At current prices, the economic value of fur is 533 euro per kg, while the value of cotton is 1,32 euro per kilo. Said in another way, one will need to produce 403 times more cotton than fur in order to gain the same economic value.
Now, why is this relevant? It is relevant because export, job creation, investments and tax income are all closely attached to economic value, and if you want to criticise fur for being environmentally more harmful than cotton, you need to put your comparison into a socio-economic context to achieve any kind of fairness.
Last week, animal rights organisations worldwide started the distribution of (yet another) online petition which is a part of their long-term plan to end human use of animals. This time the target is the Canadian ‘Fur is Green‘-campaign which has been a thorn in the side of the global animal rights movement for some years.
The animal rights community finds it offensive to claim that fur is green, and to prove their point animal rights groups in The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy commissioned a life cycle analysis study on the environmental impact of fur compared to the environmental impact of cotton. The study from consultancy agency CE Delft which, may I say in passing, was never peer reviewed, concludes that the climate change impact of fur is 12 times that of cotton. With the above calculation in mind, I might as well say that the cotton producer is forced to impact climate change 33 times more than a fur producer in order to pay an employee for a day’s work (by producing 121 kg cotton and 300 grams of fur respectively at the value of 160 euro).
But even without the very relevant perspective of economic value, the report from CE Delft has some serious holes in it. For one thing, it only looks at the production chain. This way, the animal rights groupies conveniently managed to dodge the question about the lifespan of fur and cotton. However, a life cycle analysis is just that – an analysis considering the full life cycle of a product. It is a huge environmental advantage when products have a long life span because the environmental impacts are distributed over much longer time, and a fur coat has an estimated life span of 20-30 years. Cotton products? Not so much.
Another problem with the CE Delft study concerns a simple misassumption. It is correct when CE Delft states that the biggest environmental impact of fur products is connected to the quantity of feed consumed by the fur animals. Unfortunately CE Delft has used a figure of 563 kg feed per kg of fur – this is about 75% too high. According to Knowledge Centre for Agriculture in Denmark the actual figure is more like 320 kg, and, obviously, such a major mistake changes the study’s conclusions significantly.
It is the fewest of human activities that don’t leave some kind of environmental footprint; driving a car, going on holiday or wearing a fur coat. Given that attacking the fur industry with environmental arguments really have less to do with environmental concerns and everything to do with the animal rights movement believing they have a patent on defining what is morally right and wrong for the rest of us, I doubt that economic perspectives have any play in those circles. After all, we have heard them suggest the banning of everything from ice cream to zoological gardens without ever suggesting how to replace the economic loses of their utopian future vision. For the sake of the public debate however, it would be nice to see the animal rights supporters take the cotton out of their ears and stick their noses into the real world.