Washington—In a rare instance of bipartisanship in a turbulent lame duck session of Congress, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday night unanimously passed the Truth in Fur Labeling Act—legislation that will close a loophole in federal law that allows some animal fur apparel and accessories to go unlabeled if the value of the fur is $150 or less.
The bill, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in July, has been sent to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
Closes Loophole in Federal Label Laws
If the president signs it into law—as he is expected to do—all apparel, footwear and accessories (except handbags) that contain animal fur would have to labeled “disclosing the name of the species, the manufacturer, the country of origin and other pertinent information for consumers.”
“We applaud the U.S. Senate and House for passing this common-sense legislation and we urge President Obama to quickly sign it into law,” Michael Markarian, chief operating officer for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said Thursday.
Under current law, an estimated 13% of animal fur apparel, footwear and accessories sold in the United States do not have to be labeled for fur content because the value of the fur is $150 or less, even if the fur is dyed pink or blue or otherwise processed to look synthetic.
The Fur Products Labeling Act, originally passed by Congress in 1951, already requires seven out of every eight fur garments to be labeled with the species of animal and country of origin. Now virtually all garments, footwear and accessories that have fur trim will be required to carry labels. Only handbags are exempt since law refers to “garments” as “wearing apparel” meaning anything worn on, and covers, a person’s body (including hats, gloves, scarves, belts, jewelry and footwear). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumer organizations, designers, and retailers had backed this legislation.
The new law was proposed after HSUS and other consumer groups found raccoon dog on more than two-thirds of a nationwide sample of fur-trimmed jackets purchased from well-known retailers and designers. Of the raccoon dog fur jackets tested, not a single one properly identified the animal in advertising or labeling, instead calling it such things as faux fur, raccoon, or simply not labeling it at all.
One of the sponsors of the act, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, said, “Many Americans choose not to purchase fur products, preferring instead ‘faux’ fur as a substitute. This loophole is being exploited by exporters pawning off dog and cat fur as an artificial fiber. The public would be outraged to learn their favorite hat or pair of gloves was lined with the fur of their favorite companion animal.”
Added another sponsor, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-California: “Passage of this bill will help eliminate confusion regarding the use of ‘faux fur’ by companies that use the fur of various animals, including cats and dogs, in their products and seek to identify it as ‘faux fur.’”
Most Fur ‘Garmets’ From China
Half of all fur “garments” entering the United States come from China, where large numbers of domestic dogs and cats as well as raccoon dogs are killed every year for their fur by brutal methods, sometimes skinned alive, HSUS reported. The Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000 banned the trade in dog and cat fur after an HSUS investigation revealed the death toll at 2 million animals a year and found domestic dog fur for sale in the United States
Five states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Wisconsin) had already passed similar laws required manufacturers to disclose on labels the origin and whether any animal product—including dog fur—was used in any clothing or accessories. In September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a nearly identical California bill saying that the law would be too costly to manufacturers and retailers and that fines of up to $1,000 would be excessive.
If Obama signs the bill into law, it would go into effect after 90 days. Enforcement and penaltiesfor violating the new law would be the same as current penalties on fur labeling. If the FTC finds someone in violation, it will refer the matter to the Attorney General. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction could be fined up to $5,000 and a one-year prison sentence.
The legislation also directs the FTC to initiate rulemaking to review and update the Fur Products Name Guide to ensure that the species names used on labels are providing consistent and accurate.