Michelle is a Vegan and an Animal Rights Activist, as well as being a friend of my mothers for many years! I wanted to get her view on the use of fur and the controversy and issues surrounding it, as animal rights is something that she is very passionate about.
So thanks a lot Michelle for agreeing to letting me interviewing you, and answering my mammoth amount of questions! :)
Briefly, how did you get involved in Animal Rights? What motivated you to want to become an activist?
I had always been concerned about animal welfare, and I was a vegetarian. I was in Manchester about 20 years ago and I signed a petition to ban fox hunting, I was given a leaflet with a phone number of the local animal rights group M.A.P.G. I rang it Porla answered (who became a very dear friend of mine) she told me to come along to the next meeting, I did, then I started going on anti vivisection, circus and other demo's. The more I learnt, the more disgusted I was at the way animals are treated, I became vegan.
What are your opinions on fur?
I think fur should only be worn by the animals. I think it's an extremely cruel, barbaric, needless trade and should be completely banned.
Why do you feel that some people today still wear fur? (eg. is it a lack of education about the issue, ignorance against it, different views, etc.)
I think the majority is through lack of education, they simply do not realise the cruelty involved. Others are arrogant and selfish and just do not care as long as they have want they want. Some have a mistaken belief that it's environmentally friendly. I also think some people see music/film stars wearing fur and think if they wear it, they too will somehow be part of that world.
Do you feel that wearing fur is ever justified? (eg. In places where there are very cold climates)
Indigenous tribes people e.g Inuits who live in extreme climates wear fur from animals they kill and eat for themselves. They use no more than is required, they are not greedy nor are they motivated by profit. Note the use of the term Indigenous which excludes people living in extreme climates e.g Russia, who have the technology to create faux fur.
If you inherited a fur coat, what would you do with it? If someone came to you with a fur coat that they no longer wanted due to their beliefs, what would you suggest they do with it?
Donate it to C.A.F.T. (Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade) or other active animal rights groups to use on their anti fur demos.
A Vegan friend once told me about a charity that takes donations of old fur coats and gives them to poor or homeless people who live in cold climates. Do you think this is a good idea, does it sound like the sort of thing you would support?
No. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ran this campaign, it is offensive to people who are homeless (by suggesting they've no principles) as well as to animals (by promoting the wearing of fur)
What are your opinions on Faux Fur? (Asked as I know some people reject it as they feel it still promotes the 'look' of fur, and also as during my research I read that it is very damaging for the environment, which obviously is bad for animals.)
Real fur is bad for the environment, Farming any animals for any purpose requires vast water supplies. Real fur is treated with harsh chemicles to make it last, It is after all, part of someones body, making it liable to decomposition. Today real fur is frequently dyed to make it appear to be fake, e.g Fizz sold bright red/blue bags made from real rabbit fur. When asked if the fur was real, the shops owner replied, "Have you ever seen a bright red/blue rabbit?" This marketing ploy is one of many attempts to bring fur back into mainstream fashion.
I think faux fur still promotes wearing fur. Although if people want to wear fur I don't see why they can't wear Faux fur, but we come accross more and more faux fur turning out to be actually real!
How do you feel about people who wear only vintage fur? Is this better than buying a brand new coat, or do you feel the same about it?
I feel the same about vintage fur. It doesn't matter if the animals died yesterday or 100 yrs ago. The fact remains that animals suffered and were killed for fashion and vanity.
As someone who feels strongly about this subject I am sure you feel you have the right to go down the animal rights route and support the cause without people telling you that you are wrong. Although, if someone was well informed about the fur industry, but still chose to wear it (and eat meat, eggs, etc.) would you accept that as right, and that they should be allowed to do so? Or do you feel that no one has the right to wear fur, no matter their beliefs on it?
I believe nobody has the right to wear someone else's skin, whatever their beliefs, I don't think there should be a choice if it means causing suffering to another sentient being.
It seems to me that the fur industry is focused on more than any other by animal rights activists and organizations, why do you feel this is? (It seems that many people feel fur is a luxury and therefore 'not as worthy a cause' as meat, although something like foie gras is also considered a luxury but seems to receive low publicity in comparison?)
