Feathers and Fur: Navigating the Coyote Fur Debate of Canada Goose Jackets

AVE221-Canada+Goose+2013121Canada Goose has been manufacturing their famous down-filled parkas for over 50 years, but the now iconic brand was relatively unknown until GQ magazine ran a feature in their October 2008 issue that endorsed the company’s signature Expedition parka.

Canada Goose in GQ

Canada Goose in GQ

The company’s revenue has increased from $3 million in 2001 to over $200 million as of 2014, and the exponential growth spiked after the GQ feature. Like anything popular, Canada Goose has faced its fair share of criticism, from the gaudy signature patch applied to all of their products to their counterfeiting issues, but the largest issue facing Canada Goose is the controversy surrounding their use of coyote fur on some of their products.

Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Association for the Protection of Fur-Bearing Animals have launched media campaigns against Canada Goose to criticize their use of coyote fur. These campaigns are full of disturbing images of trapped coyotes, reports that trapped coyotes remain trapped for days, and even describe coyotes biting their own leg off in order to return to their young. Despite numerous criticisms for PETA’s extreme views on promoting animal welfare, such as one campaign that discouraged milk consumption by linking it to autism, the subject of fur use in the fashion industry remains a heavily debated topic due to humanity’s widespread affection for animals, particularly furry ones.

A typical PETA anti-fur ad

A typical PETA anti-fur ad

Anti-fur ads are very effective; they tug at the heartstrings of viewers and cause a moral dilemma – who would ever want to hurt a cute, fluffy animal? There are indeed problems with the fur industry, such as the unsustainable practice of fur farming. If you aren’t aware of what a fur farm is, it’s essentially a factory farm where animals are raised and harvested not for their meat, but for their fur.

Mink in cages at a fur farm.

Mink in cages at a fur farm.

 

Much like factory farms, fur farms are crowded and stressful for the animals inhabiting them, but like factory farms, they are a necessary evil in order to meet the supply of their product. If it were sustainable to efficiently harvest all of the mink required in the fur industry, that system would be in place; unfortunately, just like factory farms are required to sustain the world’s appetite for meat, fur farms are required to sustain the world’s fur industry.

However, this article is about coyote fur used on Canada Goose jackets, and the coyotes harvested for that purpose are all trapped, not farmed. My issue with animal rights groups’ attacks on trapping coyotes for their fur lies in their lack of understanding of the biology of the coyote, as well as humanity’s tendency to react with a sympathetic bias towards certain genera of animals, such as mammals or birds, simply because they’re cute or have fur. First, let’s go a little more in-depth into the biology of the coyote.

A coyote

An adult coyote

Historically, coyotes were native to central plains of the United States, and their range periodically extended North to the prairies of Canada and South into Mexico. Their recent expansion into Northeastern regions in North America has been caused by several factors: the deforestation of the Northeast for human settlement, the increase in food sources such as livestock, and the eradication of the former apex predator of the Northeast, the gray wolf. Coyotes are opportunistic breeders, which means that populations only breed as a function of available food. Because of the increase in livestock populations in North America, coyotes now have a plentiful food source available.

wolf-eradication

The eradication of gray wolves during the 1800s by American settlers was seen as the solution to a growing number of wolf attacks on livestock. The ecological niche of apex predator was left vacant, and aside from the North American black bear, no sizable predators existed in the Northeast. White-tailed deer populations exploded as a result of a lack of predation to the point that these animals are now viewed as urban pests. White-tailed deer are browsing animals, which means that they feed on trees and shrubs. The ecological damage caused by white-tailed deer disrupts the healthy growth of young trees and shrubs and impedes the regenerative cycles of forests. Additionally, deer also cause human injury & mortality – not to mention repair expenses – as the result of vehicular collisions.

Ecological damage typical of white-tailed deer.

Ecological damage caused by white-tailed deer.

Recently, coyotes have begun to fill the niche of apex predator in many regions of the Northeast. Since black bears do not feed on ungulates (animals like deer, moose, or antelope), coyotes now have an overpopulated food source. As mentioned before, coyotes are breeders of opportunity, so with an abundant food source, coyote populations have been steadily increasing in the past few decades. However, coyotes are smaller than wolves, so preying on deer is less common for coyotes, as they prefer smaller prey species like rabbits. With the increase in livestock, coyotes have a food source that is readily accessible and easy to prey upon; a sheep is not as fast nor as potentially violent as a deer.

Coyotes have replaced wolves in many regions where wolves have been extirpated.

