Government turning a blind eye to cruel dog fur trade
29th September 2011
Humane Society International (HSI) has confirmed fears that the Government is failing to enforce a ban on cat and dog fur coming into Australia. Independent scientific tests at three (3) different labs have proven retail outlets in Australia, including major department stores, are not only selling garments trimmed with dog fur, but also laced with hexavalent chromium a proven carcinogenic.
This is despite a ban the Howard Government imposed against the importation of cat and dog fur in 2004 following the overwhelming public outcry when HSI first exposed the cruel trade. Correspondence with the current Government shows they are not taking it seriously.
Adding insult to injury, the University of NSW Analytical Centre has now uncovered dangerously high levels of toxicity in the leather from the fur vests that tested positive as dog. Hexavalent chromium or toxic chromium in the fur vests was up to 733 times higher than recommended levels.
Hexavalent chromium is classified as a Class 1 human carcinogen by the World Health Organisation' s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Hexavalent chromium is also on the National Pollutant Inventory list, and reported to usually be highly toxic.
Fur vests are a popular fashion item this season and the trend is predicted to increase next winter. The fur is often mislabelled as rabbit fur or often made up names like Gae Wolf, Katzenfelt or Rex Rabbit, or just as "fur" without the animal being specified.
Our undercover investigation* in China revealed the heart breaking cruelty dogs suffer in the fur farms. Dogs are skinned alive to preserve their pelts and pet dogs are often kidnapped for the trade. *Warning the footage in this video may be disturbing to some viewers
HSI urges the Government to take the import ban seriously and direct Customs to undertake proper enforcement. We are also calling for immediate changes to labelling laws that would ensure that all fur products are labelled with the species and country of origin so that consumers, and retailers, are not misled.
' Despite bans on the importation of cat and dog fur being implemented back in 2004, following our global campaign, seven years later it would appear that these items have once again infiltrated our borders,' states Verna Simpson, HSI Director.
' When we go public on this issue the response is overwhelming, attracting by far the largest outcry of all the animal causes HSI has ever championed. Australian consumers certainly don' t want to purchase dog and cat fur products and most Australian retailers do not want to be at risk of selling it. It is unfortunate that the Minister has not intervened, to ensure the gaps allowing these illegal products onto the Australian market are closed immediately, and not pushed for tighter labelling laws to protect both consumers and retailers," says Verna Simpson, HSI Director.
' There is no doubt there is dog fur entering Australia again this winter. We have absolute faith in the tests we conducted and the scientists engaged are beyond reproach. The sad fact is that dogs are still being horrifically killed in China for the Australian fashion market and retailers and consumers are still being deceived," Verna Simpson states.CHRONOLOGYJuly, 2003
Humane Society International (HSI) exposed the horrific cruelties involved in the global cat and dog fur trade and revealed its grisly products are on sale in Australia. HSI' s 18 month investigation revealed appalling animal abuses at the fur farms in Asia, killing an estimated 2 million cats and dogs a year, and the deception tactics used by the merchandisers to sell the fur to unsuspecting dog and cat loving consumers in countries like Australia. Clothing and toys made from cat and dog fur are deliberately mislabelled as fictitious animals or not labelled at all. 70,000 Australians signed Humane Society International' s petition to the Prime Minister calling for the ban.
Statutory amendments made to the Customs (prohibited imports) Regulations 1956 banning the importation of cat or dog fur (Regulation 4W) into Australia, with a commitment to ensure that all fur products are labelled with species and country of origin so that consumers would not be misled.
HSI is alerted to Wittner selling fur vests and concerns are raised over the potential that these contain dog fur. Label states that the vest is 100% rabbit fur. Independent analysis from one of Australia' s leading animal forensic experts, Dr Hans Brunner, confirms that the vest is definite for rabbit and definite for dog fur.
HSI contacts Wittner CEO to advise of HSI' s findings and to ask for a joint stance on the issue. This is refused. HSI contacts Customs to alert them to the sale of the vests and the results of our tests.
Wittner releases a media statement (published on its Facebook site) to refute claims in the press (Adelaide Advertiser story) and HSI' s claims that the vests are made from dog fur. The statement refers to testing having been conducted by Fellow Director of NCFS (National Centre for Forensic Sciences) and states there is no dog fur on the vest.
HSI staff purchase additional fur vests suspected to contain dog fur from labels Arthur Galan, WISH, and more from Wittner. All were labelled as containing rex rabbit, rabbit, or raccoon fur.
Results of additional testing by independent expert consultant, Dr Barbara Triggs, found that the items from Arthur Galan, Wittner and WISH all contained some dog fur. These results were further supported by examinations from Dr Brunner.
Following these findings and our complaint to Customs, Customs requested a copy of the analysis report from our expert in relation to our complaint about the first Wittner vest.
Following HSI' s complaint made to the ACCC in regards to mislabelling of fur products containing dog fur, we were notified that while the complaint had been recorded and would be used to monitor patterns of conduct within the clothing retailing industry we would not be advised of any action the ACCC may or may not take as a result of our complaint.
