The Fur Free Alliance is greatly dismayed that the story ‘Why Fur Is Back in Fashion’ (National Geographic, September 2016) does not fully reflect the often cyclical – boom and bust – nature of the international fur industry and, instead, presents the National Geographic readers with a most unsubstantiated and unbalanced view on the increasingly disputed practice of fur farming.
The article gives the impression that fur production is now at record levels quoting a figure of 84 million mink killed in fur factory farms in 2015 for their fur. As is pointed out, recent increases in demand for fur in Russia and China led to a dramatic increase in the price of a mink pelt at auction – the industry benchmark. But this led to enormous overproduction and an almost inevitable slump.
The Chronicle Herald in Canada (4 August 2016) recently reported that mink pelts that had previously fetched $100 were being sold ‘for only $40 last year and are now going for about $30.’
The article points out that because each pelt costs around $45 to produce, cut-backs in production were inevitable. As a result, as many as 35 mink farms will have closed just in Nova Scotia alone over the last two years.
This dramatic downturn is confirmed by the world’s largest auction house, Kopenhagen Furs that, in June 2016, reported that mink production has fallen from 72 million in 2015 to 54 million now with the greatest drop happening in China (18 million last year to 8 million in the current breeding/killing period).
These economic cycles in the fur industry have come to be expected but are often overlooked as the fur industry’s relentless efforts at public relations and marketing gloss over them through continuous portrayals of a world where fur is in fashion, designers are in love with fur and the welfare of the animals should not be of concern to consumers.
Of late, this same PR and marketing machine has taken on a more sophisticated but sinister turn. Using the same tactics as the tobacco industry it has found a way to introduce its version of science in its defence.
The industry-funded ‘Welfur’ program referred to in the article is an attempt to mimic the European Commission’s established and credible ‘Welfare Quality’ (WQ) initiative aimed at measuring and improving the welfare of hundreds of millions of livestock kept in European Union countries.
Omitting key elements of this WQ protocol and by adopting a ‘best current practice ceiling’, Welfur aims to maintain the status quo whilst pacifying the many critics of breeding animals for their fur.
The author’s repeated claim of animal welfare improvements in the fur industry is contested by extensive scientific evidence demonstrating that it is impossible to meet the most basic welfare requirements of undomesticated animals in factory fur farms. Mink and fox are unlike any other livestock. They are predatory carnivores, territorial and, in the case of mink, solitary by nature. They are also still wild animals. Fear of humans in undomesticated animals makes them fundamentally unsuitable for farming and causes serious stress-related welfare problems as self- mutilation, infected wounds, cannibalism and stereotypical behavior.
As long ago as 2000, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee of Animal Welfare and Animal Health (SCAHAW) in a comprehensive report (The Welfare of Animals Kept For Fur Production) concluded and recommended that ‘Since current husbandry systems cause serious problems for all species of animals reared for fur, efforts should be made for all s
pecies to design housing systems which fulfil the needs of the animals.’ Since the publication of the report the fur factory farm industry has ignored the central criticisms and recommendations and the conditions endured by the animals they breed, rear and kill remain largely the same: ‘The animal welfare in fur farming has shown little improvement over the last 15 years, despite the use of disproportionally large official resources both on research and inspection’ (Norwegian Veterinary Association, 2015).
The truth is, the push to increase animal welfare and ethical and environmental concerns have led eight European countries to outright ban fur farming in recent years: UK and Northern Ireland (2000), Austria (2004), Croatia (2006), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009), The Netherlands (2013), Slovenia (2013), Republic of Macedonia (2014) and Spain (2015). Five more countries – i.e. Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium, Norway and Luxembourg – are currently having parliamentary debates about fur farming ban proposals. These bans are based on scientific research, the public interest and ethical grounds.
A statement of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs on fur farming in 2016 shows that the public opinion against fur farming is reflected by law in an increasing number of countries:
‘Causing suffering and taking the life of an animal for a non-essential and even trivial reason cannot be morally justified. It contravenes public morality in the Netherlands.’
