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Hair-raising rabbit clip hits China's fur trade

Updated: 2013-12-21 14:31
( Xinhua)

HANGZHOU - The bottom has fallen out of the market for Chinese rabbit fur since a video of fur harvesting appeared online, despite claims that the abuse was an extreme case.

The clip of a farmer ripping fur from an live rabbit precipitated a torrent of public outrage. Many fashion brands, including Calvin Klein, Topshop and H&M, have since refused to use rabbit fur from China in their designs, leaving the Chinese rabbit industry with a tremendous reduction in orders.

Cao Libin, a rabbit breeder form Shengzhou city in east China's Zhejiang province has nearly 1,000 kilograms of fur lying unsold in a warehouse.

"Usually I would have sold it all by now. Winter is the peak season for fur sales. Now, because of the video, no buyers are showing up here," he said.

Shengzhou is known as "the home of the angora rabbit" in China. More than 30,000 farmers raise 600,000 rabbits there, producing and exporting 9,000 tons of fur annually to more than 20 countries and regions.

Chen Weidong has been a rabbit fur dealer for 20 years. His company, Dexin Rabbit Fur, normally exports 30 to 40 tons of fur every year, mainly to Italy. He has received virtually no orders in the last month.

According to an email reply to Xinhua on Thursday from the Beijing office of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia-Pacific, their staff filmed the "abusive" harvesting when visiting angora rabbit farms in provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang in an undercover investigation from June to September.

The PETA representative who made the clip refuses to be named, but said in the email that rabbit farmers only care about money and ignore the animals' welfare.

In the video, rabbit screams as a farmer tears its fur off, leaving its pink skin exposed.

While the public have been quick to criticize, business insiders and zoologists argue that the cruelty only exists on a small number of farms and is not typical of rabbit husbandry practices in China.

Most farmers do not pull fur out of live rabbits because they will be more likely to become ill or die from infection or mosquito bites, said Qian Qingxiang of the China Animal Agriculture Association.

"Each rabbit is worth at least 300 yuan ($49), sometimes up to 1,000 yuan, and generates a minimum profit of 400 yuan per year. Farmers are unlikely to risk the lives of such valuable commodities by pulling out their fur," he said.

Qian could not estimate the economic loss to the industry caused by the video, but claimed that Shengzhou city mainly produces rabbit wool rather than fur, and ripping out fur significantly reduces wool quality.

Qin Yinghe, associate professor with the college of animal science technology at China Agricultural University, admitted farmers can be rough when harvesting fur, this only applies to two or three percent of production.

While condemning the cruelty in the video, Xu Zhangshui, manager of a rabbit cooperative in Shengzhou, said the public did not have a clear understanding of the rabbit fur industry.

"The whole industry should protest at this treatment of live rabbits, but on the other hand, people need a comprehensive view, which includes the rights and interests of millions of rabbit breeders," he said.

The clip was released on Nov 19 by PETA Asia-Pacific, an animal rights group based in Hong Kong.