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04-20-2007, 04:15 PM
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MOUNTAIN VIEWS: ANIMAL CRUELTY IN CHINESE FUR TRADE
By John Hanchette

OLEAN -- Warning: You are about to encounter below yet another teary-eyed, bleeding-heart column concerning unspeakable cruelty to animals. If you don't like that subject, or think I dwell on it too much, turn to other pages in this fine publication or click on another screen if you're reading this on the Internet. I'm going to write about it anyway because it needs telling. Sit there and fume for all I care.
Previous columns on the profitable slaughter of American horses for foreign consumption drew more reaction than just about anything I've ever written, and a vote outlawing killing horses for such purpose -- an act that ostensibly would shut down European-owned slaughter plants in Texas and Illinois -- is supposedly headed for floor action in Congress on Sept. 7.
(My prediction? The bill will die in the House Rules Committee, even though surveyed Americans are overwhelmingly for it, because the pro-slaughter opponents have had all August recess to spread enough money around Washington and legally or illegally fill up campaign war chests in an election year. On Capitol Hill, money talks and constituent opinion walks.)
About 90 percent of the feedback to me on this subject was favorable, but aside from the smattering of laughable wingnut letters, I was surprised to note that several serious critical correspondents immediately upon reading the pieces assumed I was:
A vegetarian (I'm not),
A member of PETA (I'm not),
A liberal Democrat (I'm not),
All three (I'm not).
PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the assumption I belonged usually came in the form of strident accusations, as if belonging to this group is akin to membership in the Hitler Youth, or growing up a Communist, or joining the Taliban, or something equally nefarious. I don't get it.
This well-organized group has been around for a while and it always seemed to me its outraged stances against needless and outdated animal lab research and killing of animals for consumerism, business, so-called sport or fashion were solid, logical and righteous.
PETA and other similar groups from allied countries in the "western" culture are currently fighting an under-the-radar practice that will be the subject of this column: the skinning of cats and dogs, many of them household pets and many of them alive when flayed, their fur suffered up for later sale of little pieces of their pelts on the fashion market.
(There, I finally got to my lead subject in the ninth paragraph -- my journalism students who may be reading this are requested to ignore the format, but not the message.)
The prime culprit is China. There was a time in America when politicians, presidents and other national leaders would speak out against a country that was routinely doing something Americans obviously didn't like, but that time is not today. Our political culture -- its emotions molded by Wall Street -- is all about globalization and free trade and business, business, business. Mammon is today almighty, and American policy is all about doing anything we can -- anything -- to accommodate our former enemies if it means some profit for us, or the ability to export some more American jobs there for doing-business costs that are far cheaper than those in the USA.
Oh, sure, we've had "preventative" federal law on this since way back in 1951, when the Fur Products Labeling Act required fur garments sold in this country to be labeled both by country of origin and species so conscientious buyers would be able to shun a purchase if it offended them. At first, it seemed to work, but the lobbyists finally got to the executive branch through a loophole in the law. Products with a "relatively small quantity or value" of fur on them were exempted. In Washington, anytime the amorphous word "relatively" is included in an enactment, lobbyists see it as an opening one could drive the Queen Mary through.
The Federal Trade Commission for decades defined "relatively small" as selling for $20 or less.
By 1998, under constant pressure, the FTC had expanded that exemption to any fur-bearing piece of clothing that sold for $150. So, today you can buy a $300 leather jacket with half its value comprised by collar and cuff fur, and find no reference on the tag that it is from a fox pelt in China.
And if it's from China, it probably isn't fox. It's probably sheared dog or cat.
The Chinese have discovered how to game the marketplace. According to The Humane Society of the United States, in its June publication, "When garments are sheared or dyed to look fake -- as so many of today's fur-trimmed garments are -- consumers are even more likely to mistakenly believe they're purchasing faux fur. Add to this the increased realism of faux fur, and the stage is set for confusion in the marketplace."
Another dodge around the FTC regulation is that it is now legally interpreted to mean that any single piece of it must be worth $150 or more to carry the origin-species tag. A mink coat would be not made from a full fur (unless it was very tiny), but from as many as 30 or 40 individual pelts, so the label carries no hint that the fur is real, or where it's from. In fact, the number of animals killed specifically for trim probably exceeds the number killed for "full-fur" garments, as they're called in the trade.
So the existing law, like so many others, is basically useless. And that's the way the furriers want it. Imagine your inclination to buy a coat if the label read "Made in China -- Labrador Retriever Skins."
Affronted yet? Read on.
The HSUS sent investigators to China. They found the Chinese are killing "an estimated two million dogs and cats a year for the fur trade." The labels don't reflect this. Another 45 million dogs and cats are being raised in cramped cages in the expectation the current booming fur market will keep going.
Even if it's referred to at all on a label for American reading, dog fur is usually and misleadingly called "Asian wolf" or "Sobaki" or "Pommern wolf" or "loup d'Asie."
Cat fur is usually passed off as "rabbit" or "goyangi" or "gatto cinesi."
