- - Friday, June 13, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Remember when the federal government decided to call ketchup a vegetable? Or when Washington decreed that “organic” was a matter of marketing and not exclusively fact? Well, to borrow from Ronald Reagan, here they go again.

The government has decided that the “raccoon dog” is not entitled to its name when it comes to butchering the animals for fur. No “dog” there.

In each of these shameful instances, moneyed lobbyists worked their will on a compliant government and succeeded in substituting doublespeak for plain talk to mislead Americans. To preserve a corporate status quo. To pervert the law and common sense so busy consumers can more easily be misled.

In short, Washington is a place where if the truth hurts, lobbyists set out to fuzz up truth itself.

That’s plainly the case with the Federal Trade Commission and its recent decision to ratify the fur industry-coined euphemism “Asiatic raccoon” for a species whose common English name is the “raccoon dog.” This way fur sellers don’t have to label their products as “dog.”

Well, they should. The law and common sense require it.

The U.S. Fur Products Labeling Act couldn’t be clearer: “The names used shall be the true English names for the animals in question, or in the absence of a true English name for an animal, the name by which such animal can be properly identified in the United States.”

By every reputable source, including the government’s own taxonomic reference guide, the common, and correct, name for Nyctereutes procyonoides is the “raccoon dog.” The species is taxonomically identified as a member of the Canidae (dog) family, and not a member of the Procyonidae (raccoon) family.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses the name “raccoon dog” when it reports commodity data on fur imports and products. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refers to the species as the “raccoon dog” in its regulations and publications on the wildlife trade. At zoos where the animals are on display, and on nature specials ranging from PBS to the BBC, the public knows them as raccoon dogs.

Everywhere, that is, except the Federal Trade Commission. Perhaps its motto, Protecting America’s Consumers, needs revision.

The fact is, the fur industry has been trying to bamboozle consumers for years — fighting tooth and nail against labeling requirements, and falsely advertising fur as “faux” even when it comes from an animal skinned alive for trim on a coat or a glove. Which, by the way, is often the fate of raccoon dogs as undercover investigations have shown.

The term “Asiatic raccoon” is nothing more than an industry-fabricated term designed to deceive Americans. Some years back, the Federal Trade Commission kowtowed to the industry and signed on to this deceit, adopting the name “Asiatic raccoon” for commercial labeling. This time around, the FTC was legally bound to consider updating its terminology to stay abreast of things. However, again, it chose industry over consumers. It chose to mislead instead of lead. It chose wrong over right.

Indeed, the agency defended its decision by saying, in effect, that consumers have been deceived for so long, they should be used to it by now.

Permit me to point out that this kind of Orwellian gobbledygook flies in the face of the agency’s mission. Which is, to quote from its website: To prevent business practices that are anticompetitive or deceptive or unfair to consumers; to enhance informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process.

Well, a raccoon dog isn’t a raccoon, just as a kangaroo rat isn’t a kangaroo; nor is a tiger snake a tiger, or a turkey vulture a turkey.

With a budget of nearly $300 million and a long reach into the lives of humans as well as animals, the Federal Trade Commission owes America better. Much better.

Michael Markarian is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. He blogs at animalsandpolitics.com.

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