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Fur Fashion Dilemmas: Sustainable Product or Animal Cruelty?

Over the past twenty years, the wearing of fur has provoked some hot debate, with PETA often leading the assault against fur farmers and fur wearers alike. SO it’s no surprise to learn that PETA recently launched an attack on none other than Ms. Elizabeth Hurley, British actress and the new face of American fur house Blackglama.

The photographs of Hurley, many of which feature the actress clad in nothing but her own skin and a fur coat, have sparked much controversy and induced continued debate about the wearing of fur. PETA’s anti-fur stance is well known. During the 1990s, campaigns such as PETA’s ‘I’d rather go naked than wear fur’ brought the ethical issues with fur production well and truly into the public consciousness.

Subsequently, the wearing and production of fur and other controversial animal products such as sealskin fell out of favor. But recently there seems to have been a turning of the tables. Fur farmers, fashionistas and fur fans alike have begun to hit back with a new angle, claiming that fur is environmentally friendly and sustainable, and as such should be seen as an acceptable clothing choice.

However, Hurley isn’t the only celebrity to have recently provoked outrage for wearing animal products. ‘Greenie’ Gwyneth Paltrow – wife of Fair Trade fanatic Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, and herself an eco-friendly champion – was also recently photographed sporting a prominent fur stole as part of an advertising campaign for an Italian fashion house that also uses snakeskin, fox fur and ostrich products.

Paltrow has since apologised to PETA and its supporters for her ‘indiscretion’, claiming that she “didn’t notice” the fur stole being draped over her shoulders by the stylist on the shoot. But interestingly, Hurley – who owns an organic farm in the UK – has declined to comment on her decision to model for Blackglama.

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Many that are pro-fur are happy to back the argument that fur is a sustainable, eco-friendly material; particularly in contrast to the petrochemical-based faux furs and fur alternatives currently available. They also claim that fur farms in the West operate under stringent welfare laws, and that banning the farming of fur will mean that suppliers will look elsewhere, where farming standards are not as well regulated. In addition, there is also the argument that wearing vintage fur is a means of recycling.

Whilst in some respects wearing vintage fur could be seen as ethical for the planet, can one really still wear fur, new or vintage, with a clear conscience? On the other hand, what about those countries, such as Iceland and Greenland, who have a significant population whose livelihood depends on the fur industry?

The fact is that many people are still struggling with the notion of ‘ethical fur’ production. Does such a thing really exist? The horrific videos released by PETA and other animal welfare groups may not represent every single fur farm currently in operation. But the fact that these devastatingly sad pieces of footage exist is testament to the fact that even with regulation, animals continue suffer in the name of vanity, some would say unnecessarily.

Because after all, the vast majority of people can get away without wearing fur, and perhaps more importantly have no real need to wear it. Likewise, essentially faux fur is just a fashion fix. We could easily do without it.

For some people the question is a purely ethical one – welfare vs. vanity. However the debate often extends to the difference between wearing leather – for the most part, a bi-product of the meat industry – and wearing fur. Can people who consume meat really have a leg to stand on when protesting about the use of fur in fashion? 

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Another pro-fur argument centres around population and environmental control. For instance, the fur of possums in New Zealand can be a bi-product of a ‘vermin’ control programme, due to the vast number of non-indigenous possums that are currently wreaking havoc on native flora and fauna, and agricultural land.. If these animals are going to be ‘destroyed’ anyway, does the fact that they’ve lived a free life, and the fact that their pelts will then be used, make wearing their fur any more acceptable?

Is ‘wild’ fur any more ethical or environmentally friendly than farmed fur? And if demand for fur increased, would the methods used to trap or kill greater numbers of wild animals for their fur become more or less efficient (read: quick and painless death)?

Similarly, if the demand for fur increases, then by default so too does the number of animals killed for their fur. Typically, a mink fur coat will be made from around 50 mink pelts. So we can assume greater acceptance of fur farming by mainstream society will lead to a greater demand. But surely if the food industry is anything to go by, when demand and ‘output’ increases, ultimately it is not the welfare of the animal that suffers? Think: battery hens, white meat veal calves and gestation-crate imprisoned pigs, just as a few examples.

All victims of our supposedly highly-regulated ‘efficient’ meat industry. And in environmental terms, more fur farms would surely equate to greater volumes of animal feed, animal waste and sewerage? Sustainable fur may be, but ethical and environmentally-friendly? I’m not so sure I’ll ever be won over by that argument.

 

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