A bill designed to ensure consumers know if they're buying real or fake fur has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate for debate.

The House on Wednesday unanimously approved The Truth in Fur Labeling Act (H.R. 2480) -- action that garnered support and praise from animal protection groups, consumer organizations, and designers and retailers.

Representatives Jim Moran (D-VA) and Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) introduced the bi-partisan bill in 2009 to close a federal loophole that does not require fur garments valued at $150 or less to have labels.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said that gap in the law prevents consumers from knowing if they're buying genuine or faux animal fur.

"Many consumers prefer to avoid buying and wearing animal fur, and they deserve to have the information to make informed purchasing choices," said Michael Markarian, chief operating officer for the HSUS. "The Truth in Fur Labeling Act would protect consumers by requiring all garments containing animal fur to be accurately labeled."

Shocking discovery

HSUS investigations have revealed that retailers and designers across the country sold jackets trimmed with animal fur that did not have any labels and were falsely advertised as "faux fur."

A recent HSUS probe made the chilling discovery that domestic dog fur had slipped into the country on unlabeled jackets.

Another HSUS investigation discovered raccoon dog fur on more than two-thirds of a nationwide sample of fur-trimmed jackets purchased from "well-known" retailers and designers.

Raccoon dogs are part of the canine family and look like raccoons. They are nocturnal animals that live in Asian and northern European forests. "Of the raccoon dog fur jackets tested, not a single one properly identified the animal in advertising or labeling, instead calling it such things as faux fur, raccoon or simply not labeling it at all," the HSUS said.

Closing the loophole

The bill now pending on Capitol Hill would require all fur garments sold in the United States -- regardless of their value -- to meet the standards set under the 1951 Fur Products Labeling Act. That law requires seven out of every eight fur garments sold in the country to have labels that disclose the species of animal and the country of origin, the HSUS said.

The proposed legislation would extend those labeling requirements to the approximately 13 percent of fur garments sold in the country that are exempt from the law because they have a value of $150 or less.

"With the changes in the marketplace over the last half-century -- such as increased use of fur trim and increased quality of synthetic fur -- the fur labeling law needs to be updated to reflect present market realities," the HSUS said.

Consumers' rights

The bill's sponsors said consumers have a right to know if the garments they're buying are made with faux fur - or real fur that might have come from a dog or cat.

"Consumers expect to have access to all necessary information in order to make informed purchases," said Moran. "Unfortunately, a current loophole in federal regulations exempts a sizable portion of U.S. garments containing fur from labeling requirements. This means consumers could be purchasing products with the expectation that they bought 'faux' fur, but which actually contain real fur, perhaps from a dog or cat."

Bono Mack applauded her fellow lawmakers for supporting the measure. "I am pleased that the passage of this legislation will close the loophole that has for too long allowed companies to sell fur products made from cats and dogs as 'faux fur,'" she said. "It is important that consumers are provided with product labels that allow them to make informed decisions on their purchases, and this bill will help provide clarity for customers."

Consumer groups, designers, and upscale national retailers -- including the Gucci Group, Burberry, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Andrew Marc -- support the legislation.

The Senate will now debate the companion bi-partisan bill -- Truth in Fur Labeling Act of 2009 (S 1076) -- introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Susan Collins (R-ME).