When ads describe products as containing faux fur and product labels show no indication of real fur, clothing may still contain animal fur, a Congressional committee was told on May 13.

Beneath posters of advertisements for jackets and coats and pictures of labels that list no fur, Michael Markarian, chief operations officer of the Humane Society of the United States, told a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that a lack of federal regulations together with advances in making faux fur mean consumers often don't know what they are getting on a garment.

Burberry jacket actually contained rabbit fur
He said current federal regulations offer "a loophole that is causing consumer confusion and deception."
The hearing was on legislation a bipartisan group of more than 150 members of Congress headed by Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., is sponsoring that would require clothing makers to spell out when a garment contains animal fur and what kind of fur. The Senate is considering similar legislation from Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

A Federal Trade Commission regulation requires that the presence of fur and the kind of fur used be spelled out on garment labels, but because the 1952 regulation's original purpose was to make sure consumers buying expensive fur coats weren't swindled, it only applied when the dollar value of fur used was significant; this threshold is currently more than $150. Some garment makers include fur content labels voluntarily or because of state laws.

Markarian said that, based on current pelt pricing, the $150 exception means that a coat or jacket can contain up to 30 rabbit pelts, 25 ermine pelts, 15 muskrat pelts, three raccoon dog (a species native to Asia) pelts, two coyote pelts, three fox pelts or one bear pelt without having to acknowledge it on a label.

He also said that an investigation by the group from 2005 to 2007 showed that advertising and labeling of coats and jackets are often wrong. He said the group found ads for "faux" fur jackets when in fact the jackets had real fur from raccoon dogs, domestic dogs or rabbits. It said it also found labels and ads that did disclose the presence of fur, but from the wrong animal; for instance, the ad stated the fur was raccoon or rabbit when in fact it was from a raccoon dog.

While some retailers responded to the investigation by tightening their standards and withdrawing products, he said there remain significant problems. Sales people are still telling customers that products contain "fake fur" when they in fact contain real fur.

James A. Kohm, assistant director of enforcement for the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the committee that the agency intends to reexamine the $150 limit next year in light of recent consumer concerns about the presence of any fur in a garment.

"There appear to be an increasing number of consumers, who for a variety of reasons would prefer not to purchase real fur or who might object to certain types of fur, even in small amounts," he said. "Given these apparent changes in the marketplace, the commission plans to explore eliminating [the $150 exception] during its scheduled 2011 review."

That timetable is not fast enough for Moran. He called the $150 exception a "glaring gap" in regulation and said it "poses serious problems for consumers who may have allergies to fur, ethical objections to fur, or concern about the use of certain species."

He said after the hearing that he hopes to move forward quickly with the legislation.

Keith Kapan, executive director of the Fur Information Council of America, said the group has no issue with imposing a tighter federal requirement.

"The fur trim business has grown in recent years and consumers are entitled to know the same information that they would be given if they were purchasing a product with high value fur products," he said.

He said the council opposes part of the legislation that would allow states and cities authority to impose additional restrictions, saying it would create confusion and lead to "inconsistent and burdensome" regulation that could make it difficult to sell products nationally.

The Humane Society keeps a list of fur-free retailers and designers.
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