The PETA vermin rabbit fur debate

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Victorian university student Molly Herben attracted national media attention after her rabbit-fur designs were pulled from a Melbourne Spring Fashion Week show in September.

Organisers decided to exclude the RMIT student’s hand-made rabbit-fur garments from the Emerging Designer Series over fears of anti-fur protests.

Their fears arose after opening night, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protestors took to the stage with ‘Fur Is Dead’ placards.

Molly Herben then had to recreate a year’s worth of work – made from vermin rabbits hunted near Yaapeet – in leather in three days for the Saturday night Spotlight RMIT Student Series Show, at which she received a standing ovation from the Melbourne Town Hall audience.

A spokesperson for fashion week organisers the City of Melbourne said organisers did not want the students’ ‘big moment’ overshadowed by protesters and therefore requested designers using fur in their collection not to include these garments in the show.

“We make no judgement on the use of fur, leather or suede more broadly,” the spokesman said.

PETA anti-fur protesters on the MSFW runway. Picture: Courtesy Herald Sun

Molly Herben said she was against the unethical use of fur in the fashion industry.

“I used pelts from wild pest rabbits which were a waste product of a local farmer who was, by law, required to control the rabbits on his farm,” she said.

“He did so according to government guidelines for the humane and ethical management of pest animals.

“The pieces were a one-off, not commercial and not designed for mass production.

“My year-long research behind the designs focused on the sustainable use of resources and, like my past pieces inspired by Yaapeet’s drought, they were designed to highlight issues facing regional areas.”

University of Melbourne veterinary student Jo Lubberink was in the audience at the show and said PETA’s impact was unacceptable.

“It was antagonistic, disrespectful and uninformed,” she said.

PETA Australia’s director of campaigns Jason Baker said there was no such thing as ethically-produced fur.

“I think the designer is trying to greenwash the public,” he said.

“Humane rabbit control methods would involve preventing rabbits from breeding, exploring oral contraceptive methods, and altering habitats.

"Investigations have shown rabbit farms in Australia kill animals by cutting their heads off with circular saw.”

In Victoria feral or wild populations of rabbits are declared an established pest animal under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 and land managers are responsible for managing pest animals and weeds on their land under Section 20 of the Act.

The act states a land owner must take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of, and as far as possible eradicate, established pest animals.

In August, the Ararat Magistrate’s Court convicted and fined a Wimmera landowner $3000 for failing to control rabbits on his property.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2008 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 regulate the management of invasive species in Victoria.

The Department of Primary Industries conducts rabbit and invasive plant compliance programs and has run a rabbit compliance program in the upper Wimmera catchment area since 2008.

DPI’s Wimmera-Glenelg Hopkins biosecurity area manager Mark Farrer said the compliance programs supported public and private investment and protected high-value environmental assets and agricultural production.

(This story was published, in a slightly different form, in The Wimmera Mail Times on September 12, 2011, and has been republished with the author’s permission. Emily Osmond is studying a Master of Communication degree at RMIT University.)

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The PETA vermin rabbit fur debate

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