The European Parliament has backed a ban on cat and dog fur imports, in a move to curb the slaughter of millions of cats and dogs in China.

MEPs say shoppers buy goods made with the fur unknowingly, because exporters attach false labels.

It is used in coats, linings for boots and gloves, stuffed toys, and even homeopathic aids for arthritis.

MEPs have agreed with EU member states on the text of the law, which will come into effect from 31 December 2008.

The rules exempt fur sold under strict conditions for educational purposes or for taxidermy.

"Many people are unwittingly deceived into buying garments made out of cat and dog fur due to mislabelling. This law will put an end to these deceptive practices," said Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy.

Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, said: "Slaughter of these animals is horrific, with cats strangled outside their cages as other cats look on.

"Dogs noosed with metal wires are slashed across the groin until they bleed to death as the wire noose cuts into their throat."

DNA tests

Ministers from the EU member states will need to give the ban their approval, but are not expected to reject it, following an informal agreement with the parliament on the text.

Liberal MEP Liz Lynne said a Europe-wide ban would add weight to bans already in force in several EU member states and the United States.

The legislation was initiated by the European Parliament, more than half of whose members signed a written declaration supporting a ban in December 2003.

The European Commission then drafted a regulation in 2006.

It aims to:

-Block cat and dog fur imports at the border

-Introduce penalties for traders

-Encourage sharing of information on how to detect cat and dog fur

The Commission says the obligation on member states to carry out checks and test for the fur will also provide a clearer picture of what products it is being used in, and where it comes from.

As cat and dog fur can be hard to detect when it is dyed, some states are already using hi-tech systems - mass spectrometry or DNA testing - to identify it.

Europe and Russia are reported to be the main markets for the cats and dogs killed in China and some other Asian countries.

David Neale, UK director of Animals Asia Foundation, said the ban would stop hundreds of thousands if not millions of animals from being killed.