Fur Farming, Fur Trapping & Animal Rights
(1) Fur Farming
Nowadays the majority of furs handled by the fur trade come from farmed animals (for statistics see Fur Animal Statistics). A single fur farm may raise from a few dozen up to a hundred thousand or more fur-bearers, but the basic practice of fur farming is fairly standard throughout the world.
Fur farmed animals live in very long sheds. Each animal in a shed lives in a separate cage. Cages are arranged in rows along the length of a shed facing each other a few feet off the ground for ease of clearing out droppings. In some countries sheds have no sides to allow in daylight and warmth. In Denmark, where a major portion of the world's mink are housed, sheds are four metres wide and up to 50 metres long (4 x 550 yds).
Cages are made of wire netting and are just a bit bigger than the animal they contain (mink are a little smaller and foxes a little bigger than domestic cats). The fur trades says "These cages give the farm animals sufficient space for normal movement and investigative behaviour."
Foxes in China, a major fur-farming country, each live in a cage the size of two suitcases (90 x 70 x 60 cm / 35 x 28 x 24 inches). Mink cages at some farms in the West have nesting boxes containing straw or wood and some foxes have 'shelter shelves' for additional protection against the weather. Cages of farmed animals in China are completely bare.
Controlled breeding brings out the variety of colours in mink and fox fur coats. Pure white mink are especially sort after by the fur trade. However, breeding for colours brings out physical abnormalities, for example white mink are blind. Other abnormalities included anaemia, deafness, nervous disorders and susceptibility to infectious diseases.
The caged animals engage in stereotypies. Stereotypy is behaviour repeated over and over for long periods with no apparent goal. Turning in circles, pacing up and down, rocking back and forth, nodding or circling the head are all stereotypes. Stereotypy is a sign that the caged animals live in stressful environments where they suffer boredom and frustration. Wild free-living animals do not display stereotypies. The caged animals also fear approaching humans, are apathetic, kill their young and mutilate themselves.
Food is the largest expense for fur farms, equivalent to half or more of the cost of producing a pelt. Fur farm animals annually consume millions of tons of food by-products, the unwanted waste humans will not eat. Mink and foxes feed on by-products of grain, fish, poultry (including rotten eggs), pig, beef and dairy (for instance expired cheese) that would otherwise be tipped into landfills. By using by-products, the fur industry says, fur farms reduce the millions of tonnes of animal waste generated by humans.
No laws in China or the United States regulate the handling or killing of animals farmed for their fur. A guide to killing methods is that they must not spoil pelts and make them unsellable. Therefore, slaughterers cannot use the killing methods for other farm animals. The industry must also keep slaughtering costs down. The International Fur Trade Federation stipulates that fur farmers should behave with the highest standards of care, including when killing animals. China is a member of the International Fur Traders Federation but does not follow the 'highest standards of care'. Fur farmed animals in China die by farm workers clubbing or beating them against the ground, followed by skinning with a knife. Some animals are reported still alive after skinning.
In the United States the only method for slaughtering farmed mink that is officially approved (by the Fur Commission USA, a body representing US mink farmers) is dropping the animals into a container of pure carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide gas, said to render them immediately unconscious and quickly dead. Foxes on the other hand undergo electrocution. Farmhands force an electrode into a fox's mouth and another into the fox's rectum or clips them onto the fox's ear and foot to deliver a killing electric charge.
The fur trade is not open about slaughter methods, but fur trade critics emphasise the brutality of the killing:
- Gas for mink is supplied hot and impure. The gas comes from the exhaust of tractor engines (instead of the more costly cylinder gas) and scours the animals' respiratory tract.
- Mink can hold their breath for a long time, being water diving animals, and therefore take some time to die.
- Electrocuted foxes are stressed my manhandling and then take minutes to die.
- Foxes injected with barbiturates or other chemicals but may be conscious when skinned.
Fur farms dispose of their dead animals as economically as possible (of course the farms only want their pelts). Most fur-bearers taste bad to human palates so they become various products like animal feed, pet food, organic compost, fertilizer, paint and tires. Some carcasses go to zoos and aquariums and some end up as crab bait. Mink faeces make crop fertiliser and their fat is turned into oil to manufacture soap, face oils, cosmetics and leather preservative.
Mink, the major fur-farmed animal in the United States, go round in an economic cycle. However, a number of processes of mink farming enhance the spread of disease, which might also pass on to humans.
