If there is one thing that Californians usually agree upon, it’s that personal morality shouldn’t be legislated.  And yet, that is exactly what is happening with AB 44, an Assembly bill that, if passed, would ban the manufacturing and sale of some types of natural and sustainable fur products. Supporters believe fur is immoral and wrong, and they wrongly believe that consumers who purchase the product are unwilling or unable to do the research on their own about what they are buying. As a result, this sets a precedent where the state removes consumers’ ability to choose what they can and cannot wear.  

And not only does the bill attempt to legislate personal morality, it passes judgement on the significance of the traditions of certain cultural groups.  For example, the bill provides exemptions relating to use by the Orthodox Jewish community and the Native American community, but it fails to recognize the cultural significance and important traditions surrounding fur in the African American community.  

The legislation, which is in front of the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week, is not about the humane treatment of animals—which Californians broadly support. If it were about the humane treatment of animals and ethical sourcing, this bill wouldn’t be an issue. Wool and shearling are ok but mink and fox are not.  Other natural products like silk and leather seem to be ok – for now. Sadly, we all know where this could lead in the future.

Recent ballot measures have shown that the public is against inhumane practices in agriculture but do support humanely produced and certified goods.  This bill will undermine all of that. Banning the sale of fur in California does nothing to address animal welfare, it simply drives consumers to other states to purchase fur.  But an amendment has been presented to the bill’s author that would introduce a comprehensive certification program insuring that each step of the production process meets strict requirements that reflect globally recognized animal welfare and sustainability standards.  This program would be independently monitored and would use block chain technology to provide access to information and transparency. But legislators don’t want to hear about this system.

AB 44 not only removes consumer choice, it poses a major threat to California small businesses and jobs on Main Street in our many communities. If the bill passes in its current form, businesses that manufacture, sell, service, clean, or preserve products for thousands of consumers that have fur product, many of which have been inherited through generations, will be forced to shut their doors and lay people off. Not to mention, those disappearing tax dollars will result in fewer teachers, police officers and firefighters in the state. Our mom and pops – and the communities they are in – deserve better than that.

It’s important to take a look at how policymakers view the ever-burgeoning cannabis industry in California. The argument for cannabis is that it is best to regulate, certify and oversee its distribution. Instead of banning a product that encourages consumers to purchase from out of state, or from an illicit market, let’s empower them through product education and verification of how the product is manufactured.  Shouldn’t the same thinking apply here?

If supporters believe they are protecting wildlife, they evidently haven’t done their homework. A ban on natural fur will cause consumers to buy other items such as fake fur that are made from synthetic materials derived from fossil fuels. These synthetic garments have been shown to “shed” plastic microfibers that pollute our state waterways, similar to the way the recent plastic straw bill is attempting to protect our wildlife.   

One recent study found that a 12-pound load of synthetic materials sheds up to 700,000 plastic microparticles in the laundry. In other words, a 2-pound fake fur coat could cause over 100,000 plastic microparticles to enter the water supply. If mink production annually in the United States alone was replaced with faux fur, it would be the equivalent of throwing 60 million water bottles right into the ocean.

An amendment to AB 44 – one that establishes and mandates an industry-wide certification program – will give California the opportunity to pave the way with the highest animal welfare practices and safety standards in the nation. Lawmakers have an opportunity to lead the industry with a program that adheres to strict principles and guidelines, includes legislative and peer review development of standards and codes of practice, and requires that fur farms are regularly subject to third-party inspections to ensure utmost compliance. This is a far more rational and effective approach than a ban that will close businesses, send people to the unemployment line, and place our communities at risk.

What’s at stake here is the ability of Californians to make their own choices about what they wear. California should balance consumer choice with humane treatment of animals and allow humanely certified natural fur, not ban people from buying fur. Consumers, small businesses and working Californians deserve better than that.

Earl “Skip” Cooper is the President & CEO of the Black Business Association (BBA), which is headquartered in Los Angeles and is the oldest active ethnic business organization in the State of California.  It has been influential in the incubation and growth of thousands of Black-owned businesses over the last 49 years.