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Ethical fur - is there a way?

January 30, 2015

ethical fur

Using animal textiles

Fur, like leather and sheepskin, comes from the skin of an animal (unlike wool which is the sheared hair of an animal which remains alive).  When categorizing at an animal textile, the first broad split is around why the animal was killed - whether for food (using the skin as a by-product) or for fur (using the meat as a by-product).  Some people are only comfortable with the former as they find it frivolous to kill an animal for fashion.  In my opinion, as long as you use all of the animal, I do not see an ethical delineation.  Animal feed, pet food and rendered oil are by-products of the fur farming industry.  There are others who think no use of animals is acceptable, for example vegans, and with that view no animal product can be ethical - food or textile.

The next broad split is farmed fur versus wild fur. 

Wild fur 

You can of course also use wild animals for fur e.g. coyote fur trim on sports jackets.  I think the use of wild fur is analogous to fishing, where the bar is set at harvesting sustainably.  Sustainable fur harvesting, like fishing, means three things to me

  1. The species is not endangered 
  2. The population the animal comes from is defined as healthy, via criteria such as number of breeding adults 
  3. The catch method is humane and does not damage the surrounding ecosystem

So, where I use wild fur, it must be shot rather than trapped and must come from a sustainable population (which in practice means having a government agency issued permit for the pelt).  It goes without saying that we would not use fur from an endangered or over-targeted species.  Lists of such species are published by the IUCN.

Farmed fur 

The fur debate concentrates on the world of farmed fur, where there has been considerable campaigning.  Farmed fur is analogous to farmed meat but with a lot less evidence based scrutiny (it tends to focus on specific examples of animal cruelty and ignore examples of good practice) and no credible global traceability standard.  By contrast, the UK meat industry is well developed in terms of farm standards and traceability, although nothing is perfect - take the horse meat scandal for example.  

In the case of farmed fur the problem is that it is produced in many different countries and traded through continental auction houses - you easily lose sight of where it's come from and farms with poor standards can merge their products into the global supply chain.  This in not the case with meat, for example in the UK you can look for a label denoting good farm standards, such as Farm Assured or RSPCA Freedom Food; even with no label you know it has met minimum EU standards on criteria such as cage size, enrichment (perches), floor covering, travel time to abattoir, time without food before slaughter, slaughter method etc.  With fur this does not exist (yet).   With fur, it could have come from a farm like this one in Denmark; but it could also have come from a farm like the ones in fur lobby film clips or someone on the poverty line in China raising a raccoon in their garden and then killing it to sell for its fur.   

This lack of a globally recognized standard means there are instances of poor animal welfare in fur farming which campaigning organizations do a good job of calling out where they can.  I think it's worth noting that there are similar examples in the meat farming industry, e.g. the pig abuse at Cheale Meats' abattoir in the UK; so even when fur has a similar system in place to meat, there will still be isolated examples of poor welfare which slip through the net.

Can you get acceptable farmed fur? 

In the case of fur farming, the solution is to use only fur from farms which have the right standards in place and a traceability system to assure the fur is from one of those farms - just as you do when you eat meat.  For example, for Tallis products I only use farmed fur from SAGA farms in Finland (they have standards like those we expect in meat farms).  If you buy any old fur, you don't know how the animal lived and died, there is no minimum EU criteria in the case of fur.  The lesson is, if you buy fur, only buy from a trusted retailer or brand who has made a commitment about where their fur is from.  Read the label and read the company website.  That's what I tried to do and a few years ago realized there are hardly any brands doing it right - hence why I set up Tallis.

Sourcing at Tallis 

Because fur farming is tricky, I actually only use one type of fur from a fur farm, it is the SAGA Finn Raccoon.  The rest of my fur is either reclaimed (from a wild animal population being killed anyway e.g possum), meat by-product (sheepskin), remanufactured vintage or pre-consumer surplus (recovered trimmings).  

This page gives more information on the fur I consider acceptable and why

Looking forward

In my opinion, the long term view has to be to move fur farming in line with meat farming: set up a standard which covers animal welfare as well as environmental and social considerations; and couple it with a credible traceability system so that consumers can track the provenance of the fur they are considering buying.  With the consumer's buying power behind them, farmers, manufacturers and brands will be incentivised to move production onto a more responsible footing.  The fur industry is already on this track, with various initiatives under way, and it needs support to continue in the right direction.  This approach works in other industries, take a look at these industries (and standards): wild fish (MSC), palm oil (RSPO), soy (RTRS), cotton (BCI), timber (FSC), coffee (4C), sugar (Bonsucro).


- Lilly Milligan Gilbert, Tallis Founder -  Geneva 30 January 2015


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