The emotional debate over a proposed ban on selling fur in New York City took over City Hall on Wednesday as supporters and opponents sparred inside and outside its walls.
The two groups straddled City Hall’s Broadway gate, holding signs and shouting at each other as police officers kept the driveway clear for pedestrians and incoming cars. Inside, the controversial legislation was the subject of a lengthy hearing by the Council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing.
“Millions of animals are killed every year for their fur,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who sponsored the bill. “It takes hundreds of lives to make a single coat.”
Style guru Tim Gunn joined People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal activists who spoke in favor of the bill, while owners and employees of fur businesses said the ban would destroy jobs.
“The fashion business has a troubling history with animals, but it is quickly evolving,” Gunn told the Council, noting the number of designers who have stopped working with fur.
Much of the testimony — including a video with graphic images — focused on how animals are housed and then killed for their furs. Johnson advised anyone who is squeamish to leave the chambers before displaying the video.
Representatives of the fur industry questioned the stories of botched electrocutions and live skinning of animals, calling them fabrications of overzealous animal rights groups.
“Skinning animals alive does not happen in the fur trade,” said Mark Oaten, CEO of the International Fur Federation. “It’s horrible. It’s disgusting.”
Instead of a ban, Oaten said the focus should be on establishing “FurMark,” an industry standard that would make sure fur is harvested from animals in humane and sustainable methods.
Johnson scoffed his suggestion, and asked how there is a humane and ethical way to trap an animal.
Industry officials also told Council members the ban would negatively impact 7,500 jobs.
“New Yorkers are buying fur and want to continue to do so,” Oaten argued.
Representatives of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration testified that the mayor supports the bill but thinks it needs a few tweaks.
Lindsay Greene, senior adviser to deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said the bill needs a clear exemption for religious garments and should consider a “phase-in and adjustment” period for business owners who would be barred from selling fur.
The committee will vote on the bill at a later date.