Frank Zilberkweit is Chairman of the British Fur Trade Association.
On May 31, a bank holiday, the Government slipped out a four week call for evidence on the UK fur sector that could be the precursor to restrictions or a complete ban. We welcome this opportunity to contribute, and we will set out in detail the exacting animal welfare standards and extensive laws and regulations that govern the sector, and why fur remains popular – with sales increasing by 200 per cent in the last decade. We will also set out the many damaging consequences that implementing a ban on fur would have including why it would do nothing to improve animal welfare.
Let’s be clear, if the Government decides to introduce a ban on the sale or wearing of natural fur it would effectively be telling us what we could and could not wear, and what we should have in our wardrobes. We would have the unpalatable prospect of millions of people being criminalised for choosing to buy a particular natural material. Such an intrusion would be an unprecedented step for a government to take and would be a significant curtailment of consumer choice and individual rights. Unsurprisingly, with a third of Brits owning an item of fur, there is no majority for a ban on humanely produced fur in the UK and we strongly believe that informed individuals should be free to make up their own minds.
It is also clear that restrictions on fur would be the thin end of the wedge and would simply open the door for bans on other animal products including wool, leather and silk as well as modern farming and field sports. Animal rights activists, who have long campaigned for a UK fur ban and have done much to use their links with unelected individuals close to the Prime Minister to push this call for evidence, want to see an end to the use of all animal products or materials including in food consumption. Their agenda is clear, but their narrow views do not represent the silent majority and nor do they care about the consequences.
There are exacting standards and laws in place governing the fur sector, banning natural fur would damage, not improve, animal welfare and would be a purely symbolic move pushed by animal rights activists. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, confirmed as much in 2018 when he said in Parliament “It is not possible to make a difference just through the restriction on trade to the UK, because we represent a tiny portion, about 0.25 percent, of the entire global market. We would probably be more effective agitating for change through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others.”
A ban could not work and would be unenforceable placing huge burdens on law enforcement to try to stop imports at the borders and then police it within the country. It would simply push sales online, untaxed and unregulated and to those who care little about animal welfare. It would also impact on the indigenous groups, who still depend on fur for their survival in places like Greenland and Canada, and on religious groups who wear items of fur.
It would lead to thousands of job losses and closed businesses in the UK. It would also damage London as a global fashion hub with many designers and brands using fur and it would disrupt trade relations with some our closest allies who are major fur producing and manufacturing countries including Canada, the United States and many EU states. What does it say about Brexit Britain and its commitment to free trade if one of the first things it does is to ban a highly regulated, international trade? Hardly a “Brexit Bonus”, as some have claimed.
A ban could not operate in Northern Ireland, that remains part of the EU Customs Union, and it is noticeable that the call for evidence only covers Great Britain. We would therefore have the prospect of one part of the UK being free to trade and sell fur including exporting its goods to Great Britain thanks to the Internal Markets Act, and commitments of ministers in guaranteeing the free movement of trade between the four UK nations, again, making a mockery of any ban.
Fur is a natural, sustainable material, far better for the environment than oil based synthetic fast fashions. It would be entirely illogical and counter productive for the Government to move forward with restrictions on a natural material that would lead to an increase in the consumption of synthetic materials in the same year as it is hosting COP26. It sends out entirely the wrong message for a government that wants to be seen as global leader in tackling climate change and improving the environment.
Banning natural fur is a retrograde, damaging step and no sensible government, particularly given the scale of other priorities including the pandemic, would consider implementing such a draconian and pointless policy. Increasingly, it is clear that one part of government, Defra, with its unelected supporters appears to be operating in isolation to the rest of Whitehall. I would therefore urge everyone to get involved in the call for evidence and take the opportunity to say No to a Fur Ban: Take Part: Government Call for Evidence – British Fur Trade Association.