All fluff and nonsense

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Ben Freeman and Michelle Williams discuss the state of fur today: wanton cruelty or standard practice?

Ben Freeman

Looking back at pictures from Hollywood’s Golden Era, the glamour of the 1950s simply drips from the pages of history. The women are swathed in jewels and fur, only adding the decadence that era showcases. In this context fur can be alluring, bearing in mind that during that period, wearing real fur was considered completely acceptable. Fur was unashamedly glamorous and sexy, and there is still nothing more sensual than Marilyn Monroe posing in a sumptuous white fox fur. However, despite its beauty, the cost of fur is too high.

When Jennifer Lopez wears her floor length chinchilla everyone is stunned by the glamour she evokes but also by her brazen use of real fur. In 2009 we must shake off the aesthetic orgasm fur can cause and think as rational creatures. Fur, despite its looks, can be the product of an intensely cruel process. Unlike leather – a byproduct of the meat or milk industry – fur is collected by rearing animals only for them to be murdered for their skins.

This begs the question, is it morally justifiable to breeding living things to kill them simply for human gain? In an ideal world, no. Unlike vivisection or the meat industry, fur is not essential for the survival of the human race; it is not a necessary evil, it is an unnecessary evil. As compassionate and rational creatures, humanity should logically examine the morality behind the fur industry. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis, with the grisly negatives far outweighing the positives.

In some countries where a fur industry still exists, the process by which fur is harvested from its owners usually involves the victim experiencing intense levels of pain. The previous owners of JenniFur Lopez’s coat may have experienced living conditions that could be described as unbearable at best. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), it is not uncommon for animals in some fur producing countries to spend their short existence in minute, filthy cages, with no room to move, often forcing them to self-mutilate – biting at their tails and feet out of sheer frustration.

These unnatural conditions are imposed on innocent animals to provide humans with a luxury item, which is not even required for their survival. The ways in which the poor creature’s misery is ended are not any better than the unnatural, disgusting conditions they may have been forced to endure in life. Practices can include the animal being skinned alive or electrocuted through the anus. Regardless of what is believed of animals’ spiritual capacities, the ability of a fox to feel pain is as pronounced as a human’s. This fact alone should turn us off fur.

It is clear why fur is completely unacceptable in 2009. It is unnecessary and it can be horrendously cruel. As stated previously, fur can look good, but with fantastic fakes available, genuine modern fur should not even be considered as a viable option. A nation of people proud to keep some animals as pets surely cannot tolerate wearing other animals’ pelts on their backs. Many argue that what separates humans from other species is their ability to make choices based on morals. To maintain the ethical integrity of the human race, fur is one instance where this ability must be exercised.

Michelle Williams

These days, to declare a penchant for fur can spell social suicide on the scale of publicly subscribing to a deviant sexual fetish. Fur lovers make furtive enquiries in vintage shops, disclosing their dirty secret in hushed tones. Rationally though, can such extreme ostracising be considered proportional given the cruelty inherent in other industries involving animals?

For a believer in animal rights (as opposed to animal welfare), the breeding of animals exclusively to be killed for fur is morally unacceptable, but then so too must be all practices resulting in human gain at animal expense. The argument that fur is a superfluous luxury whereas meat is a necessity to sustain human life no longer holds water.

In a developed society where food is plentiful, vegetarians and vegans show us that living without meat is entirely viable. This must leave meat eaters to admit that their animal consumption is not justified by necessity, but taste – a characteristic no less superficial than style. In fact, whereas a single fur purchase would last a lifetime of winters, whereas meat is casually devoured day after day, without carnivores living in fear of paint attacks in the supermarket.

The demonising of fur over the past fifty years has pressurised the industry to comply with ever-stricter regulations on farming and welfare standards. The British Fur Council endorses the Origin Assured (OA) initiative of fur labelling, a system to authenticate that a product has been sourced in a country where national standards governing fur production are in force. This includes a tight ban on the use of endangered species, with the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) keen to promote its commitment to welfare, sustainability and reason, heralding OA fur as a natural, resonsible choice. Regulations ensure that fur is one of the most strictly governed and transparent animal product industries, still only accounting for a tiny proportion of commercial animal use.

Many quick to condemn fur would never stop to consider the origins of wool or leather products they purchase, despite the fact that the lack of negative publicity given to practices in these businesses can mean that cruelty is rife. Thinking of leather and wool as harmless by-products of another industry allows people to mentally brush over the abuse that animals may have suffered in the process to provide us with food and non-fur clothing.

Fur, as a symbol of decadence and luxury, is an easy target to criticise for those who wish to promote an appearance of caring about animals. In reality, fur is on a moral par to many other animal exploiting industries, yet has been disproportionately vilified, as its use is not a choice that people are readily faced with day to day.

Fur stirs up venom, and invariably brings out people’s inner hypocrite – the vegetarian who wears Ugg boots and has a sheepskin rug, the militant animal rights defender who says vegetarian shoes are “too expensive”, so they can turn a blind eye to leather.

Choosing to distance yourself from animal exploitation is perfectly legitimate, if not admirable, but make sure that if you choose to take this stance, that you’re also happy to take a look behind the scenes of your own consumption.