The closure of the city's last furrier marks the passing of an era in Minneapolis (" 'Legendary' furrier to close after 76 years," Sept. 29). But it is also a remarkable indication of the degree to which attitudes and consumer preferences concerning fur have shifted.
The domestic market for new fur has shrunk. Consumer concerns about animal suffering and environmental degradation have already led the world's fashion leaders, including Macy's and Nordstrom, to move away from animal fur.
In the past few years nearly all major designers and big retailers have adopted fur-free policies. This dramatic shift was bound to exert its effects on independent operations like Ribnick.
Now, sales of fur apparel and home accessories will occur only in a handful of shops in Minneapolis, and will not account for any substantial portion of their business. For this and other reasons, there could be no better time for the City Council to pass an ordinance that prohibits the sale of new fur in Minneapolis.
Such a step would be in keeping with our times, an era in which millions of Americans have made clear that they don't like animal cruelty. Recent polling shows that 71% of Americans oppose the killing of animals for fur.
Over 100 million animals are killed annually for the trade. More than 85% are raised and killed on large-scale fur factory farms, where wild animals such as foxes and minks live in tiny, crowded, wire-bottom cages and are killed by electrocution, gassing or bludgeoning.
In the U.S., there are no federal laws protecting animals on fur farms, and fur-bearing animals are not subject to humane slaughter laws. In China, where most fur products originate, there also are no animal welfare regulations for fur animals.
The fur industry contends that fur is better for the environment than more humane alternatives. But fur production has many costly environmental externalities, such as the wanton killing of threatened species like the Canada lynx and ecologically important animals like beaver, otter, mink and bobcat at a time when the earth is in a major extinction crisis.
On fur factory farms, meanwhile, waste runoff pollutes soil and waterways. The tanning and dying process uses toxic chemicals, like chromium and formaldehyde, which are harmful to the environment and humans.
In the pandemic era, fur has come to pose a public health threat as well. In 2020, mink on more than 430 fur farms across Europe and North America tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Farmed mink are the only species known to transmit COVID-19 to humans, and the mutations might reduce the efficacy of vaccines. Last year nearly 20 million mink were killed to protect public health. Fur farms are reservoirs for infectious diseases and possibly the next pandemic.
Taking account of this threat as well as changing consumer preferences, Norway (once the top producer of fur in the world), Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and many other nations have banned fur farming. Israel has ended new fur sales, as have California; Wellesley and Weston, Mass., and Ann Arbor, Mich. The U.K. is currently looking to do the same.
Major fashion brands are now using faux fur made from biodegradable plant-based or recycled materials that are more humane and sustainable than animal fur. Stella McCartney recently released Koba faux fur, made from a blend of corn and recycled materials, and Ecopel has introduced faux fur made from recycled plastics collected from the oceans.
Minneapolis is well positioned to act on widespread public sentiment and pass an ordinance prohibiting the sale of new fur products. Such an ordinance can exempt sales of used furs and those used by tribes for cultural or spiritual purposes.
We have stylish, warm, humane alternatives being designed and produced by companies that are thriving and creating new economic opportunities and prosperity. This is our future.
Minneapolis is dealing with many large and thorny issues right now. This one is simple.
Matt Johnson is lead organizer for Fur Free Minneapolis; Christine Coughlin is Minnesota state director for the Humane Society of the United States.