OTTAWA | December 2, 2011

Furry little problem

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The cat and dog fur trade originates mostly from China and Southeast Asia, according to Lesley Fox of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals.

You’ve resolved to do your Christmas shopping early. A spa retreat for Mom. Tickets to the big game for Dad. And for your sister, a new winter coat with a fur trim hood. The label on the coat doesn’t say what makes up the trim. There is no way of knowing if it’s crafted from synthetic fibre or of slaughtered and skinned dogs and cats from China and other areas of Asia.

As unlikely as tabby trim may sound, the import, export and sale of cat and dog fur is legal in Canada, and under law fur products don’t require labels.
 
For two NDP MPs, this is a major problem for consumers.

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Prohibition in the West
Click for more information on how the U.S., Europe and Australia banned cat and dog fur.

Libby Davies and Brian Masse have presented near-identical bills this fall calling for the ban of dog and cat fur from Canadian stores, or at least, properly labeling such products so customers know what they are buying.

“It’s much more of an unregulated area and it’s more of a trade that goes on that nobody wants to really admit,” says Davies, who brought forward bill C-296 on Sept. 29. Brian Masse tabled a similar bill on Nov. 16, although his includes a time frame for the law to come into effect.

Both bills attempt to change two laws — the Textile Labeling Act, which outlines how fabrics have to be labeled, and the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, which regulates the products prohibited from sale to protect Canadian consumers.

If either bill were to pass in full, a label would indicate products containing cat or dog fur and they would be added to the list of products banned from sale, import and export.

According to the Humane Society International, more than two million dogs and cats per year are killed for their fur in China and southeast Asia.

Davies says Canada should take the next step and ban the use of cat and dog fur, something other countries have already started to do. In the United States cat and dog fur products have been banned since 2000.

“The inhumanity of some of the killings related to this product, let alone the use of the product, is pretty significant,” says Masse. “They tie them up by the hands and slit them so that the fur stays more consistent and is a better product for them.”

“They tie them up by the hands and slit them so that the fur stays more consistent and is a better product for them.”

Spreading the word

It’s unlikely Canadians will be seeing new symbols or labels anytime soon because private member’s bills, like Davies’ and Masse's, rarely pass unless they can get the ruling party on their side.  

As for why two MPs from the same party tabled a pair of doppelganger bills, Davies and Masse say redundant private member’s bills happen. They both say their bills aim to raise awareness of the issue.

Critics of the bills say Canada doesn’t need to tighten its legislation.

Alan Herscovici, executive vice-president of the Fur Council of Canada, says cat and dog fur isn’t used in Canada.

The Fur Council of Canada represents all parts of the fur trade, from trappers to retailers. Herscovici says fur stores properly label their products. He also says the bills are part of a campaign to give Canadians a negative impression of the fur trade.

Leslie Fox, the executive director of the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals, disagrees. She says the Canadian fur trade should jump at the opportunity to generate goodwill with consumers. “If it’s literally no skin off their back, no pun intended, then why not just ban it?,” she says.

Fox says Canadians are at risk of buying fur products like toys, key chains, designer goods and other inexpensive trinkets.

“So consumers are completely in the dark,” Fox says. “When you buy a fur product, you have no way of knowing. . . Even if there is a label, I would just be skeptical.”

Dog and cat fur is more likely to be found in products using small quantities of fur, such as the trim on parkas, originating from outside of Canada, according to Fox.  

Ideal practices

The best way to determine whether fur comes from a dog or cat is DNA testing. But with a price tag of $2,000 per test, it’s impossible for the association to test every product.

An investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. in November reports fur products are sometimes mislabelled. The report indicates some fake fur products were made from real fur.

Herscovici says there’s no reason for retailers to mislabel fake fur because it’s more expensive to manufacture real fur products. But Fox says products using dog and cat fur are inexpensive and can be easily imported to mislead consumers.

Herscovici and Fox differ on how they think consumers can protect themselves from buying cat and dog fur. The former says he thinks consumers should trust reputable organizations like Origin Assured, an international initiative that puts labels on fur products from countries that regulate the trade. Cat and dog fur are not on the approved species list. Consumers can also look for certain indicators to help them figure out what fur is in front of them.

Fox, on the other hand, recommends consumers should avoid all fur and faux-fur products. If you are going to buy fur she suggests looking for indicators. “On the hoods of coats you can look for tufts of fur that stick out — sort of guard hairs.”

In the future, she’d like to see a ban on all fur products.

However Davies and Masse say the bill is about protecting our pets, not an outright ban.

"That's a very sky-is-falling attitude that you often see,” says Masse. "I would dismiss that as the likely scenario of what would happen next."

NDP MP Brian Masse's bill

An Act to amend the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act and the Textile Labelling Act
(animal fur or skin)

Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate and House of Commons of
Canada, enacts as follows:

2010, c. 21

CANADA CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY ACT


2010, ch. 21

1. Schedule 2 to the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act is amended by adding the following
in numerical order:

16. Products made in whole or in part of dog or cat fur.

TEXTILE LABELLING ACT


2. The definition “consumer textile article” in section 2 of the Textile Labelling Act is amended
by striking out “or” at the end of paragraph (a), by adding “or” at the end of paragraph (b) and by
adding the following after paragraph (b):

(c) any product made in whole or in part of animal skin from which the hair or fur has not been
removed

3. Subparagraph 6(b)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(i) the generic name of each textile fibre,

COMING INTO FORCE

4. This Act comes into force 30 days after the day on which it receives royal assent.