Two decades after fur farming was outlawed in the UK the Government is drawing up plans to “raise standards even further”. Discussions have been held between Humane Society International UK [HSI] and animal welfare minister Zac Goldsmith on the introduction of tough new laws. Under them the standard bearskin of the British Foot Guards, made from the fur of the Canadian black bear, could disappear. Also under threat is the House of Lords ermine, made of miniver or rabbit, and the traditional shtreimel hat worn by many married Haredi Jewish men.
A ban on sales could also affect both new and vintage coats and see shops selling decades-old hand-medowns and family heirlooms close.
Briefing documents seen by this newspaper suggest environmentalist Lord Goldsmith – elevated to the Lords after losing his seat at the last general election – is keen to introduce legislation next year once Britain has officially left the EU and is not bound by single market rules.
He is due to attend and speak at an event next month called No Business in Fur.
Last night the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed the sale ban proposal, saying: “We have some of the highest welfare standards in the world and that is both a source of pride and a clear reflection of British attitudes towards animals. Fur farming has rightly been banned in this country for nearly 20 years and at the end of the transition period we will be able to properly consider steps to raise our standards still further.
“That is something the Government is very keen to do.” It remains unclear which items could be banned, or how any new laws would be enforced, but HSI UK said “pragmatic exemptions” would apply. They could include the seven Army regiments authorised to wear the 18in-tall black bearskin cap, including the Coldstream and Welsh Guards after becoming a distinctive feature of the Grenadier Guards following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Coldstream Guards line up for Her Majesty’s inspection
It is thought the British Army purchases between 50 and 100 each year at a cost of about £650 each.
The ban could apply to outlets where fur is sold but is not the primary reason for doing so, including charity and vintage fashion shops, both on the high street and online.
When plans are announced next year a consultation will provide an opportunity for the public and businesses to state their case.
HSI claimed at least 81 MPs and 750,000 Britons support a ban on the sale of fur.
Last night it said: “The fur industry is desperate to shake off its reputation for animal suffering but the grim truth is as inescapable as the cages fur-bearing animals are forced to endure on fur farms.
“You cannot meet the complex behavioural and biological needs of highly active, inquisitive animals like foxes, mink and raccoon dogs in a battery cage. No amount of PR spin will change that.”
The Queen wears fur
It added: “A fur sales ban is not a fur wearing ban, there would be no ‘wardrobe police’. Britain can easily emulate the fur ban recently passed in California with exceptions for religious or cultural attire. Banning fur sales is about sparing millions of animals the excruciating torment of life on a fur farm, and acknowledging the strong public opinion that trading in such cruelty is unacceptable.”
The UK fur trade is worth an estimated £200million a year, including sales in high street stores where trimmed parka coats have become popular in recent years.
EU law currently prohibits the import of seal products from commercial hunts, cat and dog fur. The UK will retain these in law at the end of the transition period.
But until the UK officially leaves on December 31 it cannot implement a unilateral ban on the trade in fur products.
Any future law would need to be justified on grounds of protecting animal welfare to comply with World Trade Organization rules, documents seen by this newspaper reveal.
Defra officials described the meeting between Lord Goldsmith and Claire Bass, executive director of HSI UK, as “productive”. HSI UK has already prepared a draft bill.
Members of the House of Lords, wearing ceremonial red robes trimmed with white fur (ermine)
A spokesman for the British Fur Trade Association said: “It beggars belief that in the middle of a pandemic and a catastrophic recession, the Government is secretly working on plans to ban the fur in people’s wardrobes.
“Fur is a natural, sustainable product that comes from highly regulated and humane sources while sales increasing by over 200 percent in recent years shows its popularity.
“The Government needs to reject the pressure being exerted by animal rights groups and focus on the issues that actually matter to people.”
Comment by Claire Bass
Locking eyes with a fox on a Finnish fur farm, I felt overwhelming emptiness.
Born into a wire cage, and destined to spend her entire life trapped there, this fox was a ghost of the wild animal she was meant to be.
Her cage, measuring around one square metre, would frustrate all her natural instincts to dig, run, hunt, until the day she was electrocuted and skinned for her coat. For her, and more than 100 million animals farmed for fur globally each year, this is the price paid for a piece of frivolous fur trim on a coat, hat or handbag.
Because of this suffering, fur farming has been banned across the UK.
Since then, the fur from tens of millions of animals has been imported and sold here. We have effectively been outsourcing the same cruelties we outlawed here.
Leaving the EU single market allows us to end this double standard. A recent YouGov poll shows 72 percent support for a fur sales ban; a ban has widespread support across Parliament too. Despite its best attempts at PR spin, the fur trade’s smoke and mirrors welfare assurance schemes have no meaningful impact on the lives of the animals. They are just window dressing on the same inherently cruel intensive farming. The fur trade has had decades to evolve from its model of factory farming. It has not and, arguably, cannot.
Our laws to protect animals should reflect where, as a society, we place our moral red lines.
We already have laws that ban the sale of fur from cats and dogs and from commercial seal hunts. We have laws that ban the sale of ivory, whale meat and other once heavily traded “commodities” now deemed unacceptable. Such bans are a reflection of evolving understanding of animal welfare science and ethics.
The UK, a nation of animal lovers, was the first country to ban fur farming. A call for evidence will allow the Government to design a pragmatic, enforceable fur sales ban that sends a strong global message that the UK won’t trade in completely unacceptable suffering.
Claire Bass is the Executive Director of Humane Society International UK