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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Consumers Deserve the Truth in Fur Labeling

Over the past few years, The Humane Society of the United States has conducted a series of investigations revealing widespread deception in the fur fashion industry. Dozens of well-known retailers and designers sold fur-trimmed jackets advertised as “faux” fur, but laboratory testing concluded that the fur was from animals, including from dogs and raccoon dogs—a member of the canine family raised in factory farms and skinned alive in China to feed this trade.

raccoon dog In response to national outrage, and exposés of the issue on programs such as “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show,” many retailers and designers did the right thing and adopted corporate policy changes to address the problems of false advertising, mislabeling or no labeling. JC Penney, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, Foot Locker and went fur-free, so that consumers can have the highest level of confidence in what they are buying. Andrew Marc, Michael Kors, Sean John, Sierra Trading Post, Donna Karan, and Rocawear pledged to stop using raccoon dog fur, curbing the cruel killing of animals resembling wild dogs.

But there are still outliers in the industry, and when the marketplace fails to protect consumers, lawmakers and enforcement agencies need to set things right. The HSUS has filed a lawsuit against a number of major retailers including Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue for engaging in false advertising and mislabeling of fur garments. HSUS and HSLF have been working to pass fur labeling laws at the state and federal levels—Delaware and New York recently passed measures, joining Massachusetts and Wisconsin (which passed theirs in the 1940s) as states that protect consumers from fraudulent fur selling. The New Jersey state Assembly passed a fur labeling bill that is now advancing through the Senate, while the Maryland state Senate also passed a measure this year that failed to make it through the House.

But commerce in fashion and retail are national and even global in scope, and we need a federal standard to level the playing field. Fur-trimmed jackets imported from China will be sold from Chicago to Dallas to Los Angeles. With the technological advances in synthetic fur, and the dyeing of animal fur colors like pink and green to make it look fake, even the most careful and knowledgable shoppers often can’t tell the difference simply by visually inspecting the material. Especially when consumers purchase designer jackets over the Internet, they have no choice but to trust the retailer’s statements about those garments.

Fox That’s why the U.S. Congress should swiftly pass the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, introduced this week by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in the Senate and Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) in the House. The bill would close a loophole in the federal fur labeling law which currently allows many fur-trimmed garments to be sold without labels. Since the 1950s, any fur garment sold in the U.S. has had to include a label indicating the species of animal used and the country of origin, but there’s a gaping loophole in the law that excludes fur-trimmed garments if the value of the fur is $150 or less. At current pelt prices, that means a jacket could have fur on its collar or cuffs from 30 rabbits ($5 each), nine chinchillas ($16 each), three foxes ($50 each), or three raccoon dogs ($45 each), and be sold without a label. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that one in every seven fur garments doesn’t require labeling.

Imagine if one in every seven medicine bottles or food packages didn’t have a label, especially if you avoid certain foods or medicines because of allergies or religious reasons. Consumers making well-informed decisions based on complete information is a cornerstone of a functioning market economy. Shoppers who may have allergies to fur, ethical objections to fur, or concern about the use of certain species, cannot make informed purchasing choices due to this gap in the current law.

It’s time for fur-trimmed jackets, parkas, sweaters, vests, and accessories to meet the same federal standard as other fur garments, and provide the same important product information that’s already required six times out of seven. Ask your members of Congress to support the Truth in Fur Labeling Act, S. 1076 and H.R. 2480, to protect shoppers from having the fur pulled over their eyes.


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