ANNAPOLIS – When Pam Longenecker purchased an $80 fur-trimmed jacket for her daughter, she assumed the fur was fake.
“Nowhere on the label did it say real fur,” said Longenecker, who is morally opposed to wearing fur. “So we said, `it’s cute, let’s buy it.'”
But the fur turned out to be real, most likely from a raccoon dog. And due to a loophole in the current fur-labeling law, Longenecker’s situation may be far from unusual.
A new bill that came before the House Economic Matters Committee Thursday aims to change that by requiring labeling.
“The policy for federal fur-labeling law was passed back in the fifties, when people really only wore full-length fur coats,” said Delegate Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery, the bill’s main sponsor. “It had to be labeled with the type of fur and country of origin, but there’s a loophole where if the fur portion is worth less than $150, they don’t have to label it at all. In an era of full-length fur, that didn’t mean much, but now it does.”
The bill would close the loophole by requiring all garments featuring any real fur, even if it’s just lining on the hood of a jacket, to be labeled with the animal type and country of origin.
The burden of labeling would fall to the manufacturer, but if an unlabeled garment arrived at a Maryland store, the store would have to label the garment or face fines.
At the hearing, Pierre Grzybowski, deputy manager of the fur-free campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, wheeled a full rack of fur-trimmed jackets to the witness table. All the garments contained unlabeled real fur and were purchased in Maryland.
Grzybowski testified that the most common type of real fur being sold as fake is from the raccoon dog. “They’re cage-raised in China,” he said. “They’re conscious while they’re having their skin peeled off, much of which is then sold here in Maryland.”
Real fur is commonly disguised with brightly colored dyes, or by shearing it to a short length, Grzybowski said.
“It’s not fair to put it on consumers to assume that something that’s been dyed fuchsia is real,” he said.
Hucker agreed with Grzybowski’s testimony and said that Maryland consumers have a right to know what they’re buying. But the bill’s opponents argued that its labeling requirements may be unrealistic for average retail employees who won’t know how to test if the fur is real or fake.
“The average salesperson is not going to know what the proponents know,” said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.
Saquella also said the bill is too broad and includes too many small articles of clothing, including gloves and hats, which can be harder to monitor.
But supporters of the bill, including Longenecker, said that by not labeling certain fur-lined garments, retailers are actually losing business, because people opposed to wearing fur would rather avoid the garments altogether than risk buying real fur.
There are ways to test fur to determine if it is real or fake, but they are not the kind of things people usually do to new clothing.
One way to test for fake fur is ripping the seams apart to see if there is a pelt underneath. The backing on real fur looks like leather, but on fake fur, it’s fabric, Grzybowski said.
Another method is burning a few strands of the fur. If it smells like human hair, then it’s real, Grzybowski said.
That’s how Longenecker knew the fur on her daughter’s jacket was real.
“We were clawing out the hair and burning it,” she said. “They mutilated the animals, so we mutilated the jacket.”
-30- CNS 03-06-08