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Update: Activists Accused of Staging Animal Skinning Video to Fuel Anti-Fur Campaign

The fur is flying over fur again—only this time, it’s People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who stands accused of animal cruelty.

The recrimination stems from the International Fur Federation (IFF), a trade body that claims the animal-rights group, in an attempt to mislead the public, staged its 2009 viral video depicting a raccoon dog being skinned alive in China, WWD reported Tuesday.

The IFF has produced affidavits signed by Ma Hong She and Su Feng Gang, two fur workers supposedly featured in the video, alleging that a pair of unidentified anti-fur investigators offered them lunch—or money to buy lunch—if they skinned an animal alive. The workers acquiesced but “later regretted the horrific act,” wrote Arthur Zaczkiewicz of WWD, which shares a parent company, Penske Media Corporation, with Sourcing Journal.

IFF’s assertion follows what it described as a “decade-long” investigation into the minute-long video, which shows a raccoon dog, also known as an Asiatic raccoon, being beaten and stripped of its skin while still breathing.

According to Ma, a man and a woman wielding a video camera approached him and Su at the Shangcun fur market in North China’s Hebei province. “We asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and the woman said her grandfather had never seen a raccoon skinned alive,” Ma said. “So, she asked if I would do it, and she’d like to film me doing so. I told her we can’t do that because the animal might bite us. She said she’d buy us a good lunch, or she’d give us a few hundred yuan to buy our own lunch.”

Published on Youtube on April 21, 2009, “China Fur Trade Exposed in 60 Seconds” has been viewed more than 3.4 million times.

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“The 2009 video went viral when it showed in excruciating detail an Asiatic raccoon being skinned alive for its fur,” the IFF said in a statement to WWD. “It has been presented to legislators by animal-rights supporters to launch fur ban campaigns in Los Angeles and San Francisco and used repeatedly over the last decade in presentations to designers, brands and the media. The gruesome footage, captioned, ‘A shocking look inside Chinese fur farms,’ caused widespread public revulsion and has pushed designers to drop fur.”

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a lobbying group for the fast food, meat and tobacco industries, emailed Sourcing Journal Tuesday, casting aspersions on PETA’s credibility.

“Using animal torture to support lobbying campaigns is a new low, even for PETA,” said Will Coggin, its managing director. “PETA will stoop to any level to push its agenda to ban fur, wool, leather, cashmere, meat, dairy, eggs and other everyday products.”

But PETA, not one to stay silent, has hit back at the accusations.

A PETA spokesperson told Sourcing Journal the Center for Consumer Freedom “is a front group for the meat and tobacco industries…whose sole purpose is to spread misleading information about any organization that attempts to abate cruelty to animals” and that its claims are “unverified.”

“PETA’s own footage is as authentic as the vivid pain that animals endure in the fur trade. Those who profit from torturing and killing fur-bearing animals will stop at nothing to hide how fur farmers confine animals to filthy wire cages and kill them in gruesome ways, including suffocation, electrocution and skinning them alive,” the spokesperson said. “Instead of wasting resources on blatant lies, the fur industry would be better off producing vegan materials that today’s kind consumers will actually want to wear.”

The use of fur in fashion has become an increasingly contentious issue, fought on mostly moral grounds. Within the past few years, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors, Phillip Lim, Ralph Lauren and Versace have all banned fur, calling into question its relevance as a luxury symbol. (Speaking to Business of Fashion in 2017, Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive of Gucci, denounced fur as “not modern” and in fact a “little outdated.”) When London Fashion Week became the first of the major fashion weeks to go fur-free last fall, it was not by design but because all the designers participating in the official schedule chose to eschew it.

It isn’t just brands that have decreed fur passé. The City of Los Angeles became the largest American city to outlaw fur in February after passing an ordinance on a 13-1 vote to criminalize the sale and manufacturing of all fur-based products within city limits.

Despite all this, fur continues to do brisk trade, particularly in China. Global fur sales have more than tripled from $15.6 billion in 2011 to more than $40 billion in 2015, according to the IFF. The global artificial fur market is also on the ascent, albeit at a more modest rate. A recent market report by Technavio projects the demand for faux fur to climb at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent to surpass $129.21 million by 2023.

Update: PETA clarified later Tuesday that the video in question was not recorded by PETA (and it never claimed it did so) and that the footage itself was shot “years before the alleged staging” in 2009. “To say that PETA is accused of animal cruelty is false, inflammatory and simply clickbait with no foundation in reality,” Colleen O’Brien, vice president of communications at PETA, wrote in an email to Sourcing Journal.