Friday, June 16
What's so wrong with touting animal rights?
Matt Rossell

I took issue with the editorial, "Ongoing protest over fur store triggers fear of future targets" (June 2), which wrongly accuses In Defense of Animals (IDA) of disingenuous communication and purports that others in animal agriculture need worry because they might be the next target of a "misinformation campaign."

The editor wrote, "Where does the insanity stop?" parroting the Portland fur salon owner, Gregg Schumacher.

The furrier was commenting on IDA's suggestion to add a consumer alert tag on the fur garments, telling customers how the animals may have lived and died. This label was a possible solution to end the ongoing protests at the Schumacher Fur Co., as well as a starting point to open dialogue in a mediation suggested by the mayor of Portland.
Duly noted, the average Capital Press reader (or editor) might perceive animal rights advocates as hell-bent on taking away everyone's right to wear or eat what they choose. Before, in turn, labeling these advocates "extremists" who spread "propaganda," take a closer look at the message and the messenger, because when it comes to fur farming, the devil is in the details and these animal rightists may not be as wrong as you think.

Even though animal rights activists may believe, for example, that a hen bred for the broiler probably has her own ideas about what to do with her life beyond the 45 days the industry affords, we should all agree that the way these chickens are cared for during that short life matters. Animal rights is inclusive of animal welfare, not in opposition to it. That is why animal rights groups have fought hard and won campaigns to improve the husbandry methods used by fast-food chains such as McDonalds and Burger King, making incremental improvements to the animals' well-being.

The editorial made an assumption that activists protesting at Schumacher Fur might be wearing Third World sweatshop clothing, causing more suffering than is endured by animals raised for fur in the United States. This comment exposes a lack of understanding about the globalization of the fur industry.

There is no way to track pelts that move through international auction houses and are purchased and distributed to manufacturers around the world. Schumacher sells fur coats from China, the country of origin of more than half of fur coats sold in the United States and a place where human rights violations run rampant and no laws protect animals.
Labeling fur might not be so extreme if you take a closer look at the industry's standard inhumane practices -- both legal and without federal regulation. Practices like anal electrocution, a cruel killing method that I've seen firsthand on both an American and Canadian fox farm. Video evidence doesn't lie.

The American Veterinary Medical Association does have a list of approved methods of euthanasia, but there is no law mandating fur farmers follow these guidelines. Like the warning label on a pack of cigarettes, this tag would help consumers make educated decisions.

The only thing worse than death for these furbearers, is life. Zoologists at Oxford University who studied captive minks found that despite generations of being bred for fur, minks have not been domesticated and suffer greatly in captivity, especially if they are not given the opportunity to swim.

I witnessed this wild frustration in foxes held captive on an Illinois fur farm that I investigated for four months undercover. Confined inside tiny cages, the foxes ran back and forth across the wire desperate to escape, sometimes even cannibalizing one other.

I experienced the callous indifference of a fur farmer who denied water to foxes dying of dehydration. His rationale, "That's one less fox I have to kill." Despite the fur industry claims, these farms are not strictly regulated or inspected and simply have to register with the USDA, that's it.

If other agribusiness industries have similar skeletons in their closet, why not change those practices rather than fretting over someone trying to pry open the door and expose it?

IDA is willing and has been patiently waiting for Schumacher to come to the mediation table. Willing to discuss anything, including, or not, our label idea, we continue to have good faith that something productive could come from talking it out.

Matt Rossell is Northwest outreach coordinator of In Defense of Animals in Portland.