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Los Angeles considers a ban on selling fur

Los Angeles considers a ban on selling fur
A fur stole is displayed in a shop in L.A.'s Fashion District. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles could become the biggest city in the United States to ban businesses from selling fur, under a plan being vetted at City Hall.

At a meeting Wednesday, animal welfare activists argued that the fur trade was brutal, inhumane and unnecessary.

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“The bottom line is that humans do not need to wear the fur of another animal. Not in Los Angeles, not in any other city.… To continue to allow the sale of fur is to condone violence,” said Brian Ruppenkamp, a member of Los Angeles Animal Save.

Under the proposal from Councilmen Bob Blumenfield and Paul Koretz, Los Angeles would prohibit businesses from selling fur products, including clothing, hats, handbags or key chains trimmed with real fur, unless they were selling used goods. Manufacturing fur products would also be forbidden.

More than a dozen people showed up Wednesday to urge the city to move forward with the ban, saying that L.A. needed to take a stand against cruelty. At one point, Marc Ching of the group Animal Hope in Legislation played a brief video, which he said showed a live fox at a fur farm in China screaming in pain as its fur was being pulled off.

“This is an industry that’s based on the abuse and suffering of animals for very trivial ends,” said Veronica Rafkind, who handles public policy for the group.

Koretz, who was the sole councilman at the committee meeting, asked city staffers to come back with more information before the panel votes in a few weeks. If a law is ultimately passed, Los Angeles would be following West Hollywood, Berkeley and San Francisco, which have imposed similar rules.

No one from fur companies spoke at the meeting. In the past, representatives of the fur industry have sharply disputed claims about animal mistreatment made by activists, saying that the industry is highly regulated and that some gruesome footage has been staged.

When West Hollywood began implementing its ban on selling fur apparel, some shops lamented the decision. One sued the city, arguing that West Hollywood had overstepped its authority.

West Hollywood eventually carved out an exception for fur products made from animals taken under a state trapping license, saying it made the ordinance easier to defend in court. Even before that happened, the West Hollywood ban was seen as largely symbolic because shoppers could easily head to neighboring Los Angeles or Beverly Hills for fur.

So far, the city has issued three warnings under the ordinance, along with one citation that was ultimately dismissed, according to West Hollywood city spokesman Joshua Schare.

“What has the ban in West Hollywood really achieved? Nothing,” said Keith Kaplan, spokesman for the Fur Information Council of America, a trade group that represents fur manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers. “If they can’t find it in West Hollywood, they go right outside West Hollywood to buy it.”

Kaplan argued that such bans hurt long-standing businesses, unfairly single out one industry and ignore the preferences of consumers. If Los Angeles passes its own ban, his group will probably take legal action, Kaplan said.

In L.A.’s Fashion District, a rainbow of fur boas, headbands, handbags, stoles and vests were arrayed Wednesday under the bright lights of one small shop. Yellow tags advertised $295 handbags, vests selling for $495 and $595, and a mink coat going for $2,495. Shop owner Paul Naim said it would be unfair to stop consumers from buying his products.

“First it’s what you wear, then it’s what you can eat,” Naim said. “It’s not what democracy is supposed to be.”

The exact details of the proposed ban in Los Angeles are still to be determined. At Wednesday’s meeting, Koretz asked staffers to report back on several issues, including whether to include the exemption for trapped animals that West Hollywood had adopted, and whether a ban would trigger legal issues surrounding the fur hats that Hasidic Jewish men often wear.

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Koretz also relayed several questions that he said had been posed by another council member, including what economic effects or job losses might result from banning fur sales. That didn’t worry him personally, Koretz told the crowd.

“Animal cruelty is animal cruelty, and if we lose a few jobs, that’s life,” he said to applause.

Banning fur would be the latest step that L.A. leaders have taken in the name of protecting animals.

Four years ago, the City Council passed a law banning trainers from using bullhooks on circus elephants. Before that, lawmakers prohibited pet shops from selling commercially-bred dogs, cats and rabbits, arguing that they should offer only rescued pets for adoption.

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