The Potluck

Minneapolis Council Members want to ban fur coat sales

By: - January 17, 2020 3:56 pm

Photo courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

Minneapolis City Council Members Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon announced today they plan to introduce an ordinance that would ban the sale and manufacture of new animal fur products.

The proposed fur ban would threaten the business of one of the largest fur retailers in the United States, Ribnick Fur & Leather, which was founded in 1945 and is now run by the founder’s grandson, Bill Ribnick, out of its North Loop location. Minneapolis is home to several smaller fur retailers, as well.

The law is still being drafted but will include exemptions for second-hand furs, taxidermy and leather as well as religious and tribal exemptions, according to Graham Faulkner, a legislative aide for Council Member Cano.

Faulkner says the idea came to them from a group called Fur Free Minneapolis, which formed after San Francisco banned the sale of new animal furs in 2018. The entire state of California followed suit last year, passing a ban that’s scheduled to go into effect in 2023.

“It really inspired me that local cities could take a stand,” said Matt Johnson, Fur Free Minneapolis’s lead organizer. “I’ve always been inspired by wild animals . . . And when I look at a dog and a fox, I see very similar animals and I just don’t see any reason why one should be treated so well and the other one so badly.”

Fur Free Minneapolis also cites concerns about phosphorous pollution from fur farms in addition to animal cruelty. They launched a petition last year that nearly met its goal of getting 15,000 signatures.

Johnson points to a growing list of fashion brands that have stopped using animal furs, signaling that perhaps fur is falling out of favor. But demand for fur has actually surged in the United States over the past decade, driven in part by furniture.

How do fur sellers feel about the ban?

San Francisco is getting sued. The lawsuit was filed shortly after the law went into effect earlier this year by the International Fur Trade Federation. They argue the law is unconstitutional because only the Congress has the right to regulate interstate and foreign commerce.

“The ordinance is so far-reaching that it even bans fur products regulated by the fish and wildlife agencies and certified under FurMark, a global, science-based program that verifies sustainability and animal welfare in fur production,” federation spokesman Mike Brown wrote in an email.

Brown says Ribnick Fur & Leather in the North Loop is one of the most storied fur retailers in the country and this ordinance would effectively close it down. Bill Ribnick, the company’s president, declined to comment and directed the Minnesota Reformer to Brown’s organization.

“Fur is a natural, sustainable product produced in accordance with some of the highest standards available in agriculture,” Brown wrote in response to environmental concerns. “In contrast, fake furs typically use synthetic materials that are derived from fossil fuels. At a time when many are concerned about plastic pollution, consider that research has found that these synthetic fabrics shed hundreds of thousands of plastic microparticles into the water supply when washed.”

Faulkner says city staff spoke with fur business owners but declined to discuss what they said. He also said they are aware of the lawsuit against San Francisco. Asked if the International Fur Trade Federation would bring legal action against the city of Minneapolis, Brown wrote, “We would like to exhaust all possible avenues before we reach that point.”

The next step in the process for Minneapolis is a public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. If passed, the ban would likely be phased in over time to allow businesses to sell off new furs in their possession.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.