Shangcun is the rural epicentre of China’s fur-pelt industry. More than 60 per cent of the country’s trade in unprocessed fur is conducted on the streets and in open-air markets of the tiny town about 100 kilometres south of Beijing.
In one corner of the market animals are killed. Women snatch the live animals by their back legs then smash their heads on the hard ground, or strike them over the head with a bamboo pole. The animals are stripped of their fur, which is stretched over wide wooden paddles.
This is the blood and guts of China’s flourishing fur industry.
China is the world’s largest exporter of fur garments, most made from mink, fox and raccoon dog.
Consequently, China’s garment factories have developed a voracious appetite for fur of all kinds. International clothing makers that use fur have added to the demand, opening operations in China to take advantage of the country’s cheap labour and lack of animal cruelty laws.
The requirements are so great that China has become the world’s largest importer of raw fur.
The demand is also satisfied another way — with domestic dog and cat fur. Animal rights activists say some of the fur comes from stolen pets, animals gathered and transported cruelly and then slaughtered inhumanely.
Most Western countries restrict imports of dog and cat fur. But not Canada.
“No one sells cat and dog fur here because it’s free,” says one vendor.
It is a free because it is a byproduct of the country’s enormous dog and cat meat-slaughter industry.
Rural food markets sell live and recently butchered dogs and cats, while larger food processing plants grind the flesh into mass-market products. For example, dog is used to flavour inexpensive instant noodles sold in accurately labeled packages throughout the country. Dog meat is a staple for many rural families.
But the emerging animal welfare community has forced the cat and dog fur business into hiding.
This element of the fur industry operates under the radar, in private negotiations with slaughter houses, tanning factories, garment manufacturers and exporters.
It begins with men called “bunchers” who collect dogs and cats until they have enough dogs to sell to a food-processing plant or enough cats to peddle at markets that deal with restaurants. Most of this trade takes place in provinces in the south and in the northeast.
The furs come from the food-processing plants and restaurants as byproducts.
Garments made from dog and cat fur are sold in markets and stores, as well as on China’s version of eBay, called taobao.com — often as jackets or vests but also as fashion accessories, trinkets and trims, even as cat-fur car seat upholstery and dog-pelt mattress covers.
Mona Lung, a Beijing-based project officer for the animal rights group ACTAsia, estimates two million cats and dogs are slaughtered each year in China.
The U.S., European Union and Australia have laws that ban importing cat and dog fur, whether it’s trim on a parka or the cuff on leather gloves.
Canada has no restrictions on fur imports, except for endangered species.
According to Industry Canada, 60 per cent of all fur garments that enter Canada come from China, trade worth about $12 million annually.
Because the cat and dog fur is often exported from China as trim on inexpensive garments, the U.S. tightened its ban in 2010 by requiring that all fur products be labeled — even those valued under $150 — for country of origin and species.
Canada has no similar requirements, despite the introduction of several private member’s bills in Parliament. Activists say that Canada could become a dumping ground for this fur.
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