January 26, 2016

Thinking about fetal fur.

Idly clicking, I encounter a lovely coat (for sale at Barney's):



It's made of "astrakhan fur." What's that? I look it up:
Astrakhan... is, properly speaking, the tightly curled fleece of the fetal or newborn karakul (also spelled caracul) lamb....

This may be the part where you are thinking “fetal or... wait, what!?!”.

Yes, the most desirable form of astrakhan is that from a lamb 15-30 days away from being born....
I've got a "wait, what?" of my own. Why are people more disturbed by using the fur of a never-born creature? Are people thinking it's better to kill a newborn lamb because at least the little lamb got some life? How does that fit with the (perhaps grudging) acceptance of abortion and complete rejection of infanticide?

Here's a NYT article from 2005:
Most astrakhan lambs, according to the fur industry, are killed within days or weeks of their birth because as they age, the quality of their wool quickly changes from tightly curled rows to a more coarse and wiry pelt. And some examples, called broadtail, often considered the most desirable, are the skins of unborn lambs.

"That's just a little too much," said the designer Carmen Marc Valvo, explaining why he draws the line at using fetal lambs.... Albert Kriemler, the designer of Akris, said he would never use broadtail from a lamb fetus... Several designers would not directly answer whether the furs they call astrakhan come from fetal lambs... Prada, which has frequently identified its product as broadtail, did not respond to numerous inquiries. A spokeswoman for Mr. Armani said the fur described as astrakhan in his fall collection is not fetal lamb....

Julie Gilhart, the fashion director of Barneys, acknowledged that many people are not aware of where astrakhan comes from. "This is not something that is usually discussed around fashion tables," Ms. Gilhart said. "Information is everything, and if people know the origins of what they are buying, I think they can actually make better decisions as to what to buy, what not to buy. On the other hand," she added, "buying fashion is an emotional act. If something is perceived as beautiful, sometimes all reasoning goes out the window."
Unquestioned in that article is the assumption that people are upset — or would be upset if they knew — by the use of fetal fur. Why isn't it — great, I can feel fine wearing fur because it's from a  fetus? I could imagine an abortion-rights supporter saying that what's wrong is that the ewe didn't want the abortion. It's a forced abortion. And in some fetus harvesting the ewe is killed. Presumably, the slaughtered ewe becomes meat, so it's not wasteful or gratuitous killing of a sheep. But I don't think the objection to fetus fur over born-lamb fur is about concern for the mother. She loses her baby either way. I'm just noticing the instinctive human disgust for the use of a fetus, even among those who accept the use of the baby animal. Discuss.

64 comments:

tim maguire said...

You seem to be making the same assumption. So how about this: I wouldn't wear fetal fur for the same reason I wouldn't eat an unripe banana or an under cooked pie. It's not ready yet. The pot needs to simmer a bit more.

Cornroaster said...

You don't need consistency to hold a liberal viewpoint. Therefore, it is OK for a human to abort a human fetus, but not OK to abort a lamb raised for its fur.
all liberals need is a cause to let government have more power - that is where consistency enters.

Roadkill711 said...

Meh. Selling fetal lamb pelts, selling fetal human parts. We've crossed this bridge already.

rhhardin said...

It's the cuteness problem.

If you want to push back the line for legal abortion, you'll go the cute route.

To push the other way, you'll go the not-cute route.

The cuteness thing is a survival strategy: everybody cares for a cute kid.

CStanley said...

People recoiling at the use of fetal parts is old and busted. In today's progressive utopia, carving up a fetus is perfectly acceptable but exposing people who do this might get you in trouble.

Graham Powell said...

I love veal. That is all.

Levi Starks said...

Taking this issue slightly below the surface, it really has to do with the elevation of non human life, and the denegration if human life.
The ultimate objective being to blur the distinction between the two so as to make it unrecognizable.
Why?
The basis of our understanding of our role in the world versus that of animals is the Bible, not rational human thought. Rational humans know that all life (well at least mammalian) is equal.

Ann Althouse said...

@tim

It seems clear that the fetus fur is especially nice, with a light, flexible texture.

Ann Althouse said...

@rh

A baby lamb or human is cuter than it's fetus version. Whatever the reaction is, it should be the same.

Ann Althouse said...

