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Fur Industry Sues San Francisco, Accusing Ban of ‘Legislating Morality’

As San Francisco’s fur ban takes full effect, the fur—and fury—over the decision continues to fly.

The International Fur Federation (IFF), an industry trade group representing 56 member associations across more than 40 countries, filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday accusing the city of attempting to “legislate morality” by outlawing the manufacturing and sale of new fur products—the first major U.S. city to do so.

More cuttingly, the organization accused San Francisco’s ban, which formally took hold on Jan. 1, of being “so arbitrary as to be ridiculous—as in literally the subject of ridicule.”

“Yet San Francisco’s fur ban goes much farther than mere ridiculousness—it goes so far as to violate the commerce clause of the United States Constitution,” the group, which seeks to overturn the ban, noted in its complaint, referring to a provision that gives Congress authority to regulate interstate commerce.

Mark Oaten, head of the IFF, said in a statement that the law cannot be allowed to stand because it sets a precedent for future sanctions on products such as wool and meat “that a small group of activists don’t approve of.”

“Californians should have no fewer rights than residents of other states,” Oaten said. “They should be free to buy legally produced goods unless there is a public safety or health issue—which does not exist here.”

The group also argued that banning fur is harmful to the environment, because fur substitutes tend to be made from plastic derived from fossil fuels.

The Fur Information Council of America (FICA), another industry group, said in a statement that the ban was “driven by ideological animal liberation radicals” and “opens the door to greater infringement on consumer choice.”

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“This ban does nothing to improve animal welfare,” spokesman Keith Kaplan said. “True progressivism is not the city council dictating to people that they can’t buy fur or what they must eat or wear, but in supporting science-based programs such as FurMark that ensure sustainability and animal welfare.”

The U.S. retail fur industry generated $1.5 billion in sales in 2014, according to the most recent numbers from FICA.

City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Cote says San Francisco will “vigorously defend” the legislation in court.

“San Francisco’s legislative leaders have made it clear that this city does not condone killing millions of animals a year in fur farms to make a fashion statement,” he said.

Cote also dismissed claims that animal fur is better for the planet.

“Fur farming contributes to air and water pollution, and fur processing often involves the use of harmful chemicals, like chromium and formaldehyde,” he said. “Fur farming also consumes significant amounts of energy: producing a coat made with real fur can consume 15 times more energy than the energy required to produce a fake fur garment.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the animal-rights group on the front line of the anti-fur movement, has also criticized the lawsuit.

“The fur industry is desperate to keep confining animals to filthy cages, breaking their legs in steel-jaw traps, shooting or electrocuting them, or breaking their necks for fur that most designers won’t use and kind consumers won’t wear,” Tracy Reiman, executive vice president of PETA, said in a statement. “Just as the meat industry has begun investing in vegan meats, investing in vegan materials would be a far better use of time and money than battling to block a ban that’s simply a symptom of the fur industry’s decline.”

San Francisco’s fur ban precedes several others, including an ordinance that will take effect in Los Angeles in 2021 and a statewide injunction by California to criminalize the sale and production of new fur products from 2023. New York City is likewise mulling its own fur ban after lawmakers introduced legislation last March to reject the sale of fur and fur-containing products.

Fur is also falling out of favor with the fashion industry, which has cited animal-welfare concerns and consumers who desire cruelty-free products for the phase-out. Luxury brands, including Chanel, Burberry, Prada and Versace have all dropped fur in recent years, as have high-end e-tailers like Yoox Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. Macy’s nixed most types of fur in October, and SMCP, the Paris-based owner of Claudie Perlot, Maje and Sandro, confirmed last month it will no longer feature fur among its collections.

“There has been a steady move away from fur by leading Western brands and retailers over the past decade or so, and there’s no question its use continues to be a major, hot-button issue,” Leonie Barrie, apparel analyst at London-based consultancy GlobalData, said statement late last year.

While the fur debate has many “different sides,” she added, “increasing consumer concerns over animal welfare and the environment, rising interest in animal-free vegan lifestyles, aggressive social media campaigns by anti-fur activists, and now a rising tide of legislation are all likely to build on a growing shift away from fur in the fashion industry.”

Each year, 100 million fur-bearing animals such as rabbits, foxes, chinchilla and mink are killed for their hides, according to the Humane Society. Roughly 85 percent originate from fur factory farms, it said. The rest are trapped in the wild.