Fur flies over label proposal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 February, 1999, 12:00am

ON glitzy Rodeo Drive, the fur is always flying - off the racks, at great speed, of the Beverly Hills street's expensive boutiques. But the rabbits, foxes and minks that are routinely sacrificed at the altar of high fashion may soon be given the right to some posthumous retribution.

With all those wealthy, image-conscious women on hand, Los Angeles ranks with New York as the nation's fur capital. And while Chicago's fur-wearers usually have an eye on the bitter weather, those California girls have both eyes firmly fixed on the mirror.

Fur, of course, has for the past decade been about as politically correct as a round of golf with O J Simpson and Kenneth Starr. Animal rights activists have brought the maltreatment of our furry friends to national attention by decorating mink coats with red paint, throwing dead raccoons on to the lunch tables of fashion magazine editors, and enlisting top models to take part in advertising campaigns announcing: 'I'd rather be naked than wear fur.' But any good political movement has its backlash sooner or later, and it seems the fur industry's ship has come back in: fur sales are beginning to rise, reaching about US$1.25 billion (HK$9.66 billion) in the United States last year.

That has not deterred the good citizens of Beverly Hills, who may soon be on the point of becoming the first city to require fur coats to carry a warning label. A group calling itself Beverly Hills Consumers for Informed Choices has managed to collect the more than 3,000 signatures required to put the issue to the city's voters in a mini-plebiscite in May.

The organisation claims to be far removed from the usual scruffy bunch of animal rights commandos. Indeed, some of its members even admit to wearing fur. But they still want to draw attention to the inhumane killing of some of the creatures that end up on the backs of the well-to-do, and thereby force trappers to change their practices.

If their initiative passes, fur products will have to bear the following label: 'Consumer notice: This product is made with fur from animals that may have been killed by electrocution, gassing, neck-breaking, poisoning, clubbing, stomping or drowning and may have been trapped in steel-jaw leg-hold traps.' To many fur-lovers, such a label would be far more of a shock than the huge price tags.

One elegant Rodeo Drive shopper collared by the Los Angeles Times said: 'My attitude is, they were already dead before they put the coat together. I just see it and think, 'I've got to have that'. There's nothing more exciting than a fur wrapped around your body.' Fur-makers and retailers are naturally outraged at the antics going on in Beverly Hills, and the city's mayor also thinks it reflects badly on the infamous 90210 postal code.

Critics said that if the public knew how gruesomely most chickens and cattle were slaughtered for consumption, they would be shocked at that too.

The chief fur industry trade group is convening in Beverly Hills this week, attorneys in tow, for a crisis meeting on how to respond to the threat.

When the Crisis Pregnancy Centre in Orlando, Florida, received a cheque for US$10,000 from the 'Jeb Bush Election Campaign', it had every reason to be delighted. It was the biggest donation the charitable group had ever received.

But it also had every reason to raise an eyebrow. For while the state's new Republican governor is against abortion - like most of his prominent party colleagues - the centre is a clinic which helps facilitate abortions for any of its pregnant patients who want one.

Not surprisingly, then, the donation was a big mistake. When the younger Bush brother found he had US$600,000 left over from his successful campaign, he asked aides to draw up a list of charities. One of his staff members thought the Orlando clinic was similar to many 'pregnancy crisis centres' around the country, which are actually pro-life operations. Once the clinics draw in unwitting women on the promise of objective pregnancy counselling, they push aggressively for the patient to keep the baby.

The erroneous donation has put the Orlando clinic in a moral dilemma. It knows that to return the money is the right thing, but it is under no legal obligation.

'I know how he feels, but it's not my job to make sure he had his facts straight,' said its director, Tammy Sobieski.

That noisy anti-Castro crowd down in Miami is doing its best to make sure that sport is not allowed to break the ice between the US and Cuba.

The Baltimore Orioles baseball team is close to agreeing a deal with the Castro regime to play an exhibition charity game in Havana - possibly followed by a return leg in the US.

Even though President Bill Clinton has signed off on the idea, a group of Congressmen from southern Florida - where any talk of dealing with the Cuban leader is political suicide - have been lobbying the baseball players' union to put a stop to the game.

One of the legislators has compared playing ball in Cuba to participating in Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics, or sending a team to play in South Africa during apartheid.

But if critics were thinking a little more strategically, they would welcome the exhibition games with open arms. Let us face it, the aircraft that flies Cuba's biggest baseball stars to the US is likely to be half-empty for the return flight.

And it would save the players the trouble of defecting in the usual manner - in a leaky boat headed for Key West.