San Francisco Fur Ban Challenged as Unconstitutional

(CN) – Castigating a ban on fur sales as a ridiculous bit of San Francisco sanctimony, a major international fur trade group sued the city and its public health department on Monday to overturn the law.

Following similar bans enacted by Berkeley and West Hollywood, San Francisco became the third U.S. city to ban the sale of everything from mink stoles to fur hats and gloves with an ordinance passed in March 2018.

The ordinance became law on Jan. 1, 2019, but some of its enforcement provisions did not take effect until Jan. 1 of this year.

(Image by Pexels from Pixabay)

The International Fur Trade Federation, which represents fur dealers, trappers, designers and retailers in 40 countries, says the ordinance unconstitutionally burdens interstate commerce since all the furs sold in San Francisco come from outside of it.

After China, Denmark is the world’s leading producer of mink pelts. Finland produces the most fox, according to the trade group.

“While San Francisco is welcome to issue a resolution stating that its Board of Supervisors disapproves of the purchase of fur products – as it has done, for example, with eggs from caged hens – what it may not do under the Supreme Court’s Dormant Commerce Clause jurisprudence is place a dam in the stream of interstate and foreign commerce of tens of millions of dollars of products that do not threaten the health, safety, or welfare of a single resident – human or animal – of San Francisco,” the lawsuit says.

“When fur products made from animals raised in Europe, for example – under some of the strictest animal welfare conditions in the world – reach San Francisco’s city limits, the fur ban’s total prohibition on their sale and distribution is an insurmountable and therefore unconstitutional burden on foreign commerce.”

The trade group notes San Francisco public health director Dr. Grant Colfax, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, made assurances back in 2018 that the ban did not prohibit online sales. But Colfax has since flipped on the issue, according to the lawsuit, saying out-of-town retailers will violate the ban if they ship fur products to a customer in the city.

Furthermore, the ban has no bearing on public health and no legitimate local purpose, the group says, decrying various exemptions for leather, cow hides, sheep and lambskins, and allowances for the sale of used fur products.

It also says the lack of new fur clothing in San Francisco stores does nothing to promote animal welfare.

“Similarly, other than the virtue-signaling aspect of the recitals in the fur ban itself, the absence of new fur products in retail stores in San Francisco does absolutely nothing to ‘bolster the city’s stance against animal cruelty,’” the group says.

“If actual cruelty to animals is taking place in San Francisco or anywhere else in the world, the unavailability of new fur products within the city does nothing to stop it. And unless fostering a ‘more humane environment in San Francisco’ means whatever San Francisco wants it to mean, prohibiting the sale of new fur products in the city while allowing those same products to be worn in public and displayed in the windows of second-hand stores has no effect on how ‘humane’ the environment is.”

John Coté, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said in an email that the law is aimed at public health, and specifically targets the damaging health effects of fur-farming.

“Fur farming contributes to air and water pollution, and fur processing often involves the use of harmful chemicals, like chromium and formaldehyde. Fur farming also consumes significant amounts of energy: producing a coat made with real fur can consume 15 times more energy than the energy required to produce a fake fur garment,” Coté said. “San Francisco’s legislative leaders have made it clear that this city does not condone killing millions of animals a year in fur farms to make a fashion statement. The city’s legislation is lawful, and we will vigorously defend it in court.”

The trade group seeks a court declaration that the ban unconstitutionally interferes with foreign and interstate commerce and an injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing it, though its lawsuit may become moot in a matter of years as a statewide ban enacted by the California Legislature last year will take effect in 2023.

The trade group’s attorney Michael Tenenbaum did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

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