Exposing the trade in cat and dog fur
Martin Banks investigates the trade in cat and dog fur as MEPs and animal welfare groups intensify their campaign after an alarming video shows Belgian furriers explaining how the industry operates.
Animal rights supporters and MEPs are stepping up their campaign for an import ban on cat and dog fur, which they say is finding its way onto European markets.
Anti-fur campaigners MEP
Struan Stevenson and Heather Mills McCartney
One of the furriers says that stray cats and dogs, including lost pets, are rounded up on the streets of Brussels and Ghent and kept at animal farms where they are slaughtered for their fur.
Some are said to be skinned alive to prevent the furs losing their condition after the animals' death.
A cross-party panel of MEPs, led by UK Conservative deputy Struan Stevenson, is now using the horrific footage to intensify the campaign for a ban on the import and export of cat and dog skins.
The video — which follows similar HSI investigations — also shows a farm near Bruges where, the MEPs claim, farming for cat and dog fur is known to take place.
Belgium became the fifth EU member state in 2004 to introduce an import ban on cat and dog fur — the others are Denmark, Italy, France and Greece. But the sale of such products remains legal in the rest of the EU.
MEPs and animal welfare groups say bans introduced by individual member states are "totally" ineffective and that only an EU-wide ban will stop the cruel trade in cat and dog fur.
They also point out that, as Belgium is part of the Schengen scheme, there is nothing to stop someone from crossing its borders with a falsely-labelled product which may, in fact, be made from cat and dog fur.
To illustrate the point, Stevenson was recently able to purchase on the internet a "rheumatic bandage" allegedly fashioned from cat and dog skins.
Pets have been disappearing from Brussels streets
Animal rights campaigners say the product shows that, in many cases, consumers are unaware of exactly what they are buying because goods are falsely labelled.
"Cat fur might be labelled as rabbit, or dog fur might be called 'Asian wolf'," Louise Stevenson, of the Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, said.
"There are lots of euphemisms, as manufacturers know the consumers would not buy cat and dog."
Call for EU-wide ban
MEP Stevenson says the EU has a moral duty to act.
"If you can have laws to ban child pornography, surely you can ban other things that are morally and ethically reprehensible. I think it is a lack of will rather than a lack of legislation," he said.
The campaign for a ban has attracted worldwide support, including from celebrities such as Drew Barrymore, Kim Cattrall, Heather Mills McCartney and Rick Wakeman.
Farming for cat and dog fur is known to take place in China and the Far East and — in a television interview last year — Sir Paul McCartney called for a boycott on Chinese fur products and on the Beijing Olympics.
However, HSI investigations are increasingly indicating evidence of it on EU soil.
The European Commission says it believes only relatively small amounts of fur are coming in, although campaigners say there has been a big increase into Europe since a US ban on the fur was legislated in 2000.
In June 2005, the European Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Markus Kyprianou, said he intended to ban the import, export and trade in cat and dog fur in the EU and appealed for further evidence to support a ban.
Dogs and cats are said to be kept in cruel conditions