Coyotes have replaced wolves in many regions where wolves have been extirpated.

Preventing coyote attacks are now a routine part of every livestock owner’s life. Attacks from coyotes on pets and even humans are now becoming more commonplace as coyote populations adapt and become more comfortable living in such close proximity to humans. Coyotes, like the deer they prey on, are now considered urban pests. In fact, the problem has gotten so bad in Saskatchewan that the Provincial government issued a bounty on coyotes in November 2009; over 71,000 bounties were claimed by March 2010.

Clearly, coyotes are a problem in North America, and will continue to be as long as humans raise livestock. From a biological standpoint, the harvest of coyotes for their fur is not damaging at all to ecosystems they inhabit, as the next breeding cycle will see lost individuals replaced by increased offspring numbers. The coyote cull in Saskatchewan was ineffective; the reproductive strategy of the surviving coyotes accounted for the individuals lost in the cull. Experts state that limiting food sources is the only effective strategy, but good luck telling sheep farmers to close up shop.

Coyotes are a constant nuisance for sheep farmers and now even pet owners.

Coyotes are a constant nuisance for sheep farmers and now even pet owners.

This brings us to the complicated issue of animal ethics. It is impossible to have unanimous support for the harvest of a fur-bearing animal – humans are highly driven and influenced by our emotions and the thought of killing a cute furry animal is a difficult one to process. One needs to look no further than the complicated matter of the seal hunt in Newfoundland & Labrador to see just how contentious the harvest of animals for their fur (and meat) can be. The seal hunt is further complicated by the issue of Indigenous People’s rights, but that’s a whole other issue. What we often forget is that animals have limited lifespans (except if you’re a certain immortal jellyfish), and animals succumb to death due to old age, predation, or disease just like we all do.

The seal hunt. A very controversial practice in Canada.

The seal hunt: a very controversial practice in Canada.

Trapping or hunting, despite their more “savage” reputations among the masses, are in fact the most humane methods of harvesting game or fur-bearers, especially when compared to the conditions present on fur farms or factory farms. When an animal is harvested as a result of trapping or hunting, it is almost always a full grown adult that has bred a few times and lived a healthy, fulfilling life. Juveniles or new offspring are avoided because they are undesirable for meat or fur.

The question of abandoning the trapping & fur business altogether in favour of synthetic materials is an oft-proposed alternative; however, for the same reason that synthetic leather will never replicate the quality and feel of the real thing, synthetic fur is simply not a valid substitute for the real thing. Genuine fur is much better at repelling snow and cold than synthetic fur, and despite the fact that the majority of Canada Goose jacket owners buy the jacket for the brand and not the function of the fur hood, the premium brand image that Canada Goose sells needs to be accompanied by premium materials; that means real fur.

The issue of harvesting animals for their fur is also one of great contention. We are the only species of animal that kills other animals for uses beyond the scope of absolute necessity for survival. In the past, fur-bearing animals provided us with warmth, so their harvest was necessary, but today we are not dependent on furs to keep warm.

The debate on ethics will likely never be settled, because animal ethics are so subjective. We have made large strides in our knowledge of the biology of the creatures we harvest for our own use, but we have also taken many strides backward with the dependence on factory farming. The purpose of this article was to simply present the biological side of the Canada Goose coyote fur debate and help to rationalize the overall fur debate picture, which has unfortunately been polluted with sensationalist claims and a great deal of misinformation about the fur industry. The harvest of fur-bearing animals is certainly far from perfect from a moral standpoint, but it’s not as ethically (or biologically) poor as some of our more regular practices.

coyotetrimhood

 

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The Breakfast Snub: How Digital Wildfires Killed Kellogg’s

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The name Kellogg has been synonymous with breakfast for over a century, but the company’s cereal products have experienced a massive sales slump in the past half decade that has led to a loss of hundreds of jobs for factory workers as the company restructures and alters its strategy moving forward. As is customary in the tumultuous food industry, diet trends dictate the flow of sales, and companies must adapt or risk significant losses. The Kellogg story is a particularly unfortunate one because the dip in sales can be attributed in part to digital misinformation.

A report by the World Economic Forum lists massive digital misinformation as one of the largest threats in the modern world, forming a bridge between technological and geopolitical risk. Information available on the Internet is grossly unregulated, which is both equal parts a strength and weakness. The speed and virality with which information can travel is remarkable, and this can cause immediate financial consequences for firms.

W.K. Kellogg, the inventor of breakfast cereal.

