Parliamentary speech: Motion calling for an urgent investigation into illegal fur labelling

Parliamentary speech: Motion calling for an urgent investigation into illegal fur labelling

On 27 November 2019 I won my debate in parliament calling to establish a fur taskforce and for an urgent investigation into the illegal labelling of fur products. This is huge news, particularly as the government supported it and have committed to working with me on ending fur cruelty, starting with an investigation to determine how widespread illegal fur labelling is across Victoria.

Here is my motion speech:

This week we saw, again, reports of extreme animal cruelty happening overseas in order to produce fur sold in Victorian shops and markets. On the front page of The Age on Friday was the headline: Real fur from tortured dogs being sold as fake in Melbourne’s markets.

Watching the footage of animals beaten, electrocuted and skinned alive is not easy.

But, you know what is easy? Stopping it, right here, right now.

We all need to clothe ourselves against the elements. Primitive hunter-gatherers wrapped themselves in the skins of animals that died on the points of their spears. This is not the way we now live.

We live in an advanced economy, with access to myriad cloths and textiles in which to wrap ourselves. We have learnt how to spin, weave, knit and braid; how to dye, stain, bleach and print. Our science and technology continues to deliver new, efficient, beautiful and clean fabrics that perform to protect us from the heat and the cold.  Wood pulp, seaweed fibre, fiber from soybean processing, coconut fibre and pineapple skin are just some of the newest advancements in sustainable textile manufacturing.

Not to mention the old standbys of organic cotton, hemp and linen.  Even synthetic materials are making improvements, recycling acrylics and repurposing household plastics.

Just this year Ecopel launched the first ever, bio-based faux fur, offering a 63% Greenhouse gas emission reduction on ordinary synthetic fibres.  Great factories and mills produce these products, not just by the bolt, but in quantities that are, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.

These points are important, because an argument in favour of fur is often that it is ‘natural’. But fur is intensely energy-consumptive and toxic. Pelts are dipped in chemicals known to contain carcinogens such as formaldehyde and chromium. Intensive animal management pollutes air, soil and waterways.

If we can clothe ourselves perfectly well without causing extreme animal cruelty; why don’t we?

Global demand for ethical fashion has seen many well known brands ditch fur.  Gucci, Calvin Klein, Versace, Hugo Boss and most recently the Prada Group, in a move they described as ‘social responsibility’.

Only weeks ago, US retail giants Macy’s and Bloomingdales announced that they would also stop selling real fur products. Working closely with the Humane Society, in making the announcement they said: “Over the past two years, we have been closely following consumer and brand trends, listening to our customers and researching alternatives to fur. We remain committed to providing great fashion and value to our customers, and we will continue to offer high-quality and fashionable faux fur alternatives.. . [this is] the natural next step.”

In Australia, David Jones, Kmart and Myer are among department stores cancelling fur.  Myer’s General Manager commented on the decision “we took on board the feedback of customers” adding “Community views on the use of fur in merchandise have changed, regardless of the source of that fur.”

Melbourne’s very own Fashion Week now has a fur-free policy, with participating designers creating beautiful garments to put on show with an added bonus: they contain no animal cruelty.

Even Buckingham Palace recently announced that any new fur garments designed for the Queen will be made using faux fur only.  A rapid shift in attitudes towards fur can be seen in her almost 70 years as monarch including the UK ban on fur farming, almost two decades ago.

This powerful message from our head of state is clear, fur is officially out of fashion.

Over in the United States, California recently became the first state to ban the sale of fur. It came after the lead of a number of its own municipalities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hollywood and Berkeley all individually banning the sale of fur. Similar bills banning fur sales have been introduced in New York City and Hawaii.

A variety of countries have also banned fur farming, including Serbia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Norway, Germany and the Czech Republic.

All of these examples of for one reason: Consumers have voted with their dollars and their feet – avoiding stores that sell real fur items. It has driven a fundamental shift away from real fur being seen as glamorous, but rather for what it really is – a product of extreme cruelty and suffering.

We know this shift is true from research done by our friends at Four Paws Australia. A recent YouGov opinion poll found that 88% of Australians who are aware of animal cruelty issues in fashion, are concerned about the welfare and treatment of animals in the fur industry. It’s time for Australian laws to reflect our societal values.

But despite the trend turning against fur over the years, each year around 100 million animals still suffer and die as innocent victims of the fur trade. The industry, turning to new tactics to sell their products, are decorating coats and fashion items with a fur ‘trim’ – sometimes even labelled as faux.

It’s not just animals the fur industry traps – it’s trapping unwitting customers too.

This was proven just last week, when 4 Paws and the Animal Justice Party recently conducted a joint investigation of fur products in Victorian shops and markets.

The investigators purchased a number of items that appeared to contain fur.

Of the samples we tested, over half were incorrectly labelled.

