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Jewish World Review Feb. 16, 1999/30 Shevat, 5759

Larry Elder

Larry Elder

The fur coat death notice

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) Thinking about buying a fur coat?

Well, if you live in Beverly Hills, your coat may soon contain the following message:

"Consumer notice: This product is made with fur from animals that may have been killed by electrocution, gassing, neck breaking, poisoning, clubbing, stomping or drowning and may have been trapped in steel-jaw leg-hold traps."

This May, Beverly Hills residents vote on whether furriers must place this, ah, "death notice" in fur coats. The Beverly Hills Consumers for Informed Choices, the group behind the death notice, argues that people have a "right" to know how the animals get killed. Can't people who want to know ask? The group's spokesperson, John Stern, says that salespeople simply lie to customers.

The organization distributed a secretly recorded videotape showing salespeople either lying to or misleading customers about the way animals are killed. Since you can't trust salespeople to level with customers, says Stern, this law provides truth-in-execution.

But what if a customer does not want to know? I recently ate a chicken taco. I don't believe for one moment that a chicken voluntarily diced and cooked itself, and then jumped into a taco shell just to satisfy my hunger.

Yet I'm not particularly interested in knowing how the animal went from breeding farm to take-out. I frequently eat in a local restaurant and once had to pass near the kitchen to go to the rest room. Great food, but dirty kitchen. For a while, I enjoyed the food a bit less. For a while.

Does the average fur coat purchaser really think that the animals died a natural death, that some lucky fur coat maker spotted dead animals on the side of the road, scooped 'em up and said, "Hey, look what I found!"?

Spokesperson Stern says that any customer who does not want the information can just not read the card. Thus, we impose a burden on someone who does not want to know. Yet we impose no obligation on consumers who want to know by simply expecting them to take measures to find out.

But salespeople lie. They withhold information that could sour a sale.

Shocking! Simply shocking! When the used car guy tells you the '82 Nova purrs like a kitten, do you accept that? When the home seller calls his house "pristine," does the prospective home buyer take his word? Or does the buyer operate under the assumption of caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware? C'mon, sure salespeople lie, mislead, obfuscate. So, protect yourself. Get information. Call the Consumers for Informed Choices.

Movies using animals often run disclaimers telling us that the animals were well treated. Filmmakers provide this because they assume customers want to know. Do fur buyers want to know how the animals were turned into coats? Are consumers demanding this information? If so, furriers need no push compelling them to do that which their customers demand. If fur buyers wanted information and didn't get it or were lied to, customers have choices. They can not buy or buy from someone who will be candid.

The consumer group collected 3,300 signatures to place this "death label" on the ballot, proof, says the group, of the demand. Really. Of the signatories, how many own fur coats? Will owners toss their garments in a big bonfire once they discover the animals' fate?

What's next? A death label on hot dogs? What about hamburgers, shoes, belts and purses? And don't get me started on sushi.

Is the group's true goal to make fur coats illegal? Stern says no. Does he hope sales decrease? Well, he admits he would shed no tears if sales dropped but insisted that the issue is disclosure. Still, it's hard to accept the group's alleged pro-choice position on fur when a spokesperson for the Humane Society of the United States says, "Fur is a purely status symbol, and more and more, it is a symbol of cruelty. Beverly Hills has a warm climate. The only reason why people would want to wear fur is for the status." OK, let's outlaw status. The list includes BMWs, polo lessons and five-bedroom homes.

Maybe, as President Clinton likes to say, there is a third way. Perhaps the death notice can satisfy both the need to know and the desire not to know. Simply give the death notice to Clinton's speechwriters for a re-write.

"Consumer notice: This animal experienced a premature cessation of its neurological functions as a result of the administration of a variety of measures, all designed to induce a 100 percent mortality response. If you or anyone else objects to the animal termination methods described herein, please be advised we will accept a strongly worded censure."


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©1998, Laurence A. Elder