That's not so. People fighting for the rights of animals work hard to expose their slavery and opression in slaughterhouses,labs and circuses just as much.
The anti-fur message appears to dominate AR campaigns as there's more public support for it. Anti-fur campaigns are highly winnable, which is why tactically, the focus must be on fur before leather. Social justice movements must be tactical as overall aims are long term due to widespread ideas about our imagined superiority over other species. It is illegal to farm animals for Foie Gras in Britain, just as it is to farm animals for fur. The two issues have similar amounts of public support but perhaps anti-fur campaigns are supported slightly more because of a dislike of vanity and cruelty for the sake of fashion, where as boycotting Fioe Gras whilst eating flesh in other forms is regarded as more hypocritical.
When researching about environmental aspects (eg. the rainforest being cut down, polar ice caps melting) it seems that in the long term these can be much more damaging to animals than fur farms, as once they are gone we can never get them back meaning many species will die out and animals will suffer. Do animal rights activists ever campaign about these issues, and if not do you feel there should be more of a focus on it?
There is! But because most 'environmentalists' refuse to challenge their own imagined 'superiority', and like the vast majority of the population, they refuse to narrow the psychological gap between our species and non-human animals and this creates a mistaken view of animal rights as a single issue, whereas in fact, as you are aware, all these issues are of course interconected. It suits most of us to keep the psychological gap between other species and our own as wide as possible as this makes it easier to 'justify' abusing them. Its less of a challenge to refuse to fly or do recycling than it is go vegan and keep contributions to environmental damage to an absolute minimum. The vast amounts of water that's required to keeep animals alive whilst they grow large enough to pelt, as well as to deal with their waste, is urgently needed by the thirsty people of the world. The fur industry robs water, the dye and the preservatives required to make fur last (and not bio-degrade!) makes fur nothing short of an environmental nightmare!
While researching about fur, I came across information that even cotton production uses fertilisers and chemicals (which harm and kill many animals such as birds and fish), as well as vegetables and cereals. And even if we abolished fertilisers then all the towns, cities and roads we have built have destroyed animals habitats, so by living in them and using them we have caused animals to suffer. I found it a little depressing, and wondered if it is possible to lead a life completely free from from animal suffering. Do you feel this is possible? Or do you feel that the question is irrelevant, in that even if it is not possible we should still strive to try and lead lives as free from cruelty as possible?
Water has been tested on animals, as has the dye in our clothes. There is no such thing at the 'perfect vegan' as it is not possible to live a 100% cruelty free lifestyle. This does not mean that we should say 'sod it, i'll abuse and destroy as much as poss then, for the sake of the planet and all who share it, we must not be greedy, and minimise our contribution to animal suffering.
In an industrialised nation, the best we can do is minimise our contribution to the destruction of the environment.
Which animal rights organizations do you support?
The ones who do not personally gain financially. For example, Bobby Robberts Super-Cruel Circus will tell you that animals are trained through gentle commands and rewards, the activist who tells you about the process of training through fear and intimidation, has nothing personally to gain. the horse racing indusrty will tell you that the horses enjoy it, and will hide the death toll figures. The fur industry will show a sanitised view of their methods, whereas if grass roots activists request donations, it is to allow them to cover costs of leaflets required to expose reality and funds are required to cover costs of undercover investigations.
When researching the subject on the internet I found many conflicting views, in an ideal world anyone who felt strongly about the issues would get first hand research on the subject, eg by visiting and meeting trappers in North America. Therefore we have to rely on secondary sources from the internet, books etc. I am sure that both sides will include a certain amount of bias, so how do you personally determine which sources to trust? Are there any organizations (from both the fur industry and animal rights) that you feel give out false information, and that you cannot trust?
I don't believe anything positive about the fur trade! They are liars and are all about profit. I don't think much of the RSPCA, who have millions in reserve and donations are spent on chief executives mortgages and cars rather than actually helping animals. The grass roots activists who volunteer for the likes of CAFT (staffed entirely by volunteers) have nothing to gain financially.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is newly interested in Animal Rights?
Read the leaflets produced by grass roots groups, and join a local animal rights group.