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Longtime Miss USA Pageant host Bob Barker and pageant...

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Longtime Miss USA Pageant host Bob Barker and pageant sponsors are at an impasse over the scheduled wearing of fur coats by contestants during tonight's nationally telecast finals.

Barker, an animal rights activist for almost a decade and the pageant's host for 20 years, said Monday he might not appear at the finals if the 10 finalists wear real fur coats during a scheduled production number with a winter-like background.

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Though he agreed today to host the dress rehearsal in the afternoon, he said nothing had been decided about the finals. Pageant officials and Barker met for 90 minutes Monday night and again today to settle the issue or reach a compromise.

'It would be hypocritical for me to do the show with 10 ladies in fur coats,' Barker said during a party the pageant threw celebrating his 20 years with the event. 'There's no way to make a fur coat without causing pain to one of God's creatures.'

Barker said he did not want to use threats or ultimatums, but when asked if he would do the show if the coats were used, he said, 'I can't do it. I feel that strongly about it.'

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He said he has suggested using fake fur coats in the production number.

But George Honchar, president and executive producer of Miss Universe Inc., said Monday the real fur coats had to be used because of committments with fur dealers to show the products on television.

A statement released by the Fur Retailers Information Council in Washington, D.C., dismissed Barker's stance as a publicity gimmick.

'Occasionally, animal rights activists such as Bob Barker turn from attacking the use of animals in laboratories and the production of meat and other animal products to attacking the fur industry,' the statement said.

'This gives them yet another platform from which to seek publicity. Their emotion-laden and misleading statements may induce the uninformed but well-meaning person to contribute yet more money to their mistaken cause.'

statement said that over 80 percent of the furs sold in the United States are made of fur from animals raised on farms and that furs from the wild are taken in accord with 'strict government regulations.'

Honchar said he did not believe the flap would cause Barker to quit.

'He had kind of voiced that he was unhappy with it,' Honchar said. 'But Bob is too much of a professional (to pull out).'

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Officials said Michael Young, the host of the Miss Teen USA Pageant, would host the show if Barker does not go on. Tonight's scheduled co-host is actress Mary Frann of television's 'Newhart' show.

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