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Should the UK ban the sale of all real animal fur?

Campaigners want a ban on the sale of fur in the UK. Credit: HSI

Fashion designer Stella McCartney has joined campaigners and animal rights groups in calling for a total ban on the sale of real animal fur in the UK.

Parliament will debate the issue on Monday after an online petition reached more than 100,000 signatures - while another 400,000-strong petition was handed in directly to Downing Street by rock star and activist Brian May.

Fur farming was made illegal in the UK in 2000, after a public consultation found "overwhelming public support to end the practice."

EU law also bans fur from domestic cats, dogs and from commercial seal hunts - but Britain continues to import fur from other species including fox, rabbit, mink, racoon and chinchilla.

A mink at a fur farm in the Netherlands - as Stella McCartney supports a ban on importing fur to the UK. Credit: PA

In a letter to MPs, published on her website, the designer declared her "resolute support" for a ban - saying she had never used either leather or fur in her collections.

We do not believe that animals should die for the sake of fashion.

The UK banned fur farming and trapping almost 20 years ago: an important first step in standing up against animal cruelty.

However, while fur farming may not occur on our shores, the UK is currently complicit with animal cruelty by allowing fur imports and supporting the industry.

This is hypocritical and unacceptable.

– Stella McCartney

Figures from charity Humane Society International (HSI), which spearheaded the campaign, claim that more than £74 million worth of animal fur was imported into the UK in 2017.

The UN Comtrade database, which lists international import and export figures, shows around £20m worth of tanned or dressed furskins - including items such as heads, tails or paws - were imported.

Brian May delivered a petition to Downing Street. Credit: PA

They claim that animals are often kept in tiny cages for their entire lives before being killed by gas or electrocution.

A letter from 50 vets and animal experts has been delivered to Environment Secretary Michael Gove ahead of Monday's debate, with signatories including TV presenter Chris Packham and Dr Jane Goodall.

It states that denying wild animals the chance to roam freely, keeping them in close proximity to one another, is unnatural and leads to psychological stresses.

Instances of cannibalism, untreated wounds, foot deformities and eye infections are "well-documented", it adds.

Campaigners say farming animals for fur is cruel. Credit: PA

The letter continues:

There is a strong understanding of this in the United Kingdom, which is why it is now over 15 years since we banned fur farming in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, on the grounds that farming and killing animals specifically for their skin and fur is unethical.

Evidence today from investigations of fur farms in many European countries and elsewhere including China shows that these welfare concerns outside the United Kingdom remain unresolved.

– Letter

HSI UK's executive director Claire Bass said she was "delighted" to have the support of Ms McCartney.

Mink pups at a farm in the Netherlands. Credit: PA

"Dropping animal fur isn’t just an ethical decision, it’s a shrewd business choice as consumers grow increasingly enlightened and compassionate in their buying choices," she said.

"We hope that government will be listening to companies like Stella McCartney who want policy to reflect public opinion, and who make it clear that the future-focused UK fashion industry wants no part in the cruel and unnecessary fur trade.”

Gucci, Versace, Donna Karan and Jimmy Choo have all banned fur from their products in recent years, joining others including Hugo Boss, Armani, and Tommy Hilfiger.

But anti-fur campaigners were dealt a blow on May 28, when a court in The Hague overturned a new law in the Netherlands, the world's third-largest producer of mink fur, to ban breeding animals for fur from 2024 as it said such a law would have a "serious financial impact" on breeders.

Anti-fur protesters gathered outside London Fashion Week. Credit: PA

The British Fur Trade Association has welcomed the debate, with chief executive Mike Moser calling the petition "seriously flawed".

He told ITV News he welcomed the "opportunity to set the record straight", and debunk some of what he called "misinformation" he said had been contained in the online petition.

It is absolutely wrong to state that much of the fur imported into the UK comes from countries 'that have very weak or no animal welfare laws at all' as justification for a fur import ban.

Upholding and improving animal welfare is top of the agenda for the global fur industry. That's why we are working hard to launch the global FURMARK label – an international program, to provide global fur farm and trapping standards certification and to offer consumers real confidence about animal welfare standards.

Participating farms which do not meet the exacting standards will not be able to sell their fur after 2020. It's that simple.

– Mike Moser, British Fur Trade Association

He said he welcomed statements from the government indicating there would be no plans to introduce a unilateral import ban - and claimed such a ban may not legally be possible, even after the UK has left the EU.

Instead, they are investigating how labelling regulations might be improved, after revelations that many products labelled as faux fur actually contain real animal fur.

"This is important as most consumers expect to have choice about the products they buy combined with clear and comprehensive information," Mr Moser added.

"We have offered our support for the establishment of a new labelling regime which states unambiguously whether a product contains fur and if so what animals it comes from.

"Combined with the new FURMARK label it will offer consumers accurate and important information to allow truly informed purchasing decisions. We believe that Parliament has the power to introduce this new scheme and we hope that this debate is an opportunity to focus instead on this realistic, achievable and necessary reform."