Mistaken Identity

Mislabelling of Fur Products for Retail Sale

It may be difficult to believe that the fur trim on a jacket or a pair of gloves sold in Australia may well be from a domestic cat or dog. Unfortunately, this is no urban legend and it does not just revolve around clothing and accessories. Ornaments, toys and trinkets made with cat and dog fur are being sold to unknowing consumers across the country, despite laws in place prohibiting their importation. The cats and dogs used overseas for their pelts are the same species that are kept as pets. How are importers, retailers and consumers continuing to quite literally be sold a pup?

Illegal Imports

In 2004, the Howard government announced a ban on the import of products made with cat and dog fur. This was after significant public outcry following a campaign by Humane Society Australia exposing the cruelty of the Chinese cat and dog fur industry. A petition with 70, 000 signatures calling for the ban was sent to then Prime Minister John Howard, but despite this, clothing, accessories, toys and ornaments made using cat and dog fur are still being sold in Australia. The cat and dog fur trade is an international issue, one that is continuing to plague the retail industry.

In March and May 2011, department store giant Myer and national chain Wittner Shoes came under scrutiny following claims by Humane Society International that some of the products on sale contained dog fur. Humane Society International tested 12 items, 10 designer fur items from Myer and two vests from Wittner Shoes. Although the items were labelled as being made from either rabbit or raccoon fur, according to Humane Society International, they all tested positive for dog fur.

Myer responded to the claims quickly, pulling the line of clothing in question from the racks to allow for independent testing by CSIRO to verify the species of the fur. The issue was raised with Chinese suppliers that week. Myer spokesperson Jo Lynch said that CSIRO testing indicated the fur was rabbit and not dog fur. Wittner Shoes fought the claim, CEO Michael Wittner saying that the company had leading Australian forensic expert Dr James Robertson test the vests which were found to have no evidence of dog fur.

In June 2012, popular television news program ‘Today Tonight’ aired a story focusing on dog and cat fur clothing and accessories being sold in stores. Undercover journalists purchased clothing, accessories and a key ring from stores in Adelaide’s CBD, questioning staff about what type of fur was used to manufacture the items. Some of the items were labelled while others were not. The store assistants either did not know what species the fur came from or just read out what was on the label. DNA testing was later carried out to check for the presence of dog and cat fur, and the results proved that five out of the seven items purchased contained cat DNA.

There is an ornament commonly sold at weekend markets that consumers unwilling to support the illegal cat fur trade should definitely avoid. The ornament is a curled up sleeping cat figurine covered in fur that looks and feels just like a real cat. There is no product label specifying what species the fur has come from. One could easily believe that the fur used is rabbit fur which has been dyed to replicate the markings of a ginger or tabby cat, but the fur used for these ornaments imported from China is in fact real cat fur that may have come from what was once a treasured pet stolen from a home. Clearly, the laws banning the import of dog and cat fur into the country are failing to be properly enforced if products like these are still available for sale.

Inhumane Industry

China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of fur, supplying 85 per cent of the fur available globally. Approximately 75 per cent of the fur imported into Australia comes from China, which also supplies 50 per cent of the fur products imported into the US. An estimated 2 million cats and dogs are slaughtered for their fur in China every year. Many of the cats and dogs slaughtered for their pelts are raised on fur farms, some are strays taken from the streets and others are actually pets stolen from homes. Some other cat and dog fur producing countries such as Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, the Netherlands and Russia also produce cat and dog fur from farms, strays or stolen pets.

Dog and cat fur farms are commonly found in the northern regions of China where exposure to the cold climate will result in longer and fluffier pelts. With China having no animal welfare laws, the fur stocks suffer needlessly during every stage of the farming and slaughter process. Deprived of proper food and fresh water, the cats and dogs live in overcrowded wire cages that offer no protection from the weather. A weak animal is believed to be easier to slaughter. If they need to be transported to slaughterhouses adjacent to wholesale markets, which sometimes takes days, they are crammed into cages or sacks and are thrown from the top of the truck upon arrival, shattering their bones.

Buyer Beware

Australian consumers find the idea of wearing cat and dog fur abhorrent and refuse to support the trade. A growing number of Chinese consumers feel the same way and vigorously oppose the cat and dog fur trade. Fur suppliers are well aware that Western consumers will not knowingly buy cat and dog fur. Therefore, items containing cat and dog fur are mislabelled, written in a foreign language, or not labelled at all.

It is difficult to distinguish between the look and feel of cat and dog fur and that of other species for the average consumer, especially if it has been dyed. Imported items made from cat fur are often mislabelled as fox, goyangi, mink, mountain cat, rabbit, katzenfelle or wild cat. Dog fur has been found mislabelled in Australian stores as Asian jackal, corsac fox, douges du chine, gae-wolf, goupee, loupe d’asie, Mongolian dog, pommern wolf, raccoon dog and sobaki. Products made from cat and dog fur may even be mislabelled as faux.

Until the current import and product labelling laws get stricter and more actively enforced with harsher penalties for offenders, the dog and cat fur issue will continue to be a problem. However, even if the laws do change to require all fur products to be labelled with the species and country of origin, DNA testing is the only way to be certain if a product contains cat or dog fur. The deceptive trade in cat and dog fur is one reason why all Australian department stores (David Jones, Myer, Target, Big W and Kmart) have pledged to go fur free since October 2012 rather than risk buying more that they bargained for. This world first industry move will go a long way toward preventing the trade of cat and dog fur in Australia and protecting consumers.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:28 AM AEDT