However, author Conniff gravely and glaringly omits any mention of society’s increased ethical concerns about fur farming, and instead presents us with a one-dimensional view of the catwalk as representative of public morality. The truth is that society can and does see well beyond the bright lights of a fashion show.
The author’s argument against a fur farming ban, that ‘it just moves production to areas where no rules apply’, is not ethically valid, for the same reason that it is not morally justified to make child labor legal because of poorer conditions elsewhere. Furthermore, there is simply not a single fur farm in the world with rules or standards strong enough to make it an ethical practice: severe, tragic animal welfare abuses have been scientifically proven to be the standard on fur farms in Norway, China and everywhere else.
Richard Conniff concludes with the idea: ‘Instead of banning fur production, keep applying pressure to push out the worst farmers.’ While this sounds reasonable at first glance, this recommendation gravely ignores the serious, insurmountable welfare issues inherent to the industry.
Keeping and killing tens of millions of wild animals each year in tiny, barren wire cages for nothing more than the fur off their backs is offensive and wrong. It is surely time for us as a civilised society to consign this cruel practice to the dustbin of history.
Drastic drop of mink fur production (June, 2016)
Latvian fur farms downsized as industry takes a blow (March, 2015)
Collapse of mink fur prices on Scandinavian fur auctions (October, 2014)
Mink prices sink after slump in Chinese demand (The Guardian, October 2014)
NORWAY, 17 DECEMBER 2015 – Severely untreated injuries, sick animals and inhumane killing methods were some of atrocities encountered by inspectors which causes four Norwegian mink farms to face closing down. During various inspections of the Food Safety Authority, the animal welfare on the mink farms was repeatedly found to be in such urgent, abominable state that inspectors demanded the immediate euthanization of a number of animals on multiple instances. Last month inspectors likewise demanded for the immediate discontinuation of the killing of mink on the farms, which was carried out in a severely inhumane manner according to the inspectors.
The fur farms, the largest owning 30.000 animals, are expelled from the Norwegian Fur Society, making it highly unlikely they will be able to continue their businesses. Unfortunately serious animal welfare problems are not an exception but business as usual on fur farms, which is why many countries recently decided to ban fur farming or are currently debating a fur ban.
Among some of the major welfare problems the inspectors encountered on the farms were seriously infected wounds, animals missing limbs, a defect gas meter and some animals were found to be still alive after being gassed one day earlier. Animal handlers were observed hard-handedly grabbing mink by their tails and slamming the animals into the gas boxes, after which animals were observed to to be gassed for nearly 3 minutes before passing out. Gassing, which is the standard method to kill mink on most European fur farms, is reported by numerous animal welfare experts as a highly painful and unacceptable killing method. Anton Krag, director of the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance, says:
‘The possible closing down of a fur farm with 30.000 animals is a serious blow to the fur industry. The Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance is glad that the authorities seem to be taking the incredible suffering of fur animals more seriously. However, this is not enough and we will therefore continue our work demanding that politicians ban fur farming in Norway.’
The Food Safety Authority has been monitoring the farms since 2013 and concluded that no improvements whatsoever of animal welfare had been made on the farms. The fur farmer denies all accusations of violations of animal welfare on his farms – even after the inspectors have clearly documented and pointed out the serious health problems of the animals – but contrarily believes he is being harassed. The decision of the Norwegian Fur Society yesterday to exclude the farms from membership causes the fur farmers to lose some significant benefits. Anton Krag:
‘When the fur farmer’s organisation are forced to exclude their own members, it is proof of just how serious the situation is. Fur farmers in Norway insist on keeping predators in tiny cages, which is why the Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance demand a political ban on fur farming.’
STRASBOURG, 26 NOVEMBER 2015 – Yesterday, the Intergroup on Welfare and Conservation of Animals met to discuss fur farming in the EU. The meeting included the launch of the new report “The Case Against Fur Factory Farming – A Scientific Review of Animal Welfare Standards and ‘WelFur’”, produced by British Fur Free Alliance member Respect for Animals. The comprehensive and detailed scientific report concludes that fur bans are the only solution to the serious animal welfare problems in the fur industry.
