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Will The MOD Stop Using Real Fur?

It in March 2005 that Labour MP Chris Mullin called for an immediate ban on bearskins stating that they "have no military significance and involve unnecessary cruelty." The Ministry of Defence said that they had spent two-years testing artificial fur for the hats and that not suitable alternative was available. This was said, even though the army had already replaced beaver skin caps and leopard skins, worn by some of its soldiers, with artificial materials. Then in 2020, the MOD said that they had, "examined various alternative materials in the past" but none had "come remotely close" to matching the natural properties of bear fur, seemingly deciding that the matter was closed.

It's not our fur to wear

The Public Want's Real Fur Use Banned

Animal rights groups, like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been protesting the continued use of real fur for the guards’ bearskin caps for nearly 10 years. They say that the animals are killed cruelly and that the Ministry of Defence has not done enough to find alternatives and the public agrees, even the Queen doesn't wear fur. However, the Ministry of Defence continue to harvest bears.

Real bear fur hats cost £650 each, they require maintenance to keep them looking shiny, to stop them from balding and falling apart, they are less than ideal for a headdress that is worn only for ceremony. An artificial fur would be more durable, lighter, easy to care for and, importantly, cruelty free. The protests continue though and a petition against the use of real fur has reached the threshold to be debated in parliament. Hopefully this is the first true step in getting the use of real fur by the military banned.

According to PETA, it takes the skin of at least one bear to make a single cap and the killing of the bears is not "humane", the bears do not want, or need, to die. It is unconscionable to continue to spend taxpayers’ money (£1 million in the last seven years) on a product that 93% of British people would refuse wear. The MoD is not exempt from the ethical standards of the rest of society. For this national symbol to remain in this form in a society that openly protests against it shows how out of step the Ministry of Defence. The reverence that they previous enjoyed has faded away into the past, the MOD needs to be looking to the future.

In response to the petition to end the use of real fur the Government sent out a message:

Currently we have no plans to end the use of bearskins. Bear pelts that are used are the by-products of a licensed cull by the Canadian authorities to manage the wild bear population. Bears are never hunted to order for use by the MOD. Our suppliers source pelts made available by the Canadian authorities following a licenced cull as part of a programme to manage the wild bear population; Provincial, territorial, federal and international laws provide strict trade regulations to protect against unlawful trade in black bears both within Canada and internationally. Bear pelts that are used for the Queen’s Guards ceremonial caps are the by-products of these licenced culls, as opposed to fur being harvested from an animal being bred for this sole purpose. Therefore, any reduction in the number of bearskins procured by the MOD would not equate to a reduction in the numbers of bears being culled. Guardsmen take great pride in wearing the bearskin cap which is an iconic image of Britain. It must look smart but also be practical for the guardsman to wear in wet or dry weather. The material it is made from must therefore meet the five required criteria. MOD do use man made alternatives in their uniforms where these provide suitable, affordable and sustainable alternative to animal products. For example the smaller busby hats worn by the King's Troop are made from faux fur. Unfortunately, there is currently no non-animal alternative available that meet the essential criterion for the Queen’s Guards ceremonial caps.

A Faux Fur Alternative

PETA worked with faux fur manufacturer, Ecopel, to produce a man made alternative fur for the bearskin caps. The fabric was independently tested and the results were shared with the MOD. They said that their analysis of the results shows that it does not in fact reach the standards needed to provide an effective replacement for their bearskin ceremonial caps:

"Analysis of these recent tests conducted on the fake fur fabric showed it met only one of the five requirements to be considered as a viable alternative for ceremonial caps. Whilst it met the basic standard for water absorption, it showed unacceptable rates of water shedding and performed poorly on the visual assessment. As the artificial fur sadly didn't meet the standards required for a ceremonial cap which is worn throughout the year and in all weathers, the MOD has no plans to take this fake fur fabric forward. As well as passing initial laboratory tests, any new fabric would have to meet with user approval for shape and comfort for a parade length of duty. It would look at whether the fabric could maintain its shape over time, whether it is comfortable and safe for the user - including ensuring any waterproof backing is breathable - whether the faux fur is waterproof after the shaping, sewing and perforation that would be involved and consideration would also be given to its sustainability compared to the current natural fur fabric."

The fact that no soldier or guard has ever been given a faux fur bear skin hat, made with Ecopel's fabric, is neither here nor there, I suppose. Regardless, the online petition has been successful, it has reached the threshold for debate. Now we just have to see how they vote, hopefully this will be the end of the use of real fur by the Queen's Guard.


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