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California governor signs circus animal, fur sale bans

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will be the first state to ban the sale and manufacture of new fur products and the third to bar most animals from circus performances under a pair of bills signed Saturday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The fur law bars residents from selling or making clothing, shoes or handbags with fur starting in 2023.

Animal rights groups cheered the measure as a stand against inhumane practices. The proposal was vigorously opposed by the billion-dollar U.S. fur industry, and the Fur Information Council of America has already threatened to sue.

It follows Newsom’s signing of legislation that makes California the first state to outlaw fur trapping and follows bans on sales of fur in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare, and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we are doing more than that. We are making a statement to the world that beautiful wild animals like bears and tigers have no place on trapeze wires or jumping through flames.”

The fur ban doesn’t apply to used products or those used for religious or tribal purposes. And it excludes the sale of leather, dog and cat fur, cowhides, deer, sheep and goat skin and anything preserved through taxidermy.

It could mark a significant blow to the fur industry that makes products from animals including mink, chinchillas, rabbits and other animals. The U.S. retail fur industry brought in $1.5 billion in sales in 2014, the most recent data available from the Fur Information Council.

Fashion designers including Versace, Gucci and Giorgio Armani have stopped or say they plan to stop using fur.

Under the California law, there is a fine of up to $1,000 for multiple violations.

Animal rights groups have said animals may be subject to gassing, electrocution and other inhumane actions to obtain their fur.

Advocacy group Direct Action Everywhere said it’s working with activists to pass similar bills in cities nationwide, including Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, and it’s optimistic California’s law will spur action.

“Ordinary people want to see animals protected, not abused,” said Cassie King, an organizer with the Berkeley-based group.

Opponents of the legislation have said it could create a black market and be a slippery slope to bans on other products.

The ban is part of a “radical vegan agenda using fur as the first step to other bans on what we wear and eat,” spokesman Keith Kaplan of the fur information council said in a prior statement. He further said fake fur is not a renewable or sustainable option.

California joins New Jersey and Hawaii in banning most animals from circus performances.

The law exempts domesticated dogs, cats and horses and does not apply to rodeos.

Circuses have been declining in popularity for decades. The most well-known act, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, closed in 2017 after 146 years of performances.

State officials say at least two circuses that include live animals were scheduled to perform in California this year. At least 18 circuses don’t use animals, including Cirque du Soleil.

At first, critics warned the proposal was too broad and would impact county fairs, wildlife rescues or rehabilitation organizations. In response, lawmakers narrowed the definition of circus to include “a performance before a live audience in which entertainment consisting of a variety of acts such as acrobats, aerialists, clowns, jugglers, or stunts is the primary attraction or principal business.”

The law includes penalties of up to $25,000 per day for each violation.

Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso authored the measure, arguing wild animals in circuses endure cruel training and near-constant confinement.

The Southwest California Legislative Council opposed the law, saying it will prevent people from being able “to experience the thrill of a circus performance featuring beautiful, well-cared-for animals.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lauded both new laws.

“Today is a historic day for animals in California, including those who have been whipped into performing in circuses, or skinned alive for their fur or skin,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement.

Also Saturday, Newsom signed legislation aimed at helping protect horses from slaughter. The law requires public and private auction yard operators to post new signage, maintain sworn statements and post identifying information online starting Jan. 1.

It is key to ensuring California’s horse population isn’t illegally sent to slaughter, said the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Todd Gloria.

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