I guess you could say, I accept killing a fetus, because it's not cute or it's not fully existing, and for the same reason, I don't want to wear such a disgusting thing.

Laslo Spatula said...

And yet people still criticize Ed Gein for his fashion statements.

I am Laslo.

rhhardin said...

It's a matter of cute-enough. Does it trigger the cuteism reflex or not.

fivewheels said...

Be sure to go through Althouse's Amazon portal when you buy this lovely
Astrakhan Lamb Coat with Fox Fur Collar. That's two cute dead animals for the price of ... whoa, that stuff's not cheap.



Jim said...

A coat. For 18,500 dollars. Country of origin,Afghanistan.

rhhardin said...

The point of cuteism is to get the race to care for babies.

Whether even a baby fully exists is another matter, beyond mattering for survival.

I'd say you learn to be human.

People agree to treat the baby as if it were human, and that's how it learns to be human.

Cuteness comes first in arranging that.

CStanley said...

@ Althouse 8:12:
It would be interesting if people staked out that position on the grounds that wearing such fur, while ethically acceptable, was nonetheless wrong because it encouraged others to want to wear fur. This would echo the Catholic view of the sin of scandal, and the concept also discussed in the SCOTUS opinions on Roe v. Wade- the idea that physicians should not be involved in the taking of a life (even a fetal, potentially legally unrecognized one) because it contravened their vow to preserve life.

Birkel said...

humans > animals

That is all.

Roger Sweeny said...

Are people thinking it's better to kill a newborn lamb because at least the little lamb got some life? How does that fit with the (perhaps grudging) acceptance of abortion and complete rejection of infanticide?

It doesn't. But it does fit with the un-thought-out worship of the natural that so many people have. It's natural to kill a young animal. It's not natural to pull it out of its mother's womb.

Gahrie said...

If Kermit Gosnell had been performing abortions on dogs and cats in the same manner he did abortions on humans there would have been international outrage and he would have been shut down years earlier.

buwaya puti said...

Astrakhan fur is an ancient, traditional product (it is) of Central Asia. Dissing it seems like someone is being culturally judgemental and all. Shouldn't these critics check their privilege ?
Besides which it is a renewable, biodegradable, organic resource, produced by small farmers, not giant oppressive multinational industrial corporations. They should be awarded Fair Trade status.

tim in vermont said...

Funny how people project onto animals. I was reading the journal of an otherwise heartless elephant hunter in 19th century equatorial Africa, and he could not bring himself to shoot an elephant in the act of making love. His gun bearers said "Bwana, strike!" because they were single-mindedly interested in the ivory, but he waited. People are people and we are not entirely rational.

I wonder what a rabbi would make of the jacket? I suppose as long as they don't mix it with the leather of the mother...

Brian said...

Everyone knows abortion is a moral horror. Where knowing this comes into conflict with something they really, really want, some people will pretend to not know it. That kind of self-deception takes careful maintenance, though, so people who engage in it react aggressively to anyone who interferes with their pretending-to-not-know project.

For most people, a really expensive coat isn't something they want badly enough to trigger the self-deception. The primary effect of the word "fetal" here is thus to remind them of the moral horror that, in other contexts, they support. Hence, revulsion.

Rae said...

Who first thought, "hey if I cut the lambs out of dozens of sheep, I can make a nice coat". As opposed to "if I shear that one adult sheep I can make a coat". Without all the hassle. Seems like creating an artificial market to exploit.

MadisonMan said...

Who first thought, "hey if I cut the lambs out of dozens of sheep, I can make a nice coat"

Probably a farmer whose ewe died giving birth.

Are W said...

From the PP collection.

buwaya puti said...

As for the idea of just killing and skinning a sheep -
It takes a #$%&%$ of work to turn a pile of wool into a warm coat. My wife does this for a hobby. A sheepskin turns into a warm coat with much less trouble.
Agree with the idea of running across unborn lambs, deaths during birth, etc. This is normal in raising animals.

Skeptical Voter said...

Just pull the fetus out and leave it on the shelf for a while. I think we had a young Illinois legislator who thought that was okay.

But there's a lot of territory here. Cornish Game Hens=chickens slaughtered at a young age; leather made from the skin of calves slaughtered for veal; eating caviar or "unborn fish eggs"?