W.K. Kellogg, the inventor of breakfast cereal.

Kellogg’s is a major player in the breakfast cereal industry, with annual revenues of almost 15 billion USD in 2013. In fact, the company’s founder, Will K. Kellogg, is credited with practically inventing the modern idea of breakfast. Before Kellogg, North Americans woke up and consumed leftovers, which caused widespread indigestion due to a lack of proper food storage technologies like refrigeration. Kellogg’s older brother John was a holistic physician who worked at a wellness centre that catered to the wealthy, where patrons would undergo expensive therapies that involved enemas and hydrotherapy.

Together, the brothers sought to solve the population’s breakfast dilemma, and due to their faith, they were both strict vegetarians, so the Kellogg brothers needed to develop a breakfast food that aligned with their diet. The result was what we know today as Corn Flakes, the world’s first breakfast cereal.

Kellogg acquired Pringles in 2012

Kellogg acquired Pringles in 2012

Today, the very product that made the company famous has been waning in popularity. In fact, the percentage of total revenue from cereal has been steadily declining in the past decade. In 2000, breakfast cereal accounted for 70 percent of Kellogg’s sales; in 2014 that number shrunk to 45 percent. A $2.7 billion acquisition of the Pringles brand from Proctor & Gamble in 2012 helped to alleviate the damage to Kellogg caused by shrinking cereal sales, but this still didn’t solve the dwindling sales of their breakfast products.

We know that Kellogg – and indeed all cereal companies – are struggling to sell breakfast cereal, but what is at the root of this shift in breakfast preferences? Breakfast hasn’t disappeared from our diet; in fact, 1 in 5 restaurant trips are for breakfast, and sales of other breakfast-related products like greek yogurt or eggs have surged in recent years. So if not a disappearance of breakfast, then what? Ironically, the very same class of wealthy individuals who practiced holistic medicine and other alternative approaches to their health are the cause of the massive sales decline for the very breakfast product invented to combat their ailing health.

Low carbohydrate diets have been a trend throughout history as long as people have been concerned about their body weight, but none of these diets have ever had more proof than what is found in the books coupled to these diets and anecdotal testimonials of those on the diet, particularly celebrities. For example, today’s Paleo Diet was the Stone Age Diet 40 years ago, and the Atkins Diet has been popular twice: once in the 1970s when Dr. Atkins published his first book, and again beginning in 2002 when he published a revised edition.

At their core, these diets are the same based on the fact that they both encourage the users to abstain from consuming carbohydrates. While limiting the intake of carbohydrates is a key component to any healthy diet, eliminating carbohydrates, specifically grains, altogether as part of a healthy diet has never been supported by scientific consensus. Breakfast cereal sales have survived periods of low-carb diet popularity, but it was not until the past decade that health gurus decided to turn their sights on new enemies more specific than just carbs: GMOs, wheat, gluten, and non-organic foods.

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In 2011, a preventative cardiologist from Wisconsin named William Davis published Wheat Belly, a book that proclaims that wheat is the underlying cause of numerous adverse health conditions in our society. Dr. Davis describes wheat as “toxic” and refers to modern wheat crops as “Frankenwheat”, stating that the wheat grown today is nothing like the wheat grown in the 1950s and 1960s. This book had profound effects on the public’s perception of wheat in their diets, despite the fact that none of Davis’ claims are supported by any evidence that can be considered conclusive.

Despite the rejection of Davis’ claims by the scientific community, the ideas promoted by Wheat Belly caught on and helped contribute to the decline in sales of products that contained wheat. A great deal of breakfast cereals contain wheat or wheat products, and the North American consumers’ new found aversion to wheat also helped contribute to the hysteria surrounding a particular protein contained in wheat (and other grains): gluten.

Dr. Peter Gibson is a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the G.I. unit at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. Unlike most people who talk about the effects that gluten has on the body, Dr. Gibson actually boasts the qualifications to do so, and when he and his team published a study in 2011 that described a possible link between gluten and gastric distress, the world took notice. Despite a small sample size and an experimental design that left much room for improvement, the notion that gluten could be the culprit behind everything from gastric distress to autism soon caught widespread attention in developed countries, and the gluten-free industry exploded. By 2016, gluten-free products are predicted to have sales in excess of $15 billion, which is double the 2011 total. Entire aisles in grocery stores now house gluten-free products, which used to be incredibly hard to find for the 1% of the population who have celiac disease and cannot actually consume gluten.

