Md. Bill Seeks to End Mislabeling of Fur Coats

By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Imagine discovering that the trim on your designer coat, labeled as faux fur, actually was rabbit. Or raccoon. Or even dog hair.

Some of the biggest names in retail -- Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Burlington Coat Factory -- have acknowledged that they sold coats made with rabbit or dog hair but labeled or advertised as different species or as artificial. They say they were misled by the coatmakers and have corrected the labels in recent months, after the Humane Society reported its findings from a two-year investigation.

The Humane Society said it had discovered those stores, and others, were selling coats that were trimmed with the hair of raccoon dog, a species of dog indigenous to China and other Asian countries that closely resembles raccoon.

Although U.S. law prohibits the importing of dog and cat fur, federal regulations don't require manufacturers to label the type of fur if the piece is valued at less than $150. So a lawmaker from Montgomery County plans to introduce legislation today that would change the rules in Maryland by requiring all manufacturers and retailers selling fur coats in the state to identify the species and country of origin on their labels, regardless of value.

"Consumers think they know what they're buying and what they're wearing," said Del. Tom Hucker (D), the bill's sponsor. "A lot of people I've talked to are shocked to know this is going on."

Across the country, the Humane Society has been lobbying state lawmakers to pass new regulations for fur coat labeling. Massachusetts, New York and Wisconsin have labeling laws like the one Hucker seeks, the society said. Similar bills are proposed this year in Delaware and Illinois.

During the past two years, the Humane Society conducted laboratory tests of the fur trim on two dozen types of coats from top-brand designers and found that the fur trim of many jackets derived from coyotes, wolfs, rabbits, raccoon dogs or other dogs.

In one case, Saks Fifth Avenue sold a Burberry parka that was advertised as having a "faux fur collar," but the Humane Society said its test found the collar was made of rabbit.

In another case, Burlington Coat Factory sold a Calvin Klein jacket that was labeled as raccoon but was made from the hair of Chinese raccoon dog, the Humane Society said.

"Consumers just don't have any idea what they're getting," said Michael Markarian, executive vice president at the Humane Society. "Sometimes they're told that it's fake fur, and often it's real animal fur ripped and peeled off the backs of animals."

Some of the retailers spotlighted in the Humane Society investigation said they were not aware that their products had been mislabeled.

Saks Fifth Avenue Senior Vice President Julia Bentley said the retailer was told by its vendor that the Burberry coat was faux fur. As soon as it was discovered not to be, she said, the store removed the jacket from its Web site, and Burberry offered a refund to customers.

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