With humans as the apex predator/top of the food chain [albeit with occasional disagreement from grizzly bears, great white sharks and man eating tigers] a lot of more or less unsavory things are done to supply our needs.

Laura said...

I stand corrected. Baby animals should be killed by dismemberment, as occurs in the wild, without concern for how to make the process more humane.

Or maybe abortive mothers should follow Native American traditions and eat all the parts of the fetus to show they do not have wanton disregard for life.

I get confused. I tried to pay attention in my liberal arts and science courses, but a Native American student told a story from tribal elders about stampeding herd animals off cliffs. I was supposed to pay attention, right?

rhhardin said...

Projecting onto animals is fine. There should be more of it. The less of it you do, the stupider you make yourse.f

Vicki Hearne in the introduction of Adam's Task covers it.

Smilin' Jack said...

A baby lamb or human is cuter than it's fetus version.

A baby lamb is cute, but human babies look like giant maggots. That's because they are really still fetuses--if they developed as far as other animals before being born their heads would be too big to squeeze out.

Also, why do people so often screw up it's/its? To me it always sticks out like a sore thumb.

rhhardin said...

Belmont Club never mixes up its and it's. He does it backwards 100% of the time.

Fernandinande said...

The Cuteness of the Lambs (audio is pretty bad but it doesn't matter much; 10 sec).

CStanley said...

Re: it's vs its, I think the difficulty is because "its" is possessive and normally we use apostrophes to indicate possessive case. I used to struggle with it until I began visualizing the pronoun chart- his, hers, theirs, etc all lack apostrophes and it starts to look abnormal to use an apostrophe with the word "it" to indicate possessive case.

Another problem though is that spell check defaults to "it's" every time, so one has to be vigilant and override it when appropriate.

Dr Weevil said...

Wikipedia has pictures of various famous people wearing Karakul hats, including Hamid Karzai and super-sexy Leonid Brezhnev. Who wouldn't want to wear a hat that makes you look like Brezhnev?

Original Mike said...

Are we sure Planned Parenthood doesn't sell baby-skin?

buwaya puti said...

It's/it's mixup is a characteristic Pinoy failing.
A problem even for those who went to Harvard.
More common are gender mixups because Philippine languages are genderless.

Aaron Csicseri said...

Nothing says fashionable more than wearing what might have been the next potential Beethoven/Einstein of the karakul world.

On a separate note, pro-choice ideology is the height of uncivilized inconsistent humanism.

Ann Althouse said...

"Who first thought, "hey if I cut the lambs out of dozens of sheep, I can make a nice coat". As opposed to "if I shear that one adult sheep I can make a coat". Without all the hassle. Seems like creating an artificial market to exploit."

Don't you think coats were made out of animal skins, fur attached, long before anyone figured out how to make the hair without the skin into a fur? Also the skin has a function. It's more durable and windproof to have the skin as part of the coat.

As for how it was discovered that the youngest skin is the best, I'm sure there have been many prematurely born lambs that died and could be skinned and used and remembered as especially good.

Why kill the ewe in the process? It's a luxury material. Persian lamb. It has a cool look to it. Once you know how to get it, why wouldn't you go into production to make something you could sell for a higher price?

coupe said...

One thing that bugs me, is that this type of fur being available for a price that even someone on welfare can afford.

If it were a garment that cost $10k, I don't think I'd mind. But to be able to buy it over the Internet?? No, that's wrong.

It was never meant to be sold to the proletariat. A Persian King, a Presidents wife, sure. Maybe a Hollywood sex symbol on occasion, but not some teacher in Hooterville.

When I see these kind of prices, I smell China.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
coupe said...

"...As for how it was discovered that the youngest skin is the best,"

It was probably 1000 years ago. The quality was so high that only royalty wore it, and paid dearly for it. These were stillborn from a high mountain sheep, where the environment was harsh.

I think it was the beginning of the industrial age, when demand exceeded supply, and that's always a bad thing for a species. This is when you start thinking about not depending on the stillborn, and just slaughter them wholesale.

Theranter said...

Blogger Original Mike said...
Are we sure Planned Parenthood doesn't sell baby-skin?

They don't sell it--they only procure the raw materials and charge a small shipping and handling fee to the wholesaler. Foreskin is especially popular for use in hESC and some transgenic research.

Rae said...

