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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A Doggone Fur by Any Other Name

The Federal Trade Commission today announced that it was doubling down on the industry-coined name “Asiatic raccoon” by refusing to update it to the proper English name “raccoon dog” in its amended fur labeling regulations. As part of the Truth in Fur Labeling Act passed by Congress in 2010, which closed a loophole in the federal labeling law and now requires fur-trimmed apparel to be labeled with the species of animal and country or origin, the FTC was also required to consider updates to its official Fur Products Name Guide describing the names of species or type of animal to be used on labels. The decision to retain the fraudulent term “Asiatic raccoon” in the guide is a disappointing one that will continue to cause consumer confusion and deception in the marketplace.

The Fur Products Labeling Act spells it out clearly: “The names used shall be the true English names for the animals in question, or in the absence of a true English name for an animal, the name by which such animal can be properly identified in the United States.” And by every reputable source, including ITIS.gov, a leading authoritative database on taxonomy established by several U.S. federal government agencies, the only correct common name for Nyctereutes procyonoides is the “raccoon dog.” The species is taxonomically identified as a member of the Canidae (dog) family and not a member of the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.

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A raccoon dog in the wild. Photo by Alamy.

In fact, the agencies that actually deal with animals have used the correct term for decades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service referred to the species as the raccoon dog when it was listed as injurious under the Lacey Act in 1982, and continues to do so in its publications on the wildlife trade. The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses the name raccoon dog when it reports commodity data on fur imports and products. At zoos where the animals are on display, and on nature specials ranging from PBS to BBC, the public knows them mostly as raccoon dogs. 

Everywhere, that is, except on fur garments. The fur industry knows it has an public image problem with this canid whose mistreatment at the hands of the fur trade—including being skinned alive in Chinese fur markets—has been well documented, so they’ve invented their own term to describe it as some other species. As early as 1950, Arthur Samet’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of Furs candidly reports how despite knowing the true name of the animal, the fur trade should use a different “guise,” suggesting how the “Asiatic raccoon” came to be listed in the Name Guide in the first place: “Is this fur bearer, raccoon, fox, wolf or dog? As fur men we may resent the truth of zoological study which reveals this fur bearer as a ‘Dog.’ Yet because of its raccoon likeness, zoologists call it the Raccoon Dog. Think not, however, that our Asiatic raccoons will go to the dogs. In spite of the fact that the fox and wolf and dog are all in one family of ‘dogs’, the world’s ‘Fur Trade’ will continue to recognize the name of the raccoon as the old standby.”

Moreover, in rejecting the name raccoon dog, the FTC argued that consumers must be familiar with the term “Asiatic raccoon” by now, since the industry has been using it for several decades. But even that name has not been used with any consistency, and raccoon dog fur is the most falsely advertised and mislabeled fur in the marketplace. It’s often passed off as raccoon, coyote, or faux, and even the industry sometimes calls it by other names such as “Finn raccoon” or “Tanuki.”

The Fur Products Name Guide was intended to put a stop to this type of confusion, and bring some consistency and transparency to fur labels so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace. The law specifically forbids “trade names” or “coined names,” and here’s an example of the FTC bending over backwards to accept an industry name made up out of whole cloth, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and common English usage. A raccoon dog isn’t a raccoon, just as a kangaroo rat isn’t a kangaroo—and the FTC should know the difference. 

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