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True to the nature of science, Dr. Gibson and his team revisited their study and sought to improve the design to confirm that gluten was indeed the cause for gastric distress. In 2013, Dr. Gibson reported that the startling results of his first study were not supported by the data of his second, more extensive study. In fact, he determined that the cause of the gastric distress exhibited by patients was not related to diet at all, but rather, the mind. The results of both the 2011 & 2013 studies were in fact influenced by the Placebo Effect. Additionally, the results of the 2013 study provided evidence that gastric distress is caused not by gluten, but by a group of products found in grain collectively known as FODMAPs, which include fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Many gluten-free products are also free of FODMAPs, so the effect that people report when on a gluten-free diet may be due to the lack of FODMAPs in their diet. Despite a lack of support from scientific evidence, gluten is still widely feared and omitted from the diets of many consumers in North America.

A classic example of a meme designed to ignite a digital wildfire.

A classic example of a meme designed to ignite a “digital wildfire”.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into the case with GMOs and the fiercely uneducated and biased opposition they face from North American consumers, but the examples of wheat, corn, and gluten avoidance sufficiently encompasses the belief system under which these groups operate. It is a system of impatience, logical fallacy -particularly ad proc ergo propter hoc (correlation does not imply causation) -and anti-corporate bias. This system of beliefs is incredibly influential today because of how quickly information can spread and how difficult it can be to fact-check fast enough to keep up with the production and spread of new misinformation. Essentially, before the word can get out that wheat isn’t actually toxic or that gluten is only harmful for 1% of the population or that GM corn isn’t harmful to your health, the world has already changed and accepted this as fact, and the affected industries must cope with these rapid changes.

Greek Yogurt has surged in popularity in recent years due to its high protein content and the fact that it's gluten-free.

Greek Yogurt has surged in popularity in recent years due to its high protein content and the fact that it’s gluten-free.

With regards to what we eat for breakfast, the influence of this school of thought has resulted in a drastic change. Cereal sales are significantly down, while yogurt and egg sales are surging. In fact, rival cereal giant General Mills made the strategic purchase of Yoplait, one of the largest yogurt companies in the world, for $2.2 billion to ensure stability. The reason behind these changes is the result of the misinformation spread by anti-wheat, anti-gluten, and anti-GMO (essentially, anti-corporate) consumer mindsets that have trickled down to the masses from the select few fringe groups who aggressively promote their agendas.

-1x-1Protein has become a popular selling point in recent years, as evidenced by the increase in yogurt and egg sales, and further evidenced by the increase in sales by cereals that advertise their high protein content. For example, in the graph pictured above, we can see that the award for top sales increase belongs to Special K Protein, while the largest drop belongs to numerous Kashi cereals. This is quite the perplexing result: one would think that a company that markets to the natural, organic-loving crowd like Kashi would experience a surge in sales during a time when the opinions of the very groups it is targeted at reign supreme. However, in Kashi’s case, being organic isn’t enough. For a cereal of that sort to experience a healthy sales growth, it would need to be marketed as gluten/wheat/GMO free or high in protein. Bonus points if it includes a “superfood” like quinoa.

Thanks to digital misinformation, the food industry has become incredibly volatile, and what the WEF terms “digital wildfires” – essentially rapid surges in popularity – constantly pose threats to products or entire companies. It could be as simple as a tweet, slightly more complex like a Facebook meme, and even an article or a book. Every day we are bombarded with messages of what new superfood can cure cancer, what atrocity a big food corporation has committed, or what diet we need to eat or face dire consequences. And most of it is exaggerated, dangerously untrue, or is simply “eat your vegetables” dressed up in fancy wrapping in order to sell books or nutrition seminars.

kelloggs_closure_20131210Sadly, as a result of these constant digital wildfires, a factory in London, Ontario now lies vacant, the 450 jobs it provided gone, and thousands more Kellogg factory workers are at risk. The article in the link quotes a former employee who blamed “corporate greed” for the result of the closure, but unfortunately, if sales are down, companies need to cut a few branches off to keep the tree alive. At the root of the cause is not corporate greed, because if sales and profits are up, there is no need to close a plant. What caused these 450 workers to lose their jobs is society’s lack of scientific literacy and hysteria surrounding the corporate food industry. Digital wildfires related to the food industry caused a shift in diet supported by no scientific evidence, and as a result, 450 people are now out of work and a century-old factory lies deserted.

The last box of Frosted Flakes made at the London, Ontario Kellogg plant.

The last box of Frosted Flakes made at the London, Ontario Kellogg plant.