San Francisco fur ban sparks controversy: ‘Fur is part of the solution, not the problem’

San Francisco is the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of fur, starting Jan. 1, 2019. Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

On March 20, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a fur ban ordinance to halt all sales of fur in the city starting Jan. 1, 2019. It is the first major U.S. centre to say “no” to fur sales, and joins the cities of West Hollywood and Berkeley who passed similar legislation in 2013 and 2017, respectively.

The ordinance bans the sale (both in-store and online) of new fur clothing and accessories, including small goods like keychains and gloves, however, retailers and furriers will have until Jan. 1, 2020, to sell off any remaining merchandise. It does not apply to second-hand furs, sheepskin or lambskin.

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“It is estimated that around the world, some 50-million animals are slaughtered in gruesome ways so that we can wear their fur and look fashionable,” supervisor Katy Tang told the San Francisco Chronicle. “My hope is that it will send a strong message to the rest of the world.”

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Tang, who is a self-professed animal rights advocate — who has also successfully prohibited performances of exotic animals and the sale of non-rescue dogs and cats by pet stores — said that she hopes to use her political position to help those who cannot speak for themselves. (The San Francisco Chronicle article notes that while Tang does not eat meat, she does wear leather shoes.)

Despite the fact that San Francisco’s climate does not necessarily call for fur, the ban will affect some 50 retailers in the downtown area whose fur sales, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce estimates, to account for at least $40 million a year.

“Whatever the number, it will have a major impact,” Jim Lazarus, vice-president of the chamber, said to The Chronicle. “These products help drive customers to stores, so it will have a ripple effect as well.”

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What’s worse, some have pointed out that the ban won’t do anything to actually protect animals, since it’ll merely force retailers and furriers to relocate.

“It’s really not going to have an effect on animal welfare because a lot of these retailers said they’ll pack up and move outside of the city,” Nancy Daigneault, vice-president, Americas, at the International Fur Federation, tells Global News. “Certainly, the [designers] selling at small boutiques will be impacted, but if their end goal was to put a dent in the industry, it won’t come to fruition.”
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Furthermore, the ban seems to be missing the point that the fur industry has been making for years and one that the fashion industry has been attempting to address of late: sustainability.

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“This is going backwards,” Alan Herscovici, former executive director of the Fur Council of Canada and senior writer for, says.

“The fur industry is the perfect example of a sustainable use of natural resources; it’s biodegradable, long-lasting, and can be restyled or recycled into a number of new styles or items, which means it won’t be thrown away. Fur is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Both Herscovici and Daigneault believe that a ban of this nature is unlikely to happen in Canada. For one thing, the fur trade is part of our heritage, and for another, Canadians are better informed on the humane practices of trapping and the sustainability of the industry.

In 1997, Canada, along with the European Union and Russia, signed the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards that requires approval and certification of wildlife traps. Any traps, whether they’re used for wildlife management, human health protection, scientific research, or harvesting for meat or fur, must comply with a set of standards that assures acceptable animal welfare. Among other things, this agreement prohibits the use of conventional steel-jaw leg-hold restraining traps.

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Trapping and farming regulations are mandated by the provinces and territories, and are consistent with a number of international agreements, while wildlife biologists in the provinces and territories are responsible for regional biodiversity plans that ensure healthy wildlife populations, animal welfare and humaneness.

“I think the population needs to hear more from biologists because they’ll confirm that trappers are the ones who sound the alarm when something goes wrong,” Herscovici says. “They monitor the operations very well. We’ve had issues with rabies in Ontario and Quebec in the past; people don’t realize that it’s the trappers who manage these populations.”

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Yet, animal-rights activists are confident that the fur-free movement will make its way into Canada, emboldened by the belief that fashion and pop culture are working together to rebrand fur as a veritable f-word.

“Consumers are really demanding this — even in Canada, we’re seeing smaller and smaller demand for fur,” Julie MacInnes, wildlife campaign manager for the Humane Society International Canada, says. “In the last six months alone, the U.S. team [of the Humane Society] has worked with a growing list of retailers and designers who have dropped animal fur from their lines, including Gucci, Michael Kors, Furla and Jimmy Choo.”
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MacInnes calls the San Francisco fur ban a “historic victory for millions of animals cruelly confined and killed for the skins of their hides,” and predicts that there will be more bans to come.

Most recently, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued an open letter to Canadian recording artist Drake, imploring the newly-minted vegetarian to sever his ties with Canada Goose, a label the animal-rights group accuses of using “painful steel traps to catch wild coyotes,” whose fur is used to line the hoods of coats.

While high-profile fashion houses like Gucci, Tom Ford and most recently, Versace, are in fact publicly vowing to stop using fur, some point out that their reasons are founded on misguided principles.

“It’s strange, because in their announcement, Gucci said they were doing it to ‘show our ongoing commitment to sustainability,’ and it just shows that they don’t understand what sustainability means,” Herscovici says.

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Similarly, Donatella Versace defended her decision by saying, “I don’t want to kill animals to make fashion. It doesn’t feel right,” but has made no similar announcement to stop using leather.

These decisions also open up another discussion about what will be used to replace fur in these collections, which in the case of venerable fashion houses like Gucci and Versace, has always stood as a staple of luxury. Should the designers replace animal fur with faux fur, the environmental implications could be disastrous.

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Faux fur is made from petroleum, which is a non-renewable source, and recent research shows that clothing made from petrochemical synthetics leach microfibres of plastic into the ecosystem. What’s more, synthetic microfibres have the ability to infiltrate the food chain because their small size allows them to be consumed by wildlife.

“These clothes are like the new plastic bags,” Herscovici says. “We have to appreciate natural and renewable materials more, including fur, leather and wool. This [ordinance] is misguided.”

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