The following article first appeared in Sustainable eNews, Feb/March 2006, published by IWMC World Conservation Trust, and is reproduced with permission.
The Return of Fur
It was noticeable how many athletes proudly wore fur at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. This seems to reflect a step change in public attitudes towards the wearing of animal skins. Romanians, Russians, Norwegians, New Zealanders, Italians and Mongolians all looked warm and comfortable sporting fur, if you pardon the pun.
Public opposition to fur once was one of the most symbolic protest campaigns, as high profile models were recruited to the cause and consumers were shocked, shamed and cajoled into choosing alternatives.
For those leading the campaigns, all utilization of animals is unethical. Many of the protesters have promoted their vegetarianism alongside their anti-fur credentials. To most consumers, however, the argument against fur poses the far less clear ethical dilemma of whether it is less acceptable to breed and kill animals for their skins, than it is for their meat.
That furs are increasingly being worn again by young people, suggests that the ethical case against fur has not been made. In the U.S., more than half of all furs are bought by people under the age of 44. To many, fur is a desirable luxury good. Sales in Canada and the U.S. reached $2 billion in 2005 while global sales increased by 9.1 per cent to nearly $13 billion.
Over 400 of the world’s top fashion designers now use furs.
Environmentalist groups tend to define their campaign issues in terms of moral choices, usually advocating what we or other people shouldn’t do. They tell us what we shouldn’t eat, wear, display in our homes, drive, how we shouldn’t generate our electricity and what we shouldn’t do to secure further medical advances.
Yet the positive impact on conservation that comes from a regulated fur industry is undeniable. Fur is a renewable resource. Trappers undertaking wild harvests have always worked to conserve natural wildlife habitats. They hunt beaver, mink, muskrat, raccoon, coyote, marten, fisher and fox according to seasons and scientifically calculated quotas. Their sustainable hunts help prevent the spread of disease and protect habitats from the negative consequences of overpopulation.
As new urban developments flourish, they also reduce the propensity for unregulated conflict between humans and local wildlife.
As they seek to impose their moral values on society, environmentalist groups often tout alternatives that are supposedly as good as, if not better, for us.
Heather McCartney displayed her plastic boots on U.S. television recently, to prove my point.
In all cases, however, the alternatives carry consequences of their own. In the case of faux fur, alternative textiles require chemicals and petroleum products to be manufactured and transported, creating waste that has to be disposed of and risking accidents. Similar processes are needed to create plastics.
Of course, these activities are attacked by environmentalists too.
It is unlikely that the athletes in Turin gave much thought to all these issues. That they didn’t suggests that the influence of political correctness has become a diminished commodity in the fur industry. Users of wildlife need to work together to keep things that way.