Don't you think coats were made out of animal skins, fur attached, long before anyone figured out how to make the hair without the skin into a fur? Also the skin has a function. It's more durable and windproof to have the skin as part of the coat.

Oh certainly. But shearing sheep is a renewable resource. And I am aware of how much a pain it is, although my experience was with llamas.

BarrySanders20 said...

On the other hand," she added, "buying fashion is an emotional act. If something is perceived as beautiful, sometimes all reasoning goes out the window."

That explains a lot.

About how women make choices.

Renee said...

But did they eat the fetal remains? I have no issue with fur/leather, if I'm willing to eat the creature for food.

coupe said...

Renee said...But did they eat the fetal remains?

Probably exported as filler for dog and cat food. I think I bought some shares for that when I was playing the futures market.

Bob R said...

We raised sheep when I was growing up, so I'd be interested in the economics and mechanics of this market. I assume there must be a mechanism/drug for inducing premature labor. 30 days premature would be very small. Sheep have a 5 month gestation period.

I can't imagine it would be economical to slaughter a healthy ewe to get a pelt, but ewes are routinely slaughtered for meat (and pelt) when they stop producing enough milk for a healthy lamb. With this breed you could impregnate them one last time and take the mother and the fetus at the same time.

buwaya said...

"But shearing sheep is a renewable resource."

Sheep are a renewable resource. There's a new crop every year, way above replacement rate, given enough land, water and grass. Shepherds in Northern CA (mainly hobbyists really) cull a lot of each seasons lambs - for lamb. Much nicer than mutton.

lgv said...

Well, obviously PETA people are against it regardless, but they would have all died a 150 years ago. My first thought was more along the lines of veal, until it veered into the even finer material of the unborn lamb.

I'm not clear on the moral dilemma, but I'm sure there are people out there that will have a struggle. I was told a story about Edward Norton and his traveling companions on a chartered dive yacht. The young ladies were perplexed whether it was OK to eat the fish they were being served. What species was it? How was caught? I've sat in many meetings where the customer wants products that have no animal derived ingredients. I've sat there silently making a list of questions I knew I would never ask:

"Nice purse, what's it made from?"

"Nice shoes, what material is that?"

"Beautiful Lexus, what are those seats made of?"

"Did you enjoy the chicken we had for lunch?"

"Would you like the natural version of that ingredient? Yes? Well, it comes from an animal. The "unnatural" one was created in a laboratory and has the same chemical structure. Which is it?"


Anthony said...

I don't eat veal or suckling pigs because I don't approve of killing baby animals. Fetal is the same for me.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

The human-animal equivalence theory.

I'm opposed to gratuitously torturing animals and elective abortion of human babies. I think clinical cannibalism to secure human organs, tissue, clumps of cells, etc. deserves to be classified in a class of its own.

The human baby girl did not choose or plan to be aborted/cannibalized. Her mother and contracted killers/cannibals made the choice and planned its fate.

Unplanned human male and female survivors should be concerned that elective abortion and clinical cannibalism of human life debases all human life. These are crimes committed against the individual and society, and humanity, really. And when selective-child is combined with policies that exploit intrinsic value serves to sponsor progressive corruption of individuals and society.

David said...

"Ewe" is the right word for the whole concept.

Theranter said...

n.n.@2:06 Beautifully stated. I only wish it wasn't too late. The "clinical cannibalism" is a global, trillion dollar+ industry, with women providing most of the raw materials.

I was half-joking @10:45 w/Orig Mike--as PP is such an insignificant player in this industry and has nothing to do with my "foreskin is especially popular" comment--I was alluding to the global demand for reproductive & fetal remains and did not have time to expound. It has bothered me all day, so I just grabbed a few rough clips from some research papers (apologies for the lack of cites, I do have them) to illustrate some of the 'materials' used in this research. "They" say it is all benevolent as it aims at "cures," but what bothers me is the commodification of women and unborn children, and the potential of exploiting poor and/or uneducated women, especially in the third world. The rough excerpts (from about ten papers):

Human feeder layers for hESC culture were…explored…a variety of different human cell types such as human fallopian tube cells, fetal foreskin, fetal muscle & skin, transgenic fetal liver stromal cells

Bone marrow samples…from 4 fetuses … Single-cell suspensions of fetal bone marrow were prepared by flushing the bone marrow cells out of the humeri and femurs…supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum

Fetal liver samples…from 4 fetuses… (median gestational age...). Single-cell suspensions were prepared by mincing the organ through a 70-mm nylon filter

Chromosomal assignment of the human laminin M chain gene (LAMM) was carried out using human-mouse somatic cell hybrids …Northern Analysts Total RNA from 18-19-wk-old human fetal tissues was isolated and samples containing about 10 #g of each RNA were electrophoresed, transferred…and hybridized with human laminin A or M chain cDNA probes.

