-jaw, quick-kill traps that are still used today.
TaF: And what happened to your film?
Jotham: When the government committed to funding the FPCHT we cancelled plans to distribute our film more widely. Meanwhile, we learned that Ed Caesar had staged some of the “trap line” scenes; he indicated in a letter that he had live-captured some of the animals and placed them into traps so he could film them.
Some people were disappointed that we had withdrawn our film, and the Association for the Protection of Furbearing Animals (APFA) decided to continue their campaign: they used Caesar’s staged images to make a new film, Canada’s Shame, narrated by TV celebrity Bruno Gerussi. The APFA (aka: FurBearer Defenders) has given up any pretense of working to improve trapping methods; they now oppose any use of fur. Their current position brings to mind the comment by American philosopher George Santayana: “Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”
TaF: So what did the FPCHT research program achieve?
Jotham: It was 1975 by the time it really got rolling, and the final report was made in June, 1981, in Charlottetown. Over that period, not only were existing traps evaluated, but a call went out to inventors to submit new trapping designs. 348 submissions were received, over 90 per cent of them from trappers! All these ideas were evaluated and 16 were retained as having real humane potential. But the FPCHT was still an ad hoc project; it was becoming clear that a more formal body would be needed to direct on-going trap research and development. So, in 1983, the federal and provincial governments agreed to create the Fur Institute of Canada (FIC), with members from government, industry and animal-welfare groups.
TaF: How did you get involved with the new Fur Institute of Canada?
Jotham: In 1977, I had become the first full-time Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS), where I had a wide range of responsibilities, but of course I remained very interested in trapping. So I was pleased to serve on the founding committee of the FIC, and then to be hired by the Canadian Wildlife Service (Environment Canada) to manage the government’s funding contributions to the FIC’s newly established trap research and testing program. Initially, the Government of Canada committed $450,000 annually for three years to get things started, and this was matched by the London-based International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF).
TaF: What was new about the Fur Institute of Canada’s program?
Jotham: First, we established of the world’s first state-of-the-art trap-research facility in Vegreville, Alberta, which includes a testing compound in a natural setting. All our testing protocols were approved by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), the same group that approves animal research protocols in Canadian universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical laboratories.
In 1995, another dramatic breakthrough was made: the researchers had collected enough data to develop algorithms that allowed evaluation of the humane potential of traps without using animals at all; we can now analyse the trap’s mechanical properties with computer simulation models. This made it unnecessary to capture, transport and house thousands of wild animals – while saving millions of dollars.
Jotham: Canadian research was vital for the AIHTS. We had begun working on trapping standards as early as 1981, with the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB), and by 1984 we had the first standard for killing traps. But with calls growing in Europe for a ban on leg-hold traps – and because virtually every country in the world uses trapping for various purposes – the CGSB suggested that there was a need for an international standard. To this end, ISO Technical Committee 191, of the International Organization for Standardization, was established in 1987, with yours truly as the first Chairman.
Our timing was good; by 1991, a EU Directive was being proposed that would not only ban the use of “leg-hold” traps in Europe, but would also block the import of most commercially-traded wild furs from any country that had not done the same. Because the stated goal of the legislation was to promote animal welfare – and because all EU member states permit the trapping of animals with methods basically the same as those used in Canada – Canadian diplomats succeeded in having the EU Directive amended to admit furs from countries using traps that “meet international humane trapping standards”.
The problem was that no such standards existed yet, and animal activists on ISO Technical Committee 191 refused to allow the word “humane” to be used in our documents. The deadlock was resolved by agreeing that ISO would develop only the trap-testing methodology, leaving it to individual governments to decide what animal-welfare thresholds they would require.
In 1995, the governments of the EU and the major wild-fur producing countries (Canada, the USA and Russia) developed the AIHTS, which was signed in 1997, and ratified by Canada in 1998. (For constitutional reasons, the US signed a similar but separate “Agreed Minute”.) The AIHTS explicitly requires that ISO trap-testing methodology must be used to test traps.
TaF: What are the main contributions of the AIHTS?
Jotham: The AIHTS is the world’s first international agreement on animal welfare, I think we can be very proud of that. Concerns about the humaneness of trapping that had been raised since the 1920s, are now being addressed seriously and responsibly. And, of course, the Agreement kept EU markets open for wild fur; Article 13 states that the parties will not use trade bans to resolve disputes, so long as the AIHTS is being applied. In other words, science and research, not trade bans, will be used to promote animal welfare. This is a very positive development.
Jotham: It is wonderful that the trapping community has embraced animal-welfare so strongly. And the award is very gratifying personally, of course, especially when I remember how suspicious some trappers were when I first arrived at the FIC. They were convinced that I was an activist mole, while many of my old animal-welfare friends thought that I had “sold out” to the fur industry. But whether I was with the CAHT, the CFHS, the CWS or the FIC, I was always pursuing the same goal: to make trapping as humane as possible. It was a long road, but we succeeded in bringing all the stakeholders to the table to seriously address this important challenge. I think we can be very proud of what we have achieved together.