The Farmed Mink Economic Cycle
The top half of the graphic (green) shows that mink become garments and other commodities for humans, for instance soap. The lower half of the graphic (blue) shows that mink farmers feed the carcasses and droppings of mink to their own mink via livestock/poultry and farm crops. Thus: 1) mink carcasses feed livestock and poultry. 2) mink droppings fertilize farm crops that then 3) go to livestock and poultry. Finally, 4) the by-products of livestock and poultry go to mink for food.
Banned Fur Farming
A number of governments have recognised the immorality and poor animal welfare inherent in the fur trade and some European countries have banned fur farming as illegal or limited its scope.
- banned fur farming at the end of the 1990's.
- banned fur farming in 2003 on the grounds that it is not consistent with value and respect for animal life.
- banned fox and chinchilla farming in the late 1990's and is phasing out fox farming over several years.
- illegal to keep fur-bearing foxes in cages.
- banned fur farming.
Although fur farming is illegal in some countries it does not make them non-players in the fur trade. London is said to be the biggest centre of the international fur market with an annual turnover of hundreds of millions of dollars.
(2) Fur Trapping
Most animals trapped for their fur live in Canada, Russia and the United States. The US claims the largest number of fur trappers, about 150,000 people with a licence. Canada has an estimated 60,000 trappers. These North American trappers are mainly part-timers and few earn a serious income from trapping.
A lot of trappers use steel leghold traps to catch animals. Legholds come in a range of sizes for trapping animals of different dimensions, from the small weasel to the large bear. Legholds are relatively cheap and portable and they all work in much the same way. They have two steel jaws backed by heavy springs which snap shut on a foot or leg when an animal steps onto the release mechanism between the jaws.
You open the leghold trap's jaws (the topmost two elements) by prising them apart and pinning them down against their springs (the two diagonal elements with the coiled springs underneath them). An animal treads on the flat plate (at the trap's centre) which releases the springs and is trapped. You chain the trap to the ground to stop the crippled animal pulling it up and escaping with it.
About 100 countries - excluding the United States, Canada and Russia - have so far banned the use of leghold traps on the grounds that they are inhumane and indiscriminate. Britain (where they are called gin traps) was one of the first countries to outlaw them in the 1950's and the European Union banned steel-jaw leghold traps in 1995.
Humane issues with legholds are:
A History of Fur Trapping
- Leghold traps cause severe injuries. Legholds may clamp shut on any part of an animal that springs them, like an exploring snout. Bones are broken, teeth are fractured (when biting the trap in a frenzy to escape), and animals are known to chew off their trapped limbs to escape.
- Trappers often leave their traps unchecked for long periods, or forget where they are, or abandon them so that trapped animals die slowly.
- Legholds are indiscriminate. Even carefully placed traps for fur-bearers catch unintended animals, including birds, domestic pets and animals of rare species. Trappers unintentionally kill literally millions of non-target animals every year.
- Where legal the use of legholds is poorly if at all regulated. There is no adequate way to police the expanse of wild places.
- Animals slowly die from hypothermia in cold climates, or from loss of blood while waiting for the trapper to return, or slowly drown if trapped in water. (Alternatively trappers club the animals on the head or step on their neck and chest to suffocate them.)
Fur farms produce most pelts nowadays, but historically it was backwoodsman who provided the first pelts by trapping wild animals, especially in Siberia and North America. The international fur trade was the primary incentive for Europeans to explore and colonise these regions.
Sable in Siberia was Russia's greatest asset from the 16th to 18th centuries. Sable and other fur-bearers, like wolf, fox, lynx, otter, beaver and squirrel, were trapped, netted or shot so fast that their populations almost vanished. In the wake of the trappers came traders, farmers, soldiers and government officials to make money, claim the land, pacify the native inhabitants, keep order and collect taxes. The trappers had continually to push eastwards to exploit new fur populations and eventually reached the Pacific Ocean. Then they began trapping and exploiting Alaska (then part of Russia).
Meanwhile around 1600 the English and French were rivals for fur in eastern North America. Although beaver fur hats were fashionable in Europe, beavers were now rare because people trapped and hunted them so much. So the Europeans in North America sent consignments of other furs, as well as beaver, back home. As hunters and trapper used up all the fur animals they moved progressively westwards and, as in Siberia, colonisers moved in after them.
The fur trade was responsible for devastating native peoples and the sable, beaver and many other species almost went extinct. In the mid-20th century trappers turned to the cats and brought many cat species close to the brink of extinction. Before conservationists managed to abate the trapping, hundreds of thousands of cheetahs, leopards, jaguars, ocelots, geoffroys and other cats suffered and died.
