Fur and Leather Industry: Comparative Legal Analysis of the U.S. and China

January 25, 2021Zihao Yu


Animal products of fur and leather are coming from several sources. Most of the fur products are coming from animal fur farming and leather farming, a part of the products are coming from the animal meat industry, and others are from wild trap and hunting, as well as the importation from other countries. 

The products from the meat industry are regulated under the agriculture law for animal welfare and slaughter. The products from wild traps and hunting are regulated under the wildlife law. Fur and leather farming are regulated with specific laws or under the agriculture law or without any regulations depending on the jurisdictions. 

Debate on Fur and Leather

There are pros and cons for fur and leather from many different points of view. For example, there are 5 reasons not to wear leather: 1) For animals, 2) For the environment, 3) For the workers' well-being, 4) For more sustainable purchases, and 5) To become a thoughtful consumer.

There are 5 Reasons Why We Must Wear Leather and Fur: 1) There are no alternatives that are biodegradable; 2) There are no alternatives that are sustainable; 3) There are no alternatives that are as long-lasting;  4) There are no alternatives that are as environment-friendly; and 5) There are no alternatives that are as safe. 

Is Fur Inherently Animal Cruelty?

On one side, the attitudes towards animals are different. Animal rights or abolitionism holds that “all sentient beings, humans or nonhumans, share a basic right: the right not to be treated as the property of others.” Farming is not good for the animals. Animal utilitarianism thinks “the use of nonhuman animals can be acceptable only if the happiness their exploitation causes is greater than the harm it causes,” so the harm to the animals shall be balanced with the benefit to human beings. Luckily, they all think the industry is not good for the animals. There are “cruelty-free” brands these years, which makes the discussion more complex.

Do Fur and Leather Harm the Environment?

On the other hand, the environmental impact is uncertain. The leather and fur industry uses a lot of toxic and harmful chemicals when making animal products, which pollutes water, air, and ground, and harms the health condition of the workers. But the products are durable and can be dissolved to nature after use. The faux fur and leather are made from fossil fuels which are nonrenewable and the fibers can neither last long nor be dissolved by nature after use, “because most faux-fur and ‘vegan leather’ products are made from petroleum-based materials like polyester and PVC — essentially liquid plastic spun into yarn, or pressed into a shoe — that shed tiny plastic particles during and after production.” There are scientific reports on each side giving the opposite opinion on whether the fur or the alternative is more environmentally friendly. 

“Frustratingly, most studies on fur's ecological harm are sponsored by anti-fur groups. On the flip side, many studies that claim fur's earth-friendly benefits are funded by pro-fur brands.” By bazaar.com.

Is Fur Crueler Than Leather, Wool, and Silk?

There are discussions on whether the fur industry is crueler than the leather and wool industry. It is widely known that wearing fur causes horrific and unnecessary cruelty, but leather and wool industries are also killing animals to make clothes. They are seldom considered as cruelty because they are often considered as byproducts of meat production. Many animals are raised and killed exclusively for their leather and wool such as cows, rabbits, and sheep and the treatment is cruel according to the undercover documentation.

Learn more at Fur is Cruel, but What About Leather and Wool?

There are other discussions such as “Does fur and leather industry harm workers?;” “Is fur and leather necessary?;” or “Do you have to be a vegan if you don’t use fur and leather?”

According to CDC in the USA, cancer risk was higher near tanneries due to such chemicals being used. The workers there undoubtedly are in contact with these chemicals and their health could be at risk, suffering from skin diseases and respiratory illnesses. However, the industry also provides working opportunities to lots of people for their life and family.

"Don't buy Fur.... [*** RE POSTED, 1-08-19**}" by tvdflickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0

U.S. Legislation on Fur and Leather

Federal Level

The Animal Welfare Act ensures humane treatment of animals but exempts animals used or intended for use as fiber. And the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires livestock to be slaughtered humanely to prevent “needless suffering,” which does not extend protection to fur animals.

The Fur Products Labeling Act, 15 U.S.C. § 69, declares that fur products will be considered “misbranded” if “falsely or deceptively labeled” or identified, and/or if the product does not contain a label that legibly shows the name(s) of the animals from which the fur was taken, the name or other identification of the person(s) who manufactured the fur, and the country of origin of the fur. 

The Dog and Cat Fur Protection Act, 19 U.S.C. § 1308, prohibits the import, export, and sale of dog and cat fur products in the U.S. The law requires that the Secretary of Treasury submit a report to Congress every year on the government’s enforcement efforts and its ability to do so. 

Wildlife regulation

The Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act, the Fur Seal Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act form the framework of the wildlife protection on fur and leather as the action of “taking” the body of the wild animals.

The Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1541, works to develop conservation programs to protect endangered and threatened species, acknowledges the U.S.’ commitment to conserving, as much as practical, wildlife under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”), and encourages states to create conservation programs (with federal financial assistance) that meet national and international conservation standards.

The Lacey Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3371-3378, prohibits wildlife trade in animals that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold.

The Fur Seal Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1151-1187, makes it illegal to take North Pacific fur seals anywhere in the U.S. and mandates the Secretary of Commerce to regulate the fur seal breeding colonies on the Pribilof Islands, (part of Alaska), to ensure that activities on the Islands do not deter the conservation of the North Pacific fur seals.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act, (“MMPA”) 16 U.S.C. §§ 1361 - 1421h, was created to protect marine mammals that are in danger of extinction or depletion because of human activities; the Act applies to mammals that primarily live in the water and to all parts of the mammal, including its fur. 

State Level

On the state level, fur and leather are regulated under trapping and hunting law, labeling laws, and cat and dog fur laws. Some states regulate fur farming as agricultural activities of “livestock” and some regulate fur farming as domestic animals. However, according to a report published by Born Free USA in 2009, many states allow fur farms to be unregulated.

In May 2019, hundreds of furriers, workers, and environmentalists rallied at City Hall Tuesday to voice their opposition to a City Council proposal to ban the sale of real fur and shearling ahead of a public hearing. They argue a fur ban would have a devastating impact on New York City, shuttering hundreds of small businesses, putting thousands out of work, infringing on consumer choice, and harming the environment.

California became the first US state to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur products in October 2019. The law bars residents from selling or making clothing, shoes, or handbags with fur, starting in 2023. The proposal was vigorously opposed by the billion-dollar US fur industry, while the Fur Information Council of America has already threatened to sue.

Learn more about the U.S. law on fur here.

"Red Fox" by AcrylicArtist is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Regulations in China

In 2005, the Department of Forestry published the Interim Provisions on the Management of Domestication, Breeding and Utilization of Fur Wild Animals (Beasts) (《毛皮野生动物(兽类)驯养繁育利用技术管理暂行规定》) in order to standardize the production behavior of the industry. Before the publication, an undercover video of fur farming in China was released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and it aroused the attention of the international community. Officials stated that this video was not the whole story but could happen in some places.

The rule covers the species of wildlife beasts such as mink, silver fox, blue fox, red fox, arctic fox, raccoon dog, badger, etc. The rule provides the standards for site construction, breeding management, sanitation and epidemic prevention, peeling and processing, environmental protection, file and information management, and animal welfare. The peeling and processing require humane slaughter and prohibits the peeling while the animal is still alive. (Article 6) The animal welfare provision requires that “(1) fur animals shall be provided with a suitable living environment, necessary free movement space, sufficient food, and drinking water; (2) in the process of transporting fur animals, the transportation time shall be shortened as much as possible to ensure that they are not harmed, and the transportation cage must meet the basic requirements of living for fur animal; (3) humane and safe execution methods must be used when removing the skin, and irregular execution methods such as beating and percussion are prohibited; and (4) it is forbidden to impair the physical and mental health of fur animals, as well as all kinds of abuses and violations of fur animal welfare. (Article 6)

According to the “Strategic Research Report on the Sustainable Development of China's Wildlife Breeding Industry” (《中国野生动物养殖产业可持续发展战略研究报告》) in 2017, from 1956 to 2014, the output value of China’s fur and leather industry is 850 billion yuan, and in 2015, the output value of fur and leather industry in China was estimated to be 389.483 billion yuan, including 26.23 billion for producing, 141.255 billion for processing, and 32 billion for import and export (the black market is not included). There are 4.75 million people working directly in the fur and leather industry, 2.85 million people working indirectly in the industry, and the industry is beneficial for around 20 million people in total in 2014.

Compared to the U.S. legislation, the fur and leather of cats and dogs are not mentioned. In 2007, the European Parliament has backed a ban on cat and dog fur imports, in a move to curb the slaughter of millions of cats and dogs in China.

However, most of the fur and leather farms are on a small scale, and there are not enough sources for the enforcement of the Interim Provisions. Adding that the public does not accept the concept of animal welfare widely, there is still a long way to go for the improvement of animal welfare in the fur and leather industry. 

"Southern New Zealand fur seal." by Bernard Spragg is marked with CC0 1.0


The fur and leather industry is cruel to animals. People have to know the truth about where their clothes come from and then make their own decision whether to use alternatives. Animal groups are keeping on fighting against the industry. The legislator in China shall take domestic animals and animal welfare issues into consideration in further legislation. The fur and leather industry could operate considering animal welfare with the help of the public, such as raising awareness, spreading the word, and animal rights movements.

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