Photograph by Paolo Marchetti, Nat Geo Image Collection
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At a fur farm in Poland, a mink crouches in a wire cage where it will spend its entire life, about six to eight months, before it is killed for its fur. California is considering becoming the first state to ban the sale of fur products.

Photograph by Paolo Marchetti, Nat Geo Image Collection

States across U.S. are taking bold steps toward protecting animals

In state firsts, fur may be banned in California, and New York has moved to ban cat declawing.

In a wave of groundbreaking animal welfare legislation, U.S. states have approved or are considering moves to ban the sale of fur, discourage cosmetics testing on animals, and end cat declawing, among other animal-friendly efforts.

In California yesterday, state senators considered a bill that would make it the first state in the country to ban the import and sale of fur products such as mink shawls, coyote fur-trimmed parkas, and pom-pom keychains made of rabbit fur.

“We’ve seen California voters more than once saying that any product involving animals should be humanely sourced,” says assembly member Laura Friedman, who introduced the statewide bill in her chamber, where it passed in May. Yesterday, it unanimously passed its sixth hearing, during which dozens of California residents spoke up in support of the bill. It faces two more votes in the California senate, as well as the governor's approval, in order to pass.

It’s just the latest animal protection that’s been put in motion at the state and local level over the past year in the United States. This series of state-level firsts reflects Americans’ growing concern for the wellbeing of animals, says Kim Kelly, director of legislative affairs at the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which spearheads legal fights for animal protection.

“There has been a trend where municipalities are taking on issues,” Kelly says. “Everyday advocates are making change happen within communities.” In turn, she says, it’s “creating more momentum for statewide legislation.”

Banning the sale of fur

Ending the use of fur, especially in high fashion, is one of the animal welfare movement’s longest running efforts. And yet, fur seems to be making a comeback, at least among some customers.

But Americans’ attitudes are shifting. Gallup polling on the issue found that in May 2018, 37 percent of Americans said that they consider buying and wearing fur to be morally wrong. In May 2019, that number had risen to 45 percent, a new historical high. (Learn more about animal welfare concerns in the fur industry.)

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At a fur farm in Poland, dead minks are stacked before they're skinned. Their fur is made into coats, hats, and other accessories. Rabbits, foxes, and coyotes are other animals commonly killed for fur products. (See more photos from National Geographic's reporting on fur farms.)

Los Angeles and San Francisco both banned the sale of fur in the last year. “Our two largest population centers had made this move,” says Friedman, who says she watched the tremendous amount of support around the L.A. bill and felt that the temperature was right to take the ban statewide. “You really need to look at the values of your community and state.”

Opponents of the ban include fur industry groups in California and the International Fur Association, an industry trade group, which argue that a ban would harm commerce and censors the ability of consumers to make their own choices. Plus, they argue, real fur is more environmentally friendly than faux fur, which cannot break down.

California boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy, larger than that of the U.K. Supporters hope that a fur ban in the state would strike a blow to the demand for fur, set a precedent for future states to follow suit, and, ultimately, lead to fewer animals being raised, trapped, and killed for their fur. The bulk of fur products sold in California, Friedman says, come from overseas.

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Models wait to walk a runway in Milan in 2016 to show a new collection of fur coats and hats. Many fashion designers, including Burberry, Michael Kors, Gucci, Versace, and Coach have banned fur products.

A series of firsts

On its face, the wave of new animal protections might seem like a California thing. Last November, the state enacted perhaps the most comprehensive farmed animal protection legislation in the country. In January, California became the first state to ban the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits in pet stores, unless they come from a shelter.

And last September, California became the first state to ban the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Similar to the potential fur ban, the law stipulates that any cosmetic product that’s been tested on animals after January 1, 2020, can’t be sold in the state (although products tested on animals that are sold in countries like China, which legally require animal testing, can still be sold). The law coincides with a growing global cruelty-free cosmetics movement: Market research estimates that the global vegan cosmetics industry, which includes cult-favorite makeup brands like Kat Von D and Milk Makeup, will be worth more than $20 billion by 2025. Even in China, where animal testing is required for any foreign-made cosmetics, there is momentum to explore animal-free testing methods.

After California passed the law, Nevada followed suit. Then Illinois, where the bill awaits Governor J.B. Pritzner’s signature.

These state-level measures could usher in more sweeping action to come, says Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which works to pass animal protection laws. The cosmetics testing laws in California and Nevada are “giving us the momentum at the federal level to revisit the issue,” she says. (A federal bill that would ban cosmetic testing on animals in the U.S. was last introduced to congress in 2017. Although it gained 186 bipartisan cosponsors, it did not advance to a hearing.)

It’s a trend seen around the world: Australia earlier this year passed a ban on animal-tested cosmetics, following similar laws in the European Union, India, Switzerland, Turkey, Guatemala, and more.

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New York is poised to become the first state to ban cat declawing. The highly controversial practice can lead to long-term pain for cats. The historic bill awaits Governor Coumo's sign-off before becoming law.

Declawing

It’s not just California spearheading action. A bill that would make New York the first state to ban cat declawing is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature after passing the legislature last month. It follows declawing bans in the cities of Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and a handful of other cities and countries.

Cat declawing is a highly controversial practice. It’s not like a fingernail trim: in order to remove a cat’s claws, the last bone of each toe is amputated, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The veterinary community is divided on declawing. Some vehemently oppose declawing, arguing that it is rarely medically necessary and is a highly painful procedure that inhibits a cat’s natural scratching behavior and cause other long-term problems. Others, including the New York State Veterinary Medical Society, which opposed the bill, argue that it is sometimes necessary to preserve the human-animal bond, if a cat might otherwise be abandoned or euthanized, or if the owner has a skin condition that makes scratching dangerous.

The New York state bill, if signed into law, could ostensibly set a precedent for other states to follow suit.

Gaining momentum

“I think you’re going to witness remarkable progress this decade, driven in part by activation at the state level,” says U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who champions animal welfare as co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

Circuses are one area where local and state efforts may lead to nationwide action. Dozens of cities and towns in 39 states have already imposed restrictions on traveling acts that feature exotic animals, and according to a 2015 Gallup poll, 69 percent of Americans are concerned about how animals are treated in circuses.

In December, New Jersey became the first state to ban traveling acts featuring exotic animals like elephants, with “Nosey’s Law,” named for a 36-year-old African elephant who spent 30 years in traveling shows before she was seized by authorities in Alabama in 2017 and sent to a sanctuary. A federal bill, the Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Act, has been introduced in several past congresses, but it has not yet gained traction. (Read more about efforts to end wild animal performances at circuses.)

“This is one of the most animal-friendly congresses in history, if not the most,” says Blumenauer. And what the states are doing is “extraordinarily helpful,” he says. “It sends a clear and unequivocal signal as to where the public is.”

Editor's note: This story was updated on July 10 to include more information about the New York cat declawing ban.