One of the most insulting and insidious lies spread by animal activists is that animals are “skinned alive” for their… Read More
One of the most insulting and insidious lies spread by animal activists is that animals are “skinned alive” for their fur. The origins of this vicious lie go back fully 50 years, to the first seal-hunt protests, and those charges were soon proved to be false, as we will explain soon.
Ten years ago, the old myth was revived – this time about Asiatic raccoons. Since then, activists have become more and more extravagant, claiming (and, no doubt, believing) that rabbits, mink and other species are also treated cruelly, including being skinned alive.
One of the main goals of Truth About Fur is to debunk falsehoods about the fur industry, so let's make something perfectly clear: Animals are NOT skinned alive for their fur. Period.
Here are some of the reasons why it is absolutely ridiculous to even suggest it.
1. It would be completely inhumane
Contrary to what activists would have us believe, most farmers take great pride in what they do; they take good care of their animals and treat them with respect. After all, their livelihoods depend on these animals, and the only way to produce the high quality of mink and fox for which North America is known is by providing them with excellent nutrition and care. When you work hard to care for animals – seven days a week, 52 weeks a year – you certainly don’t want to see them suffer.
It is therefore completely ignorant (and insulting) to claim that farmers would treat their animals with cruelty. They certainly would never skin an animal alive!
If respect for the animals and normal compassion were not enough to ensure that animals are not skinned alive, the farmer's self-interest would be. A live and conscious animal will move, putting the farmer at risk of being bitten or scratched or cut with his own knife – creating a real risk of infection or disease transmission.
Why would anyone expose themselves to such risks by skinning a live animal? The answer, of course, is that they don't!
3. It would take longer and be less efficient
We've already explained the dangers of skinning a live animal – only common sense when you think about it – but let's also take a moment to consider how difficult it would be.
Farming is a business and, like in most businesses, it is important to be efficient. Clearly it must be faster to skin an animal after it's been euthanized. It is also important to understand that the skinning of a mink or other fur animal must be done very carefully, to avoid nicks and other damage that would lower the value of the fur.
So, again, why would anyone skin a live animal? Quite apart from the cruelty, it would make no business sense whatsoever.
4. It would spoil the fur
While activists like to accuse farmers of being greedy ("killing animals for profit!"), they don't seem to understand that skinning animals alive would work against the farmer's financial interest.
Today’s international markets are very competitive. The amount you earn for your fur is determined by a number of factors including pelt size, fur quality, colour ... and damage. But the heart of a live animal would be beating and pumping blood; attempting to skin a live animal would therefore unnecessarily stain the fur. Yet another reason why animals are not skinned alive.
5. It's illegal
In North America, Europe, and most other regions it is illegal to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal. Skinning an animal alive is therefore not only inhumane and immoral – it's clearly illegal. Yet another reason why animals are not skinned alive.
But what about that video?
Activists frequently cite a horrific video taken in a village somewhere in China as "proof" that animals are skinned alive in the fur industry. When this video was first shown, in 2005, fur industry officials contacted the European animal-protection group that released it. They asked for a complete, uncut version of the video, as well as for information about when and where it was filmed, so a proper investigation could be conducted.
Unfortunately, the activists refused to provide this information. Strange.
If animal welfare was really their goal, wouldn’t you think they would want a full investigation? And if this was really common practice, why has there never been another video showing this type of cruelty? (Even PETA now concedes skinning alive is not common practice, but still insists it happens on fur farms because workers are rushed. In fact, euthanized mink and other farmed fur animals are usually laid out on the wire tops of their pens to cool thoroughly before pelting; otherwise the fur can be damaged or fall out after tanning.)
Combined with the facts outlined above, the only reasonable conclusion is that the cruel actions shown in this video were staged for the camera. That would be a sick thing to do, but it wouldn’t be the first time.
The film that launched the first anti-seal hunt campaigns, in 1964, showed a live seal being poked with a knife – “skinned alive”, the activists cried! But a few years later the hunter, Gustave Poirier, testified under oath to a Canadian Parliamentary committee of enquiry that he had been paid by the film-makers to poke at the live seal, something he said he would otherwise never have done. [For more on this, see Alan Herscovici's book, Second Nature: The Animal-Rights Controversy (CBC 1985; General Publishing, 1991), pg 76.]
The moral of the story? No matter how you look at it, even from the perspective of self-interest and "greed", it is ridiculous to claim that animals are skinned alive. Now you know. And so do our activist friends who monitor these pages.