Raccoon or Raccoon-dog was mislabeled as 100% acrylic, polyester and rabbit.

I don’t know how widespread the illegal labelling problem is or if it is across the entire retail sector. But I do know that investigators didn’t have to look far to find illegally labelled fur products.

That’s why we need an urgent investigation into retailers breaking fur labelling laws, but further, we need to ban fur completely.

We know from previous investigations (from undercover investigators I might add), that factory farming of animals like Raccoon-dogs causes extraordinary suffering to these helpless and innocent animals.

Animals are kept in infernal conditions. The housing and husbandry falls dramatically short of anything that would be allowed under Australian legislation. They are often then transported over large distances while confined in terrible conditions. While being slaughtered, they are often subject to repeated blows to the head or being swung by their tail against the ground. They are skinned with knifes, starting at the rear of the belly whilst the animal is lying, or hung upside down from a hook. Many remain fully conscious during this process. Abandoned and helpless, they writhe and struggle to free themselves. Many remain alive for many minutes after skinning; breathing, blinking, struggling with the pain.

But it’s not just animals that are factory farmed and trapped that suffer in the fur trade. Around 2 million domestic dogs and cats are taken from the streets, even family homes, and killed for their fur overseas.

They are squeezed into tiny cages, transported without food or water and killed – many with their collars still on, showing they were once someone’s beloved companion. That someone is probably still looking for them.

Australia, like the EU and US, has banned the import of dog and cat fur. But international investigations by Humane Society International show that Chinese dog and cat fur is frequently mislabelled, allowing it to enter the country. Even accessories, trinkets and children’s toys have been found decorated with dog and cat fur.

And those products could be being sold right here in Victoria too. That’s why we need an urgent investigation.

The faint of heart and milquetoast’s in the parliament might argue against bans, crying “freedom of choice” for consumers. Faced with the appalling reality of factory farmed animals, with no freedom at all to escape their situation, they say:

“No, the lives of animals do not matter. They do not have any rights…not even to be spared from being skinned alive, and thrown onto a pile of dead and dying animals, still blinking and crying from the pain of having your pelt peeled from your body.”

They won’t spare a minute to stop this torture…because ‘freedom’. Freedom for some, torture for others; all perfectly acceptable under their philosophy. Freedom, not so much for Victorians to choose, but for others to torture animals and attempt to deceive Victorian consumers.

Last week, someone called Michael O’Brien, my notes aren’t clear, I think he might be the leader of the opposition….? said to The Age: “If true, these reports are horrifying. Nobody should profit from the barbaric illegal fur trade. The Andrews government must explain if this trade has occurred in any of Victoria’s markets and, if so, how it will be shut down immediately.”

Yet, I’m hearing that the opposition will be defying their leader and opposing this motion today. A motion that would result in the very thing Mr O’Brien has called for just last week.

I should not be surprised. No matter what depths of depravity we see happening to animals; what torture, what cruelty, what suffering, the Liberals and the National always find a way to support it. It seems that there is no level of animal cruelty that they will not support.

The justification for continuing these practices is always “they don’t think like us, they don’t suffer like us, it will ruin the economy”.  Don’t forget that this flawed argument has been used to continue other injustices over the years.

What modern science tells us, increasingly, is: They ARE like is, they DO suffer like us, these cruel industries contribute nothing to our economy.

In the modern world, we have the information to know what is happening, the science to know it is wrong, and the industry potential to replace fur for every use.

So, who can fix this problem?

The animals cannot help themselves. They suffer at the hands of humans, and desperately need our help.

We cannot stop the perpetrators of this violence at the source, because it happens overseas, every day, and beyond the reach of Australian or Victorian laws.

Individual consumers often try to do the right thing. They shop for alternative products and would be horrified to know that they had been deceived, and were complicit in this shameful process.

They are being lied to by the fur industry, with mislabelling of products rife, a sign of the industry’s desperation.

Retailers and distributors can also be deceived. Some of our favourite local markets in Victoria have made efforts to ensure that unethical fur products are not sold, seeking certification from stallholders. Clearly, these efforts are not enough.  We know by similar investigations carried out by Humane Society International in 2011 that it is entirely possible for domestic dog and cat fur to also end up in Victorian markets, despite the import laws against it.

Clearly there is no pragmatic solution that guarantees fur sales are genuine, ethical or even lawful. Some items are so heavily chemically treated and dyed that DNA becomes damaged to the extent that identification may not be possible, even with sophisticated laboratory tools.

If markets cannot deliver products without extreme animal cruelty being involved, this market failure must be solved by the regulator. The government must step in and reform the marketplace.

Only the government, with the support of others here in this parliament, can clean up this mess by banning the sale of fur in Victoria completely.

I hope this motion receives broad support from this house today. Countless innocent animals are relying on us.