5th July 2011
Independent analysis undertaken last week by the University of NSW Analytical Centre of two fur vests under the Wittner and Wish labels, each already found to contain illegal dog fur, have tested positive for hexavalent chromium, a toxic and carcinogenic chemical used in the leather tanning process that can cause severe health impacts for humans.
Results of the UNSW analysis showed the amount of hexavalent chromium leachable from the fabric by contact with human skin was found to exceed recommended levels in leather goods by an incredible 733 times in the case of the Wittner product and 133 times in the case of the Wish fur vest.
' As if issues of animal cruelty and the illegal importation of these fur garments into Australian retail outlets was not enough, now we find unknowing consumers are purchasing and wearing fur products that are laced with hazardous chemicals,' said HSI Director, Verna Simpson. ' Even more amazing is the lack of Government willingness to do anything about breaches of Australian import and consumer protection legislation.'
HSI alerted Customs and Border Protection to the results of the analysis of a number of fur vests found by independent experts to illegally contain dog fur back in February, yet despite these results, and requests from HSI for the Federal Minister to intervene, no action has been taken to enforce the Commonwealth legislation that prohibits the importation of pelts and products made from dog and cat fur. Incredibly, despite two of the most reputable forensic experts having analysed the fur vests as containing dog fur on two separate occasions, Customs chose to accept the tests undertaken by the retailers as proof the vests were rabbit fur.
Correspondence with bureaucrats within the Customs Service has highlighted that Customs is a ' toothless tiger' once goods have crossed the border, with the Service having limited legal options available to them post import and suggested HSI take the matter up with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). In a letter to HSI from the ACCC in response to a complaint of false and misleading conduct by the Wittner labelled vest, the ACCC stated that "priority was given to matters of broad economic and consumer detriment and serious cartel behaviour" and that the "matter can be handled more appropriately by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service".
' Instead of direct action on this matter, the buck passing between the ACCC and Customs has meant that illegal and hazardous products are finding their way to retail outlets across the country and every conceivable government department is washing their hands of the issue, leaving HSI to question who is enforcing Australian legislation and who is looking after the unsuspecting consumer?,' Ms Simpson added.
Despite writing to the Federal Minister for Justice Brendan O' Connor and asking that he intervene on the inaction, it took six weeks for him to respond to our first letter and HSI has yet to have a response to follow up correspondence. HSI approaches to speak with his advisers on the issue via phone have been met with resistance and requests to put the application in writing.
Interestingly, in correspondence with Customs and the ACCC, both agencies have referenced the fact that retailers have ceased selling the fur items and winter clothing is already on the way out of retail stores as a basis for "no further ongoing action on the matter". However, in direct discussions with retail outlets, HSI has been made aware of mounting demand for the China made fur vests and coats which will be heavily imported and marketed to the next winter season.
' The only reason retailers have ceased selling these dog fur vests is that the garments have already sold out and certainly not as a result of any Government action, or moves by Wittner or Wish to remove the vests from sale following positive tests for dog fur,' Ms Simpson stated. ' It' s now up to consumers to send a clear message to retailers that they will not partake in being misled by dubious labels and fur garments that are toxic timebombs.'
HSI is calling on consumers who have purchased fur vests this season to return them to the respective retail outlet and seek a full refund.
Images of the fur vests and the UNSW Chromium report are available upon request.