A BAN on the "abhorrent" trade in cat and dog fur comes into force in the UK this week. From Thursday, it will be illegal to import, export or sell the fur harvested from millions of cats and dogs slaughtered each year in the Far East.
The fur is used for products ranging from children's soft toys, to coats, trims on clothes, linings in boots, pet toys and rugs. It has been found for sale across Europe, including the UK.
The majority of the cats and dogs are killed in China, where they are kept in cruel conditions and sometimes skinned alive.
The EU-wide ban follows similar legislation in America and Australia, but China continues a thriving trade with some other countries, particularly Russia.
Struan Stevenson, the Scottish MEP who has campaigned for a ban for nine years, said that China needed to act.
"China must now follow suit if it genuinely wants to belong to the global family of civilised nations," said Mr Stevenson. "I urge the Chinese authorities to ban this trade and, in particular, to close down the export of cat and dog skins to Russia."
He added that the use of the skins for fashion goods and novelty items could not possibly justify the "cruel rearing, cramped living conditions or the barbaric killing of over two million animals each year".
He urged retailers and shoppers to remain vigilant to make sure the banned fur is not bought or sold in the UK.
A breach of the ban will bring a penalty of up to seven years in prison.
Customs officers will enforce the ban using forensic techniques such as DNA analysis to detect cat and dog fur, and build on work they already carry out to prevent the illegal movement of endangered species.
In the past, it has been difficult to assess fur imported into the UK, especially if it had been dyed. Evidence suggests cats are often hung from the neck by a wire noose, and can be skinned while still alive.
They are either rounded up or bred in captivity, often in dark, cramped conditions, and transported without food or water. Breeding farms are usually in northern China, where the colder climate enhances the quality and thickness of their coats.
Products include coats each made from 12 Alsatian puppies, and Labrador rugs.
In order to appear more acceptable to customers in Europe, items are often labelled as being made from fake fur, or from fur from a different animal.
UK trade minister Gareth Thomas said it was an "abhorrent trade which has no place in our markets". He added: "This ban will give UK consumers confidence that whether shopping here or within the EU, they will not be sold products containing cat or dog fur."
The trade was exposed a decade ago and a ban has attracted high-profile support, including from Sir Paul McCartney, his former wife Heather Mills, rock star Rick Wakeman, and Dennis Erdman, the director of television show Sex And The City, who persuaded Hollywood celebrities to write to Brussels supporting a ban.
In 1999, a London fur firm was exposed as trading in cat and dog fur. A salesman was filmed offering 10,000 dog furs from China and 150,000 cat furs.
It is still not mandatory to label fur included in garments in the UK, although the British Fur Trade Association introduced a voluntary labelling scheme in 2003.
Dr Barbara Maaf, chief executive of campaign group Care for the Wild, said the ban was a "step in the right direction", but added that it was not enough to end the trade in Europe.