When you are a passionate fur lover and working with a fur organization, you find yourselves fighting many battles against… Read More
When you are a passionate fur lover and working with a fur organization, you find yourselves fighting many battles against animal rights activists. I loathe animal rights activists. But I loathe to loathe animal rights activists, because who wants to be against any organization that purports to protect animals’ rights? Don’t we all want animals to have rights that are respected?
The problem with today’s “animal rights” groups is that their arguments are extreme. They aren’t interested in improving the lives of farmed animals, investing in continued development of better trapping techniques, supporting zoos who ensure the survival of endangered species and who participate in valuable breeding programs, working with scientists to ensure that animals used for scientific research are treated the best way possible, or re-housing abandoned animals. Instead, they want to completely ban all animal farming, trapping, zoos, pets, animal testing, leather, meat, fur, and fish. There is no middle ground for them, and I find it really annoying.
Activists don’t understand that farmers, trappers, and all of us involved in the fur industry care deeply about animals and their welfare. Veterinarians and researchers around the world have studied the techniques and systems used in farming and trapping for the fur industry and can attest to the high standards that almost every single farmer and trapper achieve. Many of us love fur because we love the land and animals. We want to preserve the land and animals and we know that in wearing natural fibres and using sustainable natural resources we are contributing towards the protection of the earth, rather than wearing throw away fashion made from non-renewable synthetics. There is no doubt that living off the land with respect to sustainability is the best thing way we could live, and that includes consumption of animals.
When I argue these things with activists, they think it is black and white. Either you kill animals, or you don’t. But it is not that at all. I am vehemently against the poor treatment of animals in farms. I’ve re-evaluated all my opinions on animal use. Personally I am not comfortable with the use of animals for entertainment or sport, including rodeos, dog shows, horse “sports,” and hunting for sport where the “catch” is not used for its skin and/or food. I buy all my meat from countries whose farming standards are extremely high (this is easy because I live in Sweden and the farming standards here are ridiculously high), and I am extremely conscious about sourcing when buying animal products (for example, leather.) In fact, my buying habits, aside from fur, are probably in line with the ways most activists shop themselves, as a large majority of them are not living vegan lives.
So why isn’t there a group to support this conscientious majority? Where are the “animal rights” activists whose mandate is to care for animals and ensure their well being, without pushing an unrealistic agenda that demands the cessation of consumption of all animals and animal by-products around the world?
This is the time of year for giving, and I would love to find a reputable charity whose mandate is to improve the lives of animals, while respecting the fact that they are one of the world’s most valuable resources. The World Wildlife Fund does an excellent job at protecting wildlife while supporting sustainable use principles, but I’d like to see farmed animals getting the respect they deserve too, all around the world. I want to see a group that supports the sustainable use of animals, while protecting them from unnecessary harm. That is what animal rights should be about.
In this age of “shock imagery” being used to promote political agendas, it’s easy to paint an entire industry by… Read More
In this age of “shock imagery” being used to promote political agendas, it’s easy to paint an entire industry by the actions of a single actor. As the fur farming industry well knows, a suspect undercover video produced in China almost 10 years ago, of an animal being horribly skinned alive, is still being used to paint the industry worldwide. Though the creators of that undercover video have refused to provide the un-cut footage, identify the perpetrators so they can be prosecuted (yes, it is a crime in China) or even reveal the location or time it was made, they still try to use it as “proof” that fur production should be outlawed.
Today we continue to find that animal-rights groups, in their efforts to ban animals from our diet, clothing, medical research and pet stores, are increasingly using undercover video as “whistleblower” evidence of cruelty or neglect.
No one, especially those of us whose livelihoods depend upon healthy, well-cared for animals, wants to see an animal injured or treated badly. U.S. mink farmers, and, indeed, all animal agriculture, not only view animal welfare as a moral obligation, but know that humane care is critical to producing the quality food and fiber that America is recognized for.
Fur Commission USA supports both “whistleblower” protection laws and farm protection statutes. While extremists, often through deceit and creative editing, continue to generate and distribute shock imagery that supports their world-view, it is important to farmers in the U.S. that credible evidence of actual abuse or neglect is identified in a timely manner, and reported to the proper government authorities for investigation so that any problems can be immediately corrected. It is, and should be, all about the well-being of the animals.
Too often we see these anti-animal use groups hold back their “evidence” in order to receive maximum media coverage. They don’t want pesky issues like war, disease or human suffering to take attention away from their agenda.
Does this help the animals? No. In fact, between the time an undercover video may actually have been taken, edited and broadcast, months may have gone by. In that time, if the video is a true depiction, how much animal suffering could have been prevented?
Regrettably, it is painfully obvious that often these organizations appear to care less about the animals than they do about maximizing publicity, self-promotion and fund raising – and that should be the real crime.