The L.A. Fur “Ban” – What Does It Actually Accomplish?
The short answer is precious little for the animals. You can now go back to scrolling on Insta and/or you can get angry with me for being a downer without reading further. However, if you fancy thinking about this along with me, then read on and maybe it won’t be such a bummer.
First, what is this “ban”? On 18 September 2018, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously (with only three absences) in favour of a motion for a city ordinance to ban the sale and manufacture of fur products in L.A. There will be exceptions, the reasons for which are outlined in this report, such as religious, resale of existing furs and items made with fur from legally trapped animals. The “ban” will not go into effect for two years from the date the ordinance is signed into law. West Hollywood, Berkeley and San Francisco have similar “bans.”
What this “ban” is not is an actual ban on fur. Fur can still be purchased outside L.A. and shipped to L.A. It can be worn anywhere and it will be manufactured wherever fur gets manufactured outside the banned locations. The fur animals will still be bred, trapped, exploited and killed, no matter how “humanely” they are killed (because killing someone who does not want to die is inherently inhumane). Meanwhile, the fur industry is still buoyant despite “bans” and a few fashion houses deciding not to use furs (at least for this season).
We also have to question how effective such a ban will be. In San Francisco, the ban will be enforced by the Department of Public Health as a city code violation. Once the city receives a complaint by the public, the department sends a technician to verify the violation. Presumably, L.A. intends to do the same, but the report is silent on that. There are additional difficulties with enforcement related to how the city will figure out whether the fur in question comes from legally trapped animals, a practice which is perfectly legitimate under California and US federal law. As I see it, this ban has very few teeth.
Second, who wins? As usual, people win, not the animals. Consumers who do not wish to see fur in shops will see less or none of it. The large animal groups will claim a win and will use it to fuel fundraising activities in other cities to obtain similar hollow results. The councillors take home a unanimous council vote for something popular with people without much cost to them. It is highly unlikely that any of them were in the market for furs and even if they own some, those are exempted in the ban. It may cost the councillors a few votes from the fur retailers who may need to close up their historic businesses. But it cannot be many votes, because, let’s face it, the fur industry is not a large component of L.A.’s economy (see page 8 of this report). Ultimately, with this “ban” everyone can virtue signal their moral superiority without themselves having made any changes in their lives to actually help animals (which, by the way, helping animals means going vegan).
Councillor Koretz, one of the proponents of this motion, made a terrific and impassioned speech at the council meeting:
Skinning a sentient being is not a practice that can be described as anything other than cruel. I don’t think letting the market decide is a solution. We could apply that to human trafficking and say sure we’ll let it go on as long as there are people that want to have sex with trafficked people. But I don’t think the market is appropriate to decide. And certainly if you ask the animals, which we don’t have a good way to do, they would all tell you they don’t want to be skinned alive for their fur. But I think we have to take an action as their voices. The voices of the voiceless.
The Honourable Councillor is absolutely right. Skinning, killing and exploiting a sentient being is unjust and wrong. We have no good reason for doing so, other than we think they are tasty to eat and sexy to wear. I completely concur with him that we should not let the market decide on issues of exploitation and fundamental rights of a sentient being. Animals, however sentient, are regarded as objects under the law and we only allow them to live if it is convenient or profitable to us. As long as that continues, animals will always only be nothing more than items for market. Just think about recent storm Florence in South Carolina. The early death toll is approximately 5,000 pigs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys (out of a total 9 million pigs and 819 million birds across the state). Eventually, there will be insurance payouts on these “losses” that will be based on calculating the market value of those lives. When Councillor Koretz says we should not let the market decide whether a sentient being lives or dies, that is exactly what we do every day when we choose not to be vegan.
I take a small exception to Councillor Koretz’s point that animals have no voice. They do have a voice. They show fear, distress, sadness and a wide range of emotional behaviour in response to danger and being next in line to be killed. Similarly, animals let us know perfectly well when they are content. We understand their communications despite being unable to “talk” with them with our words. Yet, we choose to deny that animals communicate to us their needs, wants and feelings because we arrogantly and erroneously believe we are the only ones who communicate. I do not know whether the Honourable Councillor is vegan (I have asked), but he sure has made all the points for going vegan – and I hope he does.
Third, what makes fur worthy of special consideration? The fixation on fur goes back almost a century. The first fur protests were held in the 1920s against trapping practices. Here we are 98 years later and fur is still here. While we are so focused on fur, leather and wool get a free pass because-insert-shrug-emoji-here-reasons. The leather and wool industries exploit and kill a staggering number of animals. These animals are just as sentient as fur animals and they too do not wish to die. Leather, wool, feathers, silk and fur are morally wrong each in the same way.
Finally, I hear you say “wow you have bummed me out. Is there any hope?” Of course there is! These “bans” are amazing opportunities. They bring up great questions that help us to think about the issues, examine our reactions and get our thoughts straight. We can then seize these moments when people are thinking about the needless suffering and death of animals and have conversations with our friends, families and communities to help them connect the dots to their daily eating habits. Bottom line: we need them to go vegan if we are really going to effect any real and meaningful change for the animals.