The EFRA Committee is right: labelling on fur and fake fur products is inadequate - the UK needs a fit-for-purpose labelling scheme - BFTA
I agree with many of the views expressed by organisations with whom we have ideological differences, that fur labelling falls significantly short of what consumers expect. Together with MPs we all have a responsibility to put this right, says Mike Moser, Chief Executive, British Fur Trade Association.
This week I will be giving evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee as part of its Inquiry into the labelling of natural and fake fur products. The Inquiry is exploring ways to provide greater clarity and confidence to the consumer so they can make informed buying decisions when it comes to all products that contain natural and fake fur. In the same way that it’s not too much to expect to know at the very minimum some basic information about, say, the chicken you’re eating - like the conditions in which it was kept and the fact that it is actually a chicken and not another bird - as consumers we expect accurate information about the products we buy, and this is particularly important where the welfare of an animal is concerned. However, there is now a consensus that when it comes to the labelling of products containing fur and fake fur the current regulations badly let down the consumer.
There are a number of related but distinct problems the Committee is seeking rightly to address. Firstly, there’s the sale of real fur products that - because of a confusing EU labelling system - do not always state the existence of fur and even when they do the wording is frankly ambiguous.
The EU labelling regulation on textile fibre names stipulates that the presence of fur – or a number of other animal products – needs to be indicated only when the collective weight of these parts is less than 20% by weight of the textile component. The required label must then read, “Contains non-textile part of animal origin”, wording which is unclear and confusing for most people. What’s more, a product with 21% fur by weight does not have to stipulate the presence of fur! Admittedly, most sellers make a virtue of fur in a product but it still seems bizarre and wrong that there’s not a requirement to disclose it. Why? Because some people want to buy fake fur instead of real fur and we must respect and uphold their right to make an informed decision.
We don’t yet know what the UK’s relationship with Brussels will be post-Brexit but with a long transition period and the possibility of adopting domestic legislation running in parallel with EU law, our policy-makers would do well to lobby the EU whilst we’re part of the bloc to improve consumer labelling. If the UK can introduce our own label without EU oversight then even better but the mechanism is less important than the outcome: improved consumer choice. In terms of what a label should say we recommend that all products that contain real fur should be labelled with the common name of the fur type, for example ‘Contains Mink Fur’. This would not only indicate clearly the presence of real fur but, additionally, let the consumer know which type(s) have been used.
The second issue is the problem of real fur being sold as fake fur, often on market places where the supply chain is inevitably more difficult to trace compared to retailers on the high street. No one knows to what extent this is actually occurring or, when it does, whether it is accidental or intentional. However, it should not be happening and oversight and enforcement of the law here falls to local authorities’ Trading Standards departments which are independent from central government. Whilst we accept the difficulties of data collection across multiple local authorities we would nevertheless recommend that MPs on the EFRA Committee use their powers and resources to do all they can to collate data from across the UK to allow a proper assessment of the extent to which authorities enforce mis-selling. Authorities have the power - where traders breach the requirements of the EU Textile Regulation - to issue fines. If we can establish that powers of enforcement are - as I suspect - not being widely used then the question is how we can arm Trading Standards officers properly to ensure they can monitor the marketplace and take action to stamp out mis-selling.
Thirdly, there’s the issue of how real and fake fur products are described by some sellers on websites. Inevitably, buying online can make it more difficult for a consumer to verify that he or she is buying exactly what the description says. A clear labelling scheme on the product itself must also appear on websites too so that we’re not putting people who buy online at a disadvantage.
Finally, there’s another issue, which we raised in our written submission and which is arguably the most important issue of all: ensuring that consumers of fur products have accurate information about animal welfare standards. By the end of 2020 the European fur farming industry will have fully implemented by the new Welfur programme. Welfur enables us to assess animal welfare in a scientific way to ensure high quality, responsible and sustainable farming. Where farmers cannot adequately demonstrate they meet these standards, they will not be able to sell their fur through the European auction houses - essentially cutting off their businesses. Consumer reassurance will consequently be strengthened through a Welfur label. I am incredibly proud of the work of my European counterparts to design, develop and implement this certification scheme which has been many years in the making. I look forward to talking to MPs about this important scheme further.
As the Chief Executive of the British Fur Trade Association you might be surprised to hear me say this, but I agree with many of the views expressed by organisations with whom we have ideological differences, that fur labelling falls significantly short of what consumers expect. Together with MPs we all have a responsibility to put this right.