The meeting was opened by MEP Janusz Wojciechowski, President of the Intergroup on Welfare and Conservation of Animals who welcomed everyone to the launch of the new report. Mark Glover, Campaigns Director from the UK based NGO Respect for Animals, continued:
“The 2001 report from the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Welfare concluded that the housing systems cause serious animal welfare problems for the animals kept on fur farms. Nothing has changed in today’s fur farms. With the WelFur protocols, the fur industry is trying to muddy the waters. Our new report examines all of the recent research and its conclusion is stark: the case for banning fur farming is overwhelming.”
Professor Stephen Harris who is the co-author of the report “The Case Against Fur Factory Farming – A Scientific Review of Animal Welfare Standards and ‘WelFur’”:
“The needs of undomesticated animals cannot be met in any farming system. The WelFur protocols have been designed around the very serious limitations of current housing systems. The WelFur best current practice still represents what most people would consider to be an unacceptable level of welfare.”
Inez Staarink, Policy Advisor on Agriculture, Nature, Animals and Food – Dutch Parliament, spoke about the process of banning fur farming in the Netherlands, a country that was the third biggest mink fur producing country in Europe. She recommended the MEPs to support bans in the Member States, to prohibit the expansion of fur farms and to get correct labelling of fur products.
“The Netherlands will no longer export fur, but instead we will export bans on fur farming.”
Read the full report here.
POLAND, 21 AUGUST 2015 – Last week, inspectors from the Polish Fur Free Alliance member organisation Otwarte Klatki intervened at a fox farm in Kiełczewo, Kościan commune in western Poland to rescue two fox cubs. Inspectors came across the wounded animals in the course of inspection carried out on the farm with the consent of the owner in the end of July.
The inspection revealed that one of the cubs lacked one rear paw, while the other only had two front paws. The animals had difficulties moving around the cage. Having carefully examined the material available, the representatives of the organisation decided to intervene and take the animals away in order to provide them with immediate medical attention.
Medical examination by a veterinary doctor confirmed that the female cub was missing both limbs. It additionally revealed an inflammatory condition of the stamp, bone tissue being excessively grown due to inappropriate healing of the wound, as well as purulent fistula, mycosis and mite infestation. The male was diagnosed, inter alia, with a cough, a fever of over 40 degrees and heart murmur. The foxes, which up until now had not been treated, are under vet’s observation. Both animals, who are not yet 3 months old, might require amputation. Barbara Karbowiak, inspector of Stowarzyszenie Otwarte Klatki:
“We could not have decided otherwise than to immediately take the cubs away. We did the right thing. To leave the cubs on the farm MIGHT have brought a tragic end to their lives, therefore it was never considered as an option. Both animals have inflammatory conditions of their bones which, if left untreated, might have resulted in further infections and enormous suffering. They are both only 2.5 months old and yet they already experienced so much injustice. They did not choose this life for themselves”
According to the owner, the cubs lost their paws because of their mother. However, the farmer failed to provide the animals with treatment and to improve their living conditions.
Acting in accordance with the Animal Protection Act, the inspectors reported the foxes having been taken away to the administrator of Kościan commune. Now, it is for him to decide upon the fate of the rescued animals. The foxes were taken with no knowledge, consent or presence of the owner. According to the Animal Protection Law it is permissible action if the life or health of animal is in danger. Paweł Rawicki, the Vice-president of Otwarte Klatki:
“The condition of the foxes illustrates the farmers’ attitude towards animals. As long as fur can somehow be obtained, their health is of no significance.”
Representatives of Otwarte Klatki claim that animal health issues are a commonplace occurrence on fur farms. They believe that legal provisions as applicable today fail to ensure suitable conditions for animals to live in, as guaranteeing animal welfare is impossible to be reconciled with profitability of fur farming business. The organisation calls for a ban on fur farming to be introduced in Poland. To support their postulates, the organisation refers to films recorded on farms as well as reports published in 2012–2013, entitled THE PRICE OF FUR and PREDATORY BUSINESS.