What do the fur industry’s recent attempts to cast itself as a “green industry” have in common with the 29th Summer Olympics in Beijing? More than you would think, it turns out.
Devotees of the Olympics are aware of the vigorous efforts by Chinese officials to mitigate the effects of Beijing’s thick and noxious air pollution. They don’t want these human-caused atmospherics to be a subplot in the Olympics.
Not nearly as many people are aware that the international fur industry has its own problems with pollution, and is waging an extensive “greenwashing” campaign to obscure its own inconvenient truth—that fur production is a terrible source of pollution in China and elsewhere.
HSUS staff members working in our fur-free campaign recently called my attention to news coverage of these aspects of the issue, and they have begun to integrate a focus on fur’s environmental toll into their larger discourse about cruelty and the availability of perfectly acceptable alternatives.
The threats to the environment from fur include the waste generated by millions of mink, foxes, and raccoon dogs raised in battery cages, and the use of chemicals like formaldehyde and chromium in the tanning or dyeing of tens of millions of pelts.
In addition to the waste products, fur trappers use oil and gas guzzling snowmobiles and off-road vehicles to check their trap lines in the wild and concentrated fur factories use large amounts of feed and water. One study conducted at the University of Michigan concluded that fur from trapped animals uses more than 3.5 times as much energy to produce as fake fur, and fur from ranched animals costs more than 15 times as much in energy as fake fur.
Currently, China leads the world in both the number of garments produced and the number of animals confined in cages and then killed for fur. Dogs, cats, raccoon dogs, and other fur-bearing animals have been skinned alive, shocking Chinese and other observers.
Both the welfare and environmental issues involved here are discussed in reports produced by a group of animal protection organizations that investigated the Chinese fur trade in 2004-2005. The resulting video and printed report paint a very troubling picture.
For my part, I hope that China will continue to open up, to allow a civil society to develop, and to address its environmental and animal welfare problems. The HSUS has focused a spotlight on the killing of dogs and cats in China for their fur in the past, but there is an even larger fur industry problem at work there, and it comes with enormous costs to the creatures trapped in the pipeline.