5th July 2011
analysis undertaken last week by the University of NSW Analytical Centre of two
fur vests under the Wittner and Wish labels, each already found to contain
illegal dog fur, have tested positive for hexavalent chromium, a toxic and
carcinogenic chemical used in the leather tanning process that can cause severe
health impacts for humans.
Results of the
UNSW analysis showed the amount of hexavalent chromium leachable from the fabric
by contact with human skin was found to exceed recommended levels in leather
goods by an incredible 733 times in the case of the Wittner product and
133 times in the case of the Wish fur vest.
“As if issues
of animal cruelty and the illegal importation of these fur garments into
Australian retail outlets was not enough, now we find unknowing consumers are
purchasing and wearing fur products that are laced with hazardous
chemicals,” said HSI Director, Verna Simpson. “Even more amazing
is the lack of Government willingness to do anything about breaches of
Australian import and consumer protection legislation.”
Customs and Border Protection to the results of the analysis of a number of fur
vests found by independent experts to illegally contain dog fur back in
February, yet despite these results, and requests from HSI for the Federal
Minister to intervene, no action has been taken to enforce the Commonwealth
legislation that prohibits the importation of pelts and products made from dog
and cat fur. Incredibly, despite two of the most reputable forensic experts
having analysed the fur vests as containing dog fur on two separate occasions,
Customs chose to accept the tests undertaken by the retailers as proof the vests
were rabbit fur.
with bureaucrats within the Customs Service has highlighted that Customs is a
‘toothless tiger’ once goods have crossed the border, with the Service having
limited legal options available to them post import and suggested HSI take the
matter up with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). In a
letter to HSI from the ACCC in response to a complaint of false and misleading
conduct by the Wittner labelled vest, the ACCC stated that "priority was
given to matters of broad economic and consumer detriment and serious cartel
behaviour" and that the "matter can be handled more appropriately by the
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service".
direct action on this matter, the buck passing between the ACCC and Customs has
meant that illegal and hazardous products are finding their way to retail
outlets across the country and every conceivable government department is
washing their hands of the issue, leaving HSI to question who is enforcing
Australian legislation and who is looking after the unsuspecting consumer?,”
Ms Simpson added.
Despite writing to
the Federal Minister for Justice Brendan O’Connor and asking that he
intervene on the inaction, it took six weeks for him to respond to our first
letter and HSI has yet to have a response to follow up correspondence. HSI
approaches to speak with his advisers on the issue via phone have been met with
resistance and requests to put the application in writing.
correspondence with Customs and the ACCC, both agencies have referenced the fact
that retailers have ceased selling the fur items and winter clothing is already
on the way out of retail stores as a basis for "no further ongoing action on
the matter". However, in direct discussions with retail outlets, HSI has
been made aware of mounting demand for the China made fur vests and coats which
will be heavily imported and marketed to the next winter season.
reason retailers have ceased selling these dog fur vests is that the garments
have already sold out and certainly not as a result of any Government action, or
moves by Wittner or Wish to remove the vests from sale following positive tests
for dog fur,” Ms Simpson stated. “It’s now up to consumers to
send a clear message to retailers that they will not partake in being misled by
dubious labels and fur garments that are toxic timebombs.”
HSI is calling on
consumers who have purchased fur vests this season to return them to the
respective retail outlet and seek a full refund.
Images of the
fur vests and the UNSW Chromium report are available upon
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