Ongoing liaison with HSI fur analysis experts, Dr Barbara Triggs and Dr Hans Brunner, regarding testing and analysis of fur vests and conflicting results of retailers' tests that claimed fur to be only rabbit. Hans and Barbara are considered Australia' s expert when it comes to hair analysis. They wrote the reference books used by CSIRO and have been used extensively by the Government for training purposes. Both experts are disappointed the Government is questioning them. (Click here to see a copy of the initial analysis)
HSI continued correspondence and discussions with Customs regarding the lack of action by Customs in investigating HSI' s dog fur complaint.
HSI received a response from Minister for Justice, Brendan O' Connor to our previous letter in which we outlined the results of our dog fur investigation. In the Ministers' response, he stated that as a result of our allegations against Wittner and Myer (where one brand was sold), follow up tests by an independent scientific authority did not confer that the fur was dog fur. The Minister stated that as a result no further action would be taken.
HSI wrote to the Minister to express our discontent with the outcome and to clear up a number of inconsistencies we believed were apparent in his response, as well as to clarify that all the fur vests in our possession had been sent to renowned expert Dr Hans Brunner for a second opinion and further confirmation that dog hair was present. We also took the opportunity to provide the Minister with new information pertaining to positive test results received for a WISH branded vest.
HSI commissioned the UNSW Analytical Centre to undertake analysis of the chromium levels in a WISH and a Wittner fur vest.
At the end of June, HSI received a response from the ACCC in regards to our complaint against Wittner. The ACCC stated that the complaint ' would not have the potential for significant and widespread public detriment, and therefore, the ACCC does not intend to take any further action' .
Furthermore, through proceedings, HSI was made aware that once these questionable fur items have made it past the border, Customs has little powers to take further direct action.
HSI received a report from UNSW Analytical Lab (page 1, page 2) detailing extremely high levels of chromium (total Cr at 0.22% for Wittner and 0.53% for Wish; total extractable hexavalent chromium at 0.22% for Wittner and 0.04% for Wish). Levels for extractable chromium (found in leather sections of vests) in both vests exceeded recommended levels for leather goods. However, these recommended levels are based on standards used in German and EU standards as Australia has no standard.
HSI again wrote to Minister O' Connor presenting the UNSW chromium tests results and bringing to attention the continued lack of action from Customs and the ACCC regarding HSI' s complaints. HSI also welcomed any moves by the Government to introduce appropriate legislative amendments that will ensure truth in labelling so as to assist Customs in their enforcement. We also wrote to the Health Minister regarding the dangerous chromium levels, but to date have received no response.
HSI circulated an Action Alert to the HSI global list of several million asking for letters to the Government regarding the toxic levels in fur vests, improved labelling legislation, and proper enforcement of ban on dog and cat fur products. (To see this Action Alert click here)
At this stage, HSI is disappointed with various government bodies and the lack of response to support existing legislation protecting the animal welfare. Specifically, the lack of power afforded to Customs to prevent illegal importation of illegal dog and cat fur products, and the unwillingness of the ACCC to investigate matters of consumer deception.
HSI therefore seeks a commitment from the Government to work towards amendments to relevant legislation that would see species specific labelling on all fur products to be a legal requirement.
After news of the Stockton evacuation due to the Orica chromium leak, HSI wrote to all State and Territory Premiers and opposition leaders regarding HSI' s dog fur campaign and health risks associated with hexavalent chromium.
HSI had a meeting with Minister O' Connor. However, we were told there would be no action as Customs has no authority once items pass the border and that they lack the expertise to detect it at the border.
- The death toll is conservatively estimated to be in the range of two million dogs and cats killed annually for their fur. Usually, 10 to 12 dogs and 24 cats are killed to manufacture one coat - more if puppies or kittens are used.
- The public response to our 2003 investigation was overwhelming, attracting by far the biggest outcry of all the animal causes HSI has ever championed. Australian consumers certainly don' t want to buy dog and cat fur and most Australian retailers do not want to be at risk of selling it. The then Minister for Customs received an unprecedented 10,000 direct representations on the issue and over 100,000 Australians signed the petition to the Prime Minister, one of the largest petitions ever to the Australian Parliament.
- The fur industry deliberately misleads consumers about product composition. A dog product may be sold as Gae-wolf, Sobaki, Raccoon and Asian Jackal among many others. Cat products are often sold as Wildcat, Goyangi and Katzenfelle to name only a few.
Previous HSI media on the issue
Ongoing Media Coverage - various sources (October 5 2011)
Australian Government fails to uphold the law - dogs in China pay (October 7, 2011)
UGG Australia Press Release (October 7, 2011)
UGG Australia Press Release (October 4, 2011)
Australian Government ignores cruel dog fur trade (October 4, 2011)
Scientists confirm dog fur in stores (May 16 2011)
Illegal dog fur products being sold in Australia (May 12 2011)
Dog and Cat Fur Trade - HSI Investigates (2003) Video - * WARNING* some viewers may find the following images and story disturbing.