Saturday, January 01, 2011

Environmentalists, Fashion Designers Re-brand Fur as “Guilt-Free”

The hypocrisy of protecting wetlands by promoting clothes made from invasive “swamp-rats”

In the late 1800s, some Louisiana fur farmers started bringing cat-sized brown rodents called nutria over from Argentina to be bred, killed and skinned for posh women’s clothing. Of course, some eventually escaped their cages and found freedom in the wild, where they exponentially procreated and devoured the roots of plants that keep coastal marshes from disintegrating into open water. Now, decades later, there are about 20 million of these semi-aquatic, web-footed, rat-tailed, buck-toothed, beaveresque mammals inhabiting the state shredding thousands of acres of wetlands.*

But who ultimately gets blamed for this unnatural disaster? Certainly not the fur industry, which actually caused it by recklessly importing exotic animals for economic exploitation. No, of course not…because it’s obviously all the nutria’s fault for daring to evade their tormentors! Well, according to environmentalists, that is, who have teamed up with the unrepentant fur industry on a campaign to convince people that buying nutria-fur clothes is “green” and “eco-friendly.” It is literally and seriously being marketed as “guilt-free fur”—despite the fact that Louisiana uses federal tax dollars to pay hunters and trappers $5 a tail for killing nutria dead in typically violent and painful fashion.

The “guilt-free” justification, best expressed by the founder of fashion design collective Righteous Fur, Cree McCree, is “If (animals are) being killed anyway, then why not make something beautiful out of them?” True, Louisiana does already exterminate more than 450,000 nutria annually, and nearly 90% of the carcasses are simply left to rot in the bayou. But nutria fur is still made from murdered animals and presumably processed using the same carcinogenic chemicals as other animal furs—none of which seems particularly “green” or “guilt-free” to me.

Some animal advocates apparently disagree, as a few vegan/vegetarian fashion designers have reportedly jumped on the bandwagon** (perhaps rationalizing that at least these animals don’t spend their whole lives locked in tiny cages, like captive-bred fur-bearers do, freezing in winter and boiling in summer, mutilating themselves and cannibalizing their companions in response to intense stress). In November 2010, some of these veg fashion designers allegedly participated in a fashion show called (wait for it) Nutria-Palooza at New York City’s House of Yes sponsored by Righteous Fur***. This exclusive event featured models sashaying down the runway donning nutria-fur coats, gloves, hats, leg warmers, and even g-strings created by more than 20 professional designers.

You may be thinking at this point, “Well, Mr. AnimalRighter, at least they’ve proposed a solution to this sticky situation—what’s your suggestion? You want the nutria should just be left to wreck the ecosystem, driving your supposed friend the native muskrat into extinction while they’re at it?” And I reply, Uh, no. Granted, I’m not an expert on the environment or invasive species, and I don’t have some magically humane answer that will neatly solve this zoological dilemma…but I do want to make a few observations:

1) It was the fur industry’s commodification of a non-native species that started this whole mess in the first place: if they hadn’t brought nutria over here to be commercially exploited, these feral rodents wouldn’t be destroying coastal wetlands today.

2) Ironically, the fur industry’s solution to this problem that they created is to pursue the very same objective they originally brought nutria over here for—that is, to make killing these creatures profitable.****

3) Yet, instead of holding the fur industry accountable for destroying wetlands, environmentalists are financially and philosophically rewarding it by giving fur’s ethical image makeover a sheen of scientific legitimacy.

4) The next time alien animals endanger a native habitat as a consequence of corporate negligence and exploitation, environmentalists will yet again enthusiastically endorse the species’ merciless obliteration for expediency’s sake while conveniently ignoring the human culprits’ culpability. 

5) And finally, to reiterate, there is no such thing as “guilt-free fur—unless it’s worn by the animal to who it rightfully belongs!

* Of southern Louisiana’s 4.2 million acres of wetlands, nutria presently impact approximately 8,475—or about 0.002% of the total (according to the states official Coastwide Nutria Control Program). For perspective, this represents just a minute fraction of the damage done to Gulf Coast wetlands by, say, the BP oil spill and other anthropocentric pollutants. 

** According to Huffington Post (although the blogger neglected to identify any veg fashion designers affiliated with Righteous Fur, and I was unable to find examples via a google search). Otherwise, trendy brands like Oscar de la Renta, Marc Jacobs and (the mostly pro-vegan) Etsy use nutria fur in their designs.

*** Righteous Fur was founded with a grant from the nonprofit Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTENP); Righteous Fur, in turn, gives BTENP an unspecified portion of its proceeds. So basically, purchasing nutria fur financially supports scientists’ efforts to eradicate nutria from Louisiana.

**** Nutria fur was quite popular in the first half of the 20th century, when Hollywood starlets posed for publicity photos with stoles made from this exotic species draped around their shoulders. It fell out of fashion sometime in the late 1980s after intrepid animal activists caused a fur market crash by splattering blood-red paint on fur-wearing humans.