… have demonstrated that fetal liver (FL) could be an alternative source of HSC despite a limited total cell number per tissue, due to their high proliferative capacity. Indeed, the site of erythropoiesis migrates during development. … first in the yolk sac and the para-aortic region. Erythropoiesis then migrates to the fetal liver between the 8th and the 22nd week of gestation to finally take place in the B[one]M[arrow]

Fetal livers [FL] were surgically obtained from 6 aborted fetuses (after 12–14 weeks of amenorrhoea) after informed consent of patients was given. FL was dissociated within less than 4 hours after collection and flushed through a 70  m filter and preserved

Fetal liver transplantation has been shown to induce hematological and immunological reconstitution in irradiated rodents, dogs, horses, and sheep

MSCs from various tissue sources (adipose, dental, endometrium, foreskin, placenta, Wharton's Jelly) were isolated after digestion with collagenase … supplemented with 10% FBS [25,33], new-born calf serum (NBCS) [23] or fetal calf serum
-
[Donated embryos cultured to harvest blastocysts “blastocysts were transferred to guinea pig complement “ then washed to isolate ICMs [colonies]]
Prepared colonies were injected with a sterile 25-gauge needle into the right testis of 4-wk-old SCID-beige mice..
[mice] were killed 12 wk after … resulting tumors were embedded in paraffin.
Teratomas had formed in the right testes of all three mice injected with Miz-hES-9, -14, and -15 and appeared as well-differentiated tumor-like structures, including kidney-like structure, primitive neural tube, skin, gastrointestinal epithelium, tooth-like structure, and cartilage …

on replicative aging of primary human fibroblast strains derived from embryonic lung (MRC-5) and foreskin (HFF).
-
… numerous fetal tissues revealed …
-
In situ hybridization to be expressed in fetal brain and renal glomeruli.
In fetal skin, beta 2 was expressed both in epidermal and dermal cells

ironrailsironweights said...

There once was a man from Jodhpur
Who found out one day he could cure
His dreaded diabetes
By eating a fetus
Cooked in a stew with manure.

Peter

Saint Croix said...

Nice one, Althouse!

Why are people more disturbed by using the fur of a never-born creature?

I think the upset is entirely based on Roe v. Wade. It reminds people of our own abortions, and we don't like that reminder. These upset people are not worried about animal rights. They're worried about the right to life of an unborn human child. That's what they want to censor, repress, and deny.

They're not being logical. They're being emotional. I think our debate over abortion is filled with emotion, very strong emotion, and repressed emotion. And fear of our repressed emotions.

Saint Croix said...

Here are some 3-D ultrasounds (along with computer graphics and nano cameras) designed to show us what an unborn animal looks like.

JAORE said...

Always note when a product is given a name having nothing to do with the actual product. There may be a reason for that, marketing wise.

Rusty said...

Ann Althouse said...
"I guess you could say, I accept killing a fetus, because it's not cute or it's not fully existing, and for the same reason, I don't want to wear such a disgusting thing."

And yet it exists.
I don't have any problem with baby Hatp Seals being used for clothes, so. Yeah OK.

Rusty said...

Harp.

Kevin Walsh said...

Donovan mentions it...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlpPzbgxEAI

mikee said...

I never understood the desire to wear a seal skin coat until I touched an actual baby fur seal skin at the kiddy play area of the Baltimore National Aquarium. I now feel a need to pet some astrakhan, just for the comparison.

Having visited the neonatal unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital during the crack baby epidemic of the 1990s, and seen quite a few children born 2 to 3 months early, I also think abortion in the third trimester is an abomination, an atrocity.

Experience is a hard teacher, suddenly changing ideas I once thought immutable.

Ann Althouse said...

@Kevin Walsh

Thanks!!! I'm going to do a separate post about that.

Jupiter said...

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from the dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Randall Jarrell