Plans for a Europe-wide ban on the sale of cat and dog fur have been unveiled in an attempt to stem a tide of Chinese and Far East imports which use animal products for coat and boot linings, pom-poms, and even toys.
The move was welcomed by campaigners who say as many as two million cats and dogs are slaughtered each year to fuel the trade.
Celebrities have fronted the campaign to demand a ban, including Rick Wakeman and Heather Mills McCartney, who broke down in tears in Brussels at the screening of a video showing animal skins being stripped from them live. At present, 15 EU governments including the France, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Poland have national bans although these are drafted differently, hence the need for legislation covereing the whole of the EU.
Markos Kyprianou, the European health and consumer protection commissioner, told journalists he had received 10,000 e-mails and a 200,000-signature petition on the trade.
He said that all 25 nations will have detection controls so the fur cannot be imported, even when it has been treated or dyed. Mass spectrometry and DNA tests have proved dog and cat fur marketed as synthetic has been imported into Europe in a range of products.
Mr Kyprianou said: "Cats and dogs in the EU are considered companion animals and nothing else and we have no tradition of using these animals for their fur." He added: "The idea of young children playing with toys using cat and dog fur is something we just cannot accept."
The commissioner said the strongest evidence of cat and dog fur imports concerns China, but "we cannot exclude that this trade is happening in other countries".
The Humane Society International helped raise the profile of the issue, revealing evidence of a trade in several European countries.
Struan Stevenson, a Conservative MEP who championed the issue, is in Beijing. He said: "As a nation of cat and dog lovers, it was impossible to understand how anyone could treat these animals in such a barbaric way. I have seen a great deal of evidence to show that Chinese butchers often skin these animals alive in their hurry to cash in on this lucrative trade.
"This shows that where there is a will to effect change, coupled with strong support for a shift in the law, the EC is prepared to listen to a well-presented case.
His Liberal Democrat colleague, Chris Davies, added: "More than two million cats and dogs are said to be killed each year in the Far East to supply the market with cheap fur used in coat and boot linings, pom-poms, and even in childrens' figurines of toy cats.
"This is a disgusting, cruel and unregulated business, with animals kept in appalling conditions."