18/10/2013 13:19 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

When It Comes to Fur, Choose Compassion

In a recent opinion piece for Huffington Post, disgraced former MP Mark Oaten attempts to justify the unjustifiable - the cruel killing of animals for their fur - by calling the decision to purchase fur a "personal choice". Some things, of course, are a matter of choice - I still listen to 80s music - some things, however, are simply right or wrong.

Oaten wildly confuses freedom of choice with freedom of action. Just because he may choose to profit from the torture of animals doesn't make it right.

But let's humour Oaten for one minute and assume that instead of his article being a blatant public relations puff piece for the International Fur Trade Federation, the industry body which he heads, he does in fact staunchly defend and champion freedom of choice. Well, where is the choice for the millions of individual animals who are forced to live in tiny cages, never given the opportunity to do a single thing that comes naturally to them? Does Oaten believe these animals choose to display neurotic behaviour or self-mutilate out of the intense frustration that comes from spending their entire lives inside a cage? What about their choice not to be skinned for a product no one needs? We have no right to treat sentient beings as mere commodities.

Oaten goes on to criticise those who stand up against cruelty as arrogant. But what could be more arrogant than an industry built on the premise that "might makes right"? It would be laughable if it weren't for the millions of animals currently suffering in harsh wire mesh cages, waiting for the day when Mr Oaten's colleagues decide it's time for them to die. And if the months of confinement, extreme temperatures and unbearable boredom weren't grim enough, they'll typically be killed in crude ways. Many by anal electrocution in which an electrically charged steel rod is inserted into the animals' rectums, literally frying their insides. Undercover investigations have shown how some animals are still fully conscious and struggle in agony as their skin is ripped from their bodies before they're thrown onto a pile of those who have gone before them.

Time and again, when faced with the choice of whether or not to kill animals and steal their fur, the British public have chosen compassion. The last fur farm in the UK closed in January 2003 because of public opposition to the cruelty involved, which forced legislators to outlaw the practice with the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act. All the way back in 1958, well before hanging was even made illegal, steel-jaw traps were outlawed. These miserable contraptions trapped animals in the wild, where they would languish for days, slowly dying from hunger, thirst, disease, blood loss and predation. Some, especially mothers with babies, would chew through their own limbs in a desperate attempt to escape. Such traps are still widely used in the United States and are supported by Oaten and the International Fur Trade Federation.

Fur farming has also been banned in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia and, most recently, the Netherlands. In fact, most European countries have introduced animal welfare laws that, if not banning fur farming outright, make it too unprofitable to pursue. The sale of cat and dog fur and seal skin is also banned in the European Union. Even so, around two million cats and dogs are skinned in China every year, and their fur is often mislabelled as being from another animal.

West Hollywood recently banned the sale of fur, and Israel is poised to be the first country in the world to enact a similar ban. I sincerely hope that we follow their lead and honour our ban on fur farming by refusing to allow products from this violent and bloody industry to be sold on our shelves. After all, something that's too cruel to produce under UK law should not be available in UK shops.

Mr Oaten is right about one thing. We do have a choice: the choice to be cruel or to be kind. Thankfully, the vast majority of us choose compassion. According to a recent opinion poll, 95 per cent of the British public say that they wouldn't dream of wearing real fur. So whether or not Mr Oaten chooses to accept it, fur is on its way out - and the sooner the better.