  1. be truthful, these are actual invasive, violent ant very destructive pests, they will hunt and kill any other animal in the area including beavers , squirrels, any fish or crab, tortoises. they will do immense damage to cultivations , destroy river banks and by all means actually do behave like what they are, giant and very invasive water rats
    We should rejoice for exterminating these vermin as other normal fauna will have chances of survival.
    by the way did I mention that just like wild pigs nutria will literally obliterate any cultivations or native flora ?

  2. Fashion and clothing logos are a very profitable way to bring more and more customers to your products and that too again and again if you prove your worth. A unique clothing line or a boutique needs a good and descriptive logo to make new clients and lasting reputation in the market.

  3. Anonymous2:13 AM

    I've been vegan for more than 25 years and vegetarian before that. From time to time I consider problems such as these from the point of vegan ethics. It's notable that you don't have or are not willing to offer an answer or delve in deeper than the usual emotional or accusatory level shouting shame and blame at others.

    Even if the world was to become vegan tomorrow, which it won't, we would still facing such problems. How should they be dealt with?

    Unfortunately, if the animals were released in the 1900s, legally no one can be held responsible. The fur industry is not one.

    If vegan ethics are about causing the least suffering, the least suffering for whom? In this case, we have to balance the welfare of the invasive species against the welfare of all the native species who they kill and destroy their habit. Therefore, we have to include not just those who suffer but those who suffer not having a life who otherwise have would.

    If a species such as nutria were considered to have the animal rights we would wish them in their natural environment, then one could argue that the nutria have lost or diminished them by stepping out into a natural environment which belongs to other species who have greater rights to it. And if a species such as nutria were shown to be aggressive and murderous towards indigenous species, then why should we not step in to defend the indigenous species in the same way we would to defend children from an abuser or villagers from terrorist gunmen?

    And what value do we give the environment, which supports us all? It may be a too large, vague concept without any "cute fluffy animal" value, so beloved of fund raisers for many animal groups, but any damage to the environment as a whole will also cause suffering the animals within, e.g. increased rates of cancers in grazing animals due to damage to the atmosphere, a slow starvation to all those who lose their natural habitat to an invasive species.

    Just as even if one society or the whole world was to be "made" vegan tomorrow, we would still have criminal, murderous and even terrorist mentalities to deal with. How would you propose to deal with them? In essence, species such as these are of a similar nature ... and I can think of countless examples. Yes, originally caused by human ignorance, stupidity, negligence or greed ... but now major threats to entire eco-systems.

    The vegan, environmental and animal rights movements all carry with them various baggages of the past. The baggage of earlier, historical campaigns and like an individual forced to carry a too heavy burden, the body of these movements have been distorted by the weight of those campaigns.

    "No fur" is one of the more emotive rallying cries, and fund raising devices for some organizations such as PETA, with such historical weight. Yet, for all the millions invested in it, and millions taken in donations and spent on wages and offices, it has not been successful and it has not come up with solutions for problems such as this. It has great "look at me" value and appeals to a simplistic, and highly metropolitan, view of life. A view of life which lives of great suffering ... but just exports it far away and out of sight. A great suffering that vegans are still part of.

  4. Anonymous2:13 AM


    As a vegan, and I emphasise that, I have to accept that killing, never mind suffering, is part of life even though I have chosen to minimise it as much as possible in my own life. As a vegan who has lived in the country, and been involved in human food production, I can tell you even vegans are indebted for some killing in our name. Humans being are also a terrible, invasive species.

    Therefore, I think we have to develop a more mature, inclusive ethics or philosophy, a vegan approach even to killing, not dwell at an immature level and not exploit emotional donors and supporters for donations for a problem we cannot fix.

    Part of being "ethical" is also to apply ethics to ourselves and it is time many groups had a ethical audit and were very, very honest about their effectiveness.

    In a case such as coypu or nutria, there is no argument to defend them. They are not of any great environmental or biological value. In fact, they have a negative value and suffer as they have not adopted to Northern environments. It is not economically feasible to trap them and send them back to South America, nor neuter and release them, and I am sure South America would not thank us for them. Killing them as quickly as possible is the best course of action.

    A vegan approach to this problem would be to ensure that they are killed as quickly and with the least amount of suffering as practically possible.

    Whether after death we should give each one a solemn burial, or recycle it to pay for the problem we have to resolve ... even animals have costs in today's world. I agree they should not be farmed for healthy meat, as they are in some places, but I am less concerned by what happens to species out of balance and causing damage to the greater environment.

    The management of the greater environment must come first in our value system as all species depend on it.

    Is it better to replace caged mink etc for wild coypu fur? Yes, without any doubt. Is it better (i.e. would it cause less suffering) to recycle a problem species that already have to be removed from the environment than build a factory to produce artificial alternatives made from petroleum products ... without a doubt. That is the tough realisation we vegans have to consider.

  5. Awesome work.Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading.Thanks for the share