Farmed fur dominates the fur trade today. Farmed fur is a significant industry in several countries, contributing 85 percent of pelts to the fur trade and trapping contributes the rest.
(3) Fur Marketing
The ultimate consumers of fur are the people who wear it, commonly women, often for fashion or luxury status, when they or their partners buy it. Before this, pelts pass through a number of stages in several countries.
Auction houses take most pelts from farmers and trappers. Pelts are graded and sorted into lots ('bundles') and prospective buyers from around the world inspect them before bidding. Buyers are mainly brokers acting for furriers or for companies that buy and sell pelts globally. Thus countries which no longer produce fur can still be big players in the fur market, like Britain where fur farms are now illegal. The largest auction houses are in Copenhagen, Helsinki, Oslo, Saint Petersburg, Seattle and Toronto.
The semi-raw pelts from the auction houses go to factories for processing or 'dressing' ready for combining with garments. The primary processing centres are in the Baltic States, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy and Russia.
Processing pelts entails many stages. Examples are:
to remove layers of skin and other tissues.
in brine to make the skin soft and supple.
out the long outer hairs to reveal the finer under-fur.
hairs to a uniform length.
in any one of numerous colours to make hairs look uniform.
dye along a centre line to create a natural-looking centre stripe.
by chemical or mechanical processes to create lustre.
pelts to re-shape and lengthen them.
The pelts are then sorted into bundles of matching furs - graded by colour, size, hair length and texture and go to the furrier's workshop.
Furriers are manufacturers who turn fur into products, usually clothing (but see for example Fur Brushes & Bows), and may work with designers to contrive fur garments for the fashion industry.
Furriers cut the pelts to a pattern, then moisten, stretch and tack the pelts to a table for shaping and further softening. If necessary they slice the pelts into narrow strips and stitch them together to make larger expanses of material. A full-length mink coat has hundreds of such pieces. Odd pieces are sewn together to make cheaper garments or linings. It takes about a year after killing some animals to turn their fur into purchasable clothes ready for the consumer.
China is the largest manufacturer of fur products. As well as farming its own fur, China imports millions of raw pelts from North America and Europe. China manufactures about 70 percent of the fur trade's mink garments and is the world's biggest exporter of finished fur garments and fur products, through Hong Kong, mainly to the US, Europe and Japan. See Fur Animal Statistics for more figures.
The penultimate consumers of fur are retail shops, from boutiques to department stores and other outlets. The biggest consumer markets of fur garments are North America, Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. Markets in Japan, Korea and China have recently joined in.
Glossary of Fur Marketing TermsAuction houses
- markets where raw pelts undergo selection for quality before sale.
- the bits of animal bodies humans do not eat, eg guts, ears, eyes and feet.
- tanning raw pelts to turn the skin into soft pliable leather.
- the soft and pleasant hair from mammals, eg cats, chinchillas, foxes. pelt - same as a pelt.
- an animal with a coat of fur.
r - person who deals in furs or fur clothing (but not farmers or trappers).
- same as a pelt.
- killing animals as a crop.
- an animal's skin with fur attached.
- pelts that have been fully or partially prepared for wearing.
- pelts that are untreated in any way.
- a small piece of fur that decorates part of a garment, eg a collar or hem.
The fur industry is international, claiming over a million full-time workers worldwide, including people at auction houses, furriers and retail shops. Currently (2006) the United States has 320 fur farms where about 3,000 people work, including additional hands the farms hire in the breeding and killing seasons. About 68,000 people are employed full-time and part-time in Canada and most of these are trappers, mainly part-timers, then there are 2,000 farming, 2,500 processing, 2,500 retailing and 1,000 people in related work. In Europe there are around 6,000 fur farms and over 200,000 people work full and part-time in the fur industry.
(4) Fur Morality
Fox Trapping on Unimak. Photographer Frank L Beals. US Fish and Wildlife Service.
What are some of the arguments for and against the fur industry? This entry looks at the morality of the fur industry.
A solid basis for welfare arguments against the fur industry is the industry's inherent lack of welfare. Advocates of the status quo will not even implement moderate welfare because it eats away the profits. Nor does the fur industry have incentive for change. In China and countries with a similar mental disposition about animals the idea of animal welfare is non-existent.
Mink, foxes and other predatory fur-bearers are inquisitive creatures with varied and complex behaviour. A mink ranges along several kilometres of riverbank and is adapted for a semi-aquatic life. Foxes are active throughout tens to hundreds of hectares. These animals need stimulating environments in