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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Consumers Want the Truth

I testified this afternoon at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, in support of H.R. 2480, the Truth in Fur Labeling Act. This bill, introduced by Representatives Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mary Bono Back (R-Calif.), along with its counterpart, S. 1076, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), would close a loophole in the nearly 60-year-old federal fur labeling law that allows many fur-trimmed jackets and other apparel to be sold without labels. Representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and the Fur Information Council of America also testified at today’s hearing, and both had positive things to say about the need for accurate and consistent labeling so that consumers can make informed purchasing choices in the marketplace.

Jacket
Lab tests showed that this Burberry jacket, advertised as
"faux fur," was actually trimmed with rabbit fur.

When Congress passed the Fur Products Labeling Act in 1951, most fur was used for full-length coats. But today, the market has become inverted, and much of the fur is used as trim on jackets, sweaters, vests, hats, gloves, and other apparel. A loophole in the labeling law allows any garment with $150 or less worth of fur material to be sold without disclosing the type of animal fur used, and that loophole has led to widespread confusion and deception in the marketplace. I showed the subcommittee two blow-up posters of fur-trimmed jackets and their labels—a Burberry jacket advertised as “faux fur” which turned out to be rabbit fur, and a Rocawear jacket with no mention of fur on the label which was trimmed with raccoon dog.

The loophole is so unreasonable that massive amounts of fur can be used on a jacket and still fall below the $150 labeling threshold—for example, the fur from 30 rabbits ($5 each), fifteen muskrats ($10 each), nine chinchillas ($16 each), or five raccoons ($28 each). Department store sales clerks often don’t know what the jackets are made of, and wrongly tell consumers that if it’s not labeled as fur, it must be fake. Consumers can’t tell the difference, especially when animal fur is dyed or sheared to look fake, and when the quality of synthetic fur has greatly improved in recent years. Inventory changes frequently, and shoppers even try on jackets and return them to the wrong racks. Attaching a clear and consistent label to the garment itself is the only way to avoid this confusion.

Seven out of eight fur garments sold in the marketplace already require labeling, and the Truth in Fur Labeling Act would apply that same standard to the remaining one out of eight that currently can be sold without labels. It won’t be a burden on businesses since labeling has been an integral part of the manufacturing process for decades, and it may actually simplify the process and make it more efficient. Just as the labeling of other products—such as food, medicine, or wool apparel—is not dependent on the dollar value of the item being sold, fur garments should be treated no differently. A well-informed decision made by a consumer based on complete information is a cornerstone of a functioning market economy.

People who have ethical objections to fur or allergies to fur are currently being denied an opportunity to make informed choices, and that must change. I am grateful to Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) for holding today’s hearing, and look forward to working with them and other lawmakers to pass this important consumer protection measure in Congress. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to support the Truth in Fur Labeling Act.

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