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July 17, 08

Pageant Protest

Animal rights organization objects to �inhumane� prize for Miss Florida USA

Roughly 33,000 YouTube viewers watched the finale of the week-long competition that crowned Anastagia Pierre Miss Florida USA 2009 at Broward Community College on Saturday.

But outside, a very different spectacle was taking place � Amanda Burk of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and a handful of others stood in the pouring rain with signs picturing mutilated animals.

Demonstrators passed out DVDs depicting the torture of animals while holding signs that read, "She needs her fur more than you do" and "Animals maimed, humans shamed."

The group protested the pageant because the winner would receive, among other prizes, a full-length mink coat provided by 12-year sponsor The Fur Information Council of America.

Protesters chronicled what they say are the horrors of the fur industry: thousands of animals confined to small, feces-encrusted wire cages without food and water, left injured and untreated to go insane, often resorting to cannibalism only to be skinned alive for their furs, according to the ARFF.

"Our beef isn�t with the pageant, it�s with the sponsorship by the [fur] industry and the use of fur coats as prizes," protestor Nick Atwood said. "It tarnishes the pageant, and it shames the contestants."

Keith Kaplan, spokesperson for the California-based FICA, disagreed.

"People support the concept of the freedom of choice," Kaplan said. "They choose to eat meat, they choose to wear leather, they choose to fish and they choose to wear fur. And the industry is committed to the ethical treatment of animals," since the fur products labeling law of 1962 and a 2006 industry-adopted origin assurance program "assure the animals� welfare" and track the fur from farm to retailer, he said.

However, the protestors were hardly convinced, and had some gut-wrenching photos to prove their point. "Mink and foxes are kept in small cages for their entire lives � cages so small that they resort to self-mutilation," Atwood said.

"Most of the world�s fur comes from China, where there are no animal rights laws," said protestor Ghazal Tajalli. "Fur is believed to be the �fabric of elegance,� but it�s only beautiful for the original owner."

Tajalli added that importation laws require disclosure of the origin and species of the fur only if the item is over $150, "so if the fur is under $150, you could be wearing dog and cat fur. China is notorious for that. The [U.S.] Senate is trying to close that loophole." Kaplan later said that because Chinese fur does not possess the quality levels that the final market demands, fur is often shipped there to be made into garments.

Protester Colleen Ferro told of her success speaking to pageant contestants inside the hall. "Contestants said they weren�t happy about the prize, but one said she was afraid to say anything because she didn�t want to hurt her chances of winning," said Ferro, holding a poster reading "Fashion shouldn�t cost an arm and a leg."

Kaplan later called their demonstration "a testament to the tremendous strength in fur sales and consumer demands for the products," adding that to the best of his knowledge, a contestant has never turned down the coats, this year included.

"It�s a status symbol. They think it makes them beautiful," Ferro said when asked why she thinks fur would be considered a prize in steamy Florida. "I think it makes them ugly."

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