Congress in 2000 actually banned the import of fur products made from domestic dogs and cats, but the humanitarian groups think it's still going on because without the labels, who can tell without testing every garment? Dog and cat fur for trim, and sometimes whole garment, is still sold legally in Europe and Russia, and the Czechs are also killing animals for this purpose, according to HSUS.
Here, according to "Human Activist," the HSUS newsletter, are some of the methods used to kill the dogs and cats in obtaining their fur:
Gassing
Injection with pesticides
Snapping of necks
Anal electrocution
Yes, this last means what you fear it does. The executioner sticks a wired metal prod up the dog's or cat's ass and hits the switch. Nice, huh?
PETA actually obtained film footage of some of the kill practices. The films show cats struggling inside a closed sack before it is thrown into a vat of steaming water.
"They are boiled to death and skinned by a fleecing machine similar to a launderette tumble drier," according to a recent report on England's BBC network and the evening news.
Another kill method captured by PETA and shown by the BBC features dogs and cats deliberately being thrown from the top deck of a special bus -- onto concrete pavements below. According to a report by Adrian Addison of the BBC: "The screaming animals, many with their paws now smashed from the fall, are then lifted out with long metal tongs and thrown over a seven-foot fence. They are then killed and skinned for their fur. Animal welfare group PETA believes many of them are still alive as their skins are peeled away."
Yet more PETA film showed raccoons and foxes slammed to the ground "and still struggling" as their skin was removed. Sir Paul McCartney -- and his wife, Heather, while they were still living happily together -- were so stricken by this last November, they urged consumers to boycott Chinese goods. And the famous Beatle McCartney, who viewed the smuggled kill film and called the Chinese methods "barbaric, horrific," vowed never to perform in China.
"I wouldn't even dream of going over there to play, in the same way I wouldn't go to a country that supported apartheid," Sir Paul told the BBC. "This is just disgusting. It's just against every rule of humanity. ... How can the host nation of the Olympics be seen allowing animals to be treated in this terrible way? ... If they want to consider themselves a civilized nation, they're going to have to stop this."
Good for McCartney. So, according to the BBC, how did the Chinese react to Sir Paul's outburst? A spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in London said, "We do not encourage the ill treatment of cats and dogs. But, anyway, the fur trade mostly feeds markets in the U.S. and Europe. Most of this fur is not for the Chinese market. So the Americans and Europeans should accept the blame. We have no plans to clamp down on this internally that I am aware of -- it is for the U.S. and Europeans to take their own action. They should boycott fur as a fashion material."
Translated: We didn't do it, but even if we did, you guys are encouraging us to do it, so stop complaining.
This, of course, is the same argument used by cocaine smugglers who grow blow in South America: It's the fault of the consumer, not the supplier. And there is some merit to it. When I learned late in life that Koreans prize dogs as a delicacy, I stopped buying Hyundais.
But it didn't shut down the Hyundai factories, or keep the Koreans from chowing down dogs.
When McCartney blew his stack, the British Fur Trade Association insisted its members do not knowingly use dog and cat fur, and other pro-furrier groups claimed it would be hard to find any evidence of such in all of Europe. But the BBC and Adrian Addison found a member of the European Union parliament (Struan Stevenson) who bought in Europe -- and displayed in his Brussels office -- a nice coat made from an Alsatian hound, a pelt made from four golden retrievers and a warm blanket made from about 70 cats.
Two other groups, Britain's Care for the Wild and the Swiss Animal Protection organization, put together a horrific report last year from undercover investigators who -- among others, too -- noticed many of the dogs and cats had collars and were obviously stolen gentle pets. They reported the animals were "swung against the ground" and then were hung upside down:
"Starting from the hind legs, workers then wrench the animals' skin from their suspended bodies, until it comes off over the head ... a significant number of animals remain fully conscious during this process."
If you want to view the cruelty, go to www.furisdead.com or www.petatv.com.
But don't do it at dinner time. If you want a list of the 30-plus Chinese fur manufacturers who are complicit in this trade, go to chinasuppliers.alibaba.com.
This is no small cheese. The Standard, a Chinese business daily, estimates the country's fur business amounted to $998 million three years ago and has grown about 40 percent since.
So, let's do two things. Let's take the advice of the Chinese Embassy in London and complain to someone. Let's make it the Chinese ambassador to the United States. Write to:
His Excellency Zhou Wenzhong
Ambassador of the People's Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
(Or call at 202-328-2574)
Then contact your own member of Congress and tell him or her to support and co-sponsor the bipartisan House Bill No. 4904, which is called the Truth in Fur Labeling Act. It requires all garments trimmed with real animal fur be clearly labeled by species, regardless of value. It is authored by Republican Congressman Michael Ferguson of New Jersey and by Democrat James Moran of Virginia.
Meanwhile, if you want to write me telling me what a blithering old softy I am, save your time. If you do write me, include the names, breeds and locations of your own dogs and cats. I'll put them on the Internet. The Chinese will probably be interested and grateful.
John Hanchette, a professor of journalism at St. Bonaventure University, is a former editor of the Niagara Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent. He was a founding editor of USA Today and was recently named by Gannett as one of the Top 10 reporters of the past 25 years. He can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]
Niagara Falls Reporterwww.niagarafallsreporter.comAugust 29 2006