By Alexa Olesen
11:58 a.m. November 21, 2006
BEIJING – Chinese animal rights activists welcomed a proposed European Union ban on imports of dog and cat fur, saying Tuesday it would pressure the Beijing government to enact better legal protections for animals, while the government denied torture and cruelty are widespread.
The European Union proposed the ban Monday in all 25 member nations, saying cats and dogs were being kept in cages and slaughtered in cruel conditions for their fur.
Humane Society International estimates 2 million cats and dogs are killed for fur each year, with an estimated 5,400 killed in China each day. A ban on dog and cat fur has been in place in the United States since 2000, but activists complain that labeling is not required on items costing less than $150, so dog and cat fur can be used without consumers’ knowledge.
However, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, Connie Vecellio, said there was no loophole. “It is illegal to import dog or cat fur products into this country,” she said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu insisted Tuesday the country was increasingly aware of animal rights and said the “torture and cruel killing of cats and dogs was by no means a universal phenomenon in China.”
“In recent years, our awareness of protecting animals has been on the rise, especially along with the economic and social development in China and the rise of living standards,” Jiang said when asked about the proposed ban at a press briefing.
But Chinese animal rights campaigners said abuse was widespread. Merchants beat cats and dogs to death and even flay them alive for their skins, said Zhang Dan, vice chairman for the China Small Animal Protection Association.
She welcomed the proposed EU ban, saying “it’s a very important signal to the Chinese government and there’s no way they can’t notice it.”
“Many animal rights volunteers in China are trying to spread the news of what’s happening here and I hope people in the West will notice,” she said.
To back his call for an EU ban, Markos Kyprianou, the European Commission’s consumer protection commissioner, showed gruesome videos Monday of dogs being bludgeoned or cut open to bleed to death, and cats in cages being strangled by wire nooses.
Zhang said she had seen similar videos, including footage of a market in southern China where live cats were thrown into boiling water to kill them and prepare them for skinning.
Activists say cat and dog fur is mainly used for lining gloves, as trim on boots and coats, as well as on keys chains and toys.
One Chinese trader said, however, that most exporters would prefer to use rabbit fur because it’s cheaper.
“Rabbit is the cheapest fur in China,” said Liu Ning, a trader with Furshion, a fur import-export business based in Hebei province. “If they are using cat or dog instead of rabbit, it doesn’t make sense economically.”
Liu said that rabbit skins in China cost $1 to $4, while cat pelts sell for $2 and dog pelts for $6.
More often, cat or dog fur is dyed and passed off as other types of more expensive fur, said Liu, who said his company doesn’t export cat or dog fur.
Kyprianou said the fur trade’s secretive nature makes it hard to estimate how much dog and cat fur finds its way onto the market, or pinpoint its source.
A woman who answered the phone at the Chinese Association of Fur Professionals refused to give figures for the amount of fur China exports every year and said the association had no comment on the proposed ban. The woman, who would only give her surname Liu, said cat and dog fur exports are “just a small part” of China’s total fur exports.
Yang Jianzhong, a sales manager with the Liushi Leather Plant in Hebei province said his company exported dog and rabbit fur – but only to South Korea, so the proposed EU ban wouldn’t affect their business. He refused to say how much fur they exported every year.
Zhang said concerns about animal welfare are growing in China as more people own pets, but the country still lacks basic legal protections for animals.
She said activists were trying to use the 2008 Olympics as leverage to pressure the government into enacting an anti-cruelty law and animal rights protection legislation, arguing that failing to do so would sully China’s image during the games.
Poverty and isolation are the main reasons animals in China are not treated as well as they are in some other countries, she said.
“We don’t have a tradition to treat animals as equal living creatures,” Zhang said. “In rural areas, many people don’t know animal rights. … Animals are just seen as labor, a family-owned property they can use any way they want. They think the animals’ existence is just for making money.”
Liu, the trader, said ending China’s cat and dog fur trade will mainly depend on measures like the proposed EU ban, which will curb overseas demand.
“If the European Union and Americans don’t like cat and dog fur and don’t use them, then China’s businessmen won’t produce them,” he said. “But if they use them, there is a market and they will make them.”