Mette Lykke Neilsen is CEO of Fur Europe.
Last month I was fortunate to be invited to give evidence to the Environment Select Committee‘s Inquiry into fur labelling.
MPs here in the UK have quite rightly identified an issue that European policy-makers have got badly wrong: the EU’s textile labelling scheme which is designed to provide clear information to consumers has the exact opposite effect when it comes to products which contain fur.
The slightly counter-intuitive rules covering textile products, mean that if a garment is over 20 per cent by weight fur then there’s not even a requirement to tell the consumer it contains any fur. Even ministers giving evidence to the EFRA Committee have admitted they find the EU’s labelling scheme confusing.
Parliamentarians in the UK should be commended for taking an in-depth look at this issue. My hope is that, whatever the UK’s exit from the EU looks like, Britain can be a trail-blazer and actually bring in its own labelling scheme right now (before Brexit and or any transition period) so that consumers can distinguish from apparel that contains natural and fake fur as soon as is practicable.
But’s let’s face it, basic information about whether the bobble on your winter hat is fake or natural fur is only part of what most informed buyers these days expect. What they really – and quite rightly – want to be told about in the case of fur products is the animal welfare standards.
This was not initially part of the Committee’s remit but I hope, having heard our evidence, that MPs across the parties can agree that a welfare label will play a vital role in the future, offering crucial information to buyers. It’s for this reason that European fur farms are currently in the process of undertaking certification for compliance with the new WelFur certification scheme.
WelFur is an industry-led initiative that has been a painstaking process and years in the making, and we’re really excited that by December 2019 only fur from certified farms will be sold through Europe’s three fur auction houses. This means if you’re a fur farm and you don’t pass your certification process then you don’t get to sell your fur. Simple. Why? Because there’s no point introducing a welfare inspection regime if it’s not going to be tough and offer real reassurance to the fur-buying public.
So how does WelFur work? Well it is in essence an evaluation model developed by leading scientists, who have created 22 species-specific measures for mink and 25 species-specific measures for foxes which take into account different aspects of the animals, their environments and their management.
WelFur scores (used to determine certification) are based on four recognized principles of animal welfare: good feeding, good health, good housing, and appropriate behavior. Each farm has to have three visits throughout the production cycle.
A leading, independent global inspection, verification, testing and certification company – Baltic Control, which is recognised for its work both with EU and UN – is responsible for all farm inspections. Fur Europe’s contract with Baltic Control strictly states that only Baltic Control decides which farmers are awarded the WelFur certificate. And once a certificate is awarded, each farm requires a minimum of one further annual visit by Baltic Control to maintain certification. If a farm receives a certificate but the following year is not able to pass mandatory maintenance assessment, the certificate will be withdrawn immediately. No ifs, no buts.
Whatever the EFRA Committee recommends when it publishes its report, and whatever the Government’s response to it, the WelFur certification scheme is already underway – it means that very soon consumers will have one piece of vital information when they are buying fur. It’s not the full picture but it’s a step in the right direction. Now it’s up to MPs and DEFRA to take up the baton and do whatever they can to introduce a clearer UK labelling scheme. Taken together these two reforms will dramatically improve transparency and consumer information.