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'Animal Fur Is Obsolete': Lawmakers Push Bills to Ban Sales in California, Hawaii and NYC

Politics
Animal rights activists urged Black Friday shoppers to stop buying fur-related products on Nov. 25, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

By Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec

In the 1980's and 90's, fur activists were mocked and viewed in the mainstream as a radical nuisance, embodied by a stereotype of dousing wearers of fur coats in red paint. Since then, undercover investigations and campaigns targeting leading fashion corporations have swayed public opinion against the use of fur in the fashion industry, and lawmakers have started to respond with proposals to ban its sale and manufacturing.


West Hollywood, California was the first city in the U.S. to pass a fur ban in 2011. Berkeley followed in 2017, with San Francisco passing their own fur ban in March 2018 and Los Angeles, the largest city to ban fur, passing the sale and manufacturing of fur within city limits in September 2018. As cities in California have led the way to banning fur in the U.S., a bill in the state assembly was recently proposed that would ban the sale and manufacturing of animal fur throughout the state of California.

"The City of Los Angeles has just gone through their process to ban the sale of fur, San Francisco had already done it and several other cities, so I felt it was time to have the conversation at the state level," said California Assemblymember Laura Friedman, the author of the legislation, AB44, which passed a vote in the appropriations committee and will likely reach a floor vote within a few weeks. "We have a lot of evidence and heard from clothing manufacturers that it's nearly impossible to find out whether the fur was sourced for clothing is raised in a humane way."

In the U.S., the animal fur industry is widely unregulated and receives little to no oversight from the government. The results of this lack of transparency have been uncovered in recent investigations of animal fur farms in the U.S.

"The secrecy of the fur industry, and the secrecy they're allowed by law enables them to have so much cruelty within their industry," said Lewis Bernier, an activist with the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). In 2018, Bernier led an investigation of a chinchilla fur farm in Ohio. Dxe declined to disclose the exact name, location of the farm or dates of the investigation due to legal concerns. "The cages were very tightly packed, row to row, wall to wall, with open cage designs so the ones on the bottom were being defecated and urinated on by the chinchillas on top of them. There was cannibalization and no way they were being provided necessary medical care."

This cruelty and secrecy within the animal fur industry has driven consumer demand for cruelty-free products within the fashion industry, as leading fashion brands have stopped using animal fur. Gucci banned animal fur in 2017, as its CEO called it "outdated." Michael Kors phased out using fur in December 2018. Versace announced its ban in March 2018. Chanel banned animal furs and exotic skins in December 2018. Gucci and Coach also went fur-free in 2018, joining other fashion brands such as Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and others that stopped using fur in previous years. For the first time, London's fashion week in 2018 was completely fur-free as a requirement for brands to participate. On May 22, 2019, Prada announced it will begin phasing out the use of animal fur for its products.

"This is a clear global movement away from the use of animal furs, especially among the world's most respected brands and retailers," said Joshua Katcher, a New York City fashion designer and author of Fashion Animals. "The demand for brands to stand proudly of how things are made, not just what they look like. The demand for the beauty of an object and how it was made, more and more consumers want that and want to support these new systems they want to see flourish."

Katcher noted these demands are felt by young designers who are seeking cutting edge, sustainable and ethical materials over materials like animal furs. "Animal fur is obsolete at this point," he added.

In New York City, city council members are currently in the process of deciding on a bill to ban the sale of new animal fur products within the city after public hearings were held on May 15. A recent poll conducted by Mason-Dixon found 75 percent of New York City voters support the ban. No date has yet been set on when the city council will decide on the legislation.

Dan Matthews, senior vice president of campaigns at PETA, was one of the bill supporters present at the hearing to demonstrate to council members the type of animal traps used by fur traders to catch animals.

"Trap lines are completely self regulated, nobody can check on them because only the trapper knows where they've placed the traps and the coyote trap I've been showing to council members is a coyote trap meant for coyotes, but they don't discriminate. They often trap family dogs, cats, owls, other wildlife," Matthews said. He noted the traps are used as close to New York City as Westchester County and Connecticut.

PETA has been one of the leading organizations against the animal fur industry, conducting several undercover investigations and targeted campaigns against clothing brands.

"We found minks in Maryland being injected with weed killer. We found a fur farmer in Indiana who electrocuted chinchillas with cords attached to a car battery, and he often didn't use enough voltage so animals would come alive on the skinning table, which he thought was funny," added Matthews. "So these fur farmers and trappers, they have no veterinary training and no interest in training, yet they are involved in killing animals for their business."

In Hawaii, a bill to ban the sale of animal fur was introduced for the first time this year.

"I thought of all places our state doesn't really need fur clothing given our warm, tropical climate," said State Senator Mike Gabbard (D), who proposed the bill in January 2019. The bill, which received five co-sponsors in the Hawaii State Senate, was referred to the consumer protection and health committee, but did not receive a hearing this legislative session. "Sometimes it takes a couple years to get good legislation like this moving, so I plan to reintroduce the bill next session, in January 2020, and I hope Hawaii can be one of the first states to pass a fur ban."

Kimberly Moore, spokesperson for the Fur Free Society, a non-profit that helped write the bill with Senator Gabbard, added, "The fact it was taken up as a legislative matter is extremely heartening because more and more countries are banning fur around the world."

She cited examples of countries that have either banned fur farming or the sale of animal fur outright, including Serbia, Luxembourg, Norway, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, UK, Belgium, Japan, Austria, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and partial bans and regulations in several other countries around the world.

"The private market itself is moving away from fur and exotic skins. In the last couple of years, the movement against using fur has really accelerated," Moore noted. "There was a little activity in the 1990s with PETA, but in the last couple of years there has been major movements by governments to ban the sale of fur. That trend is being picked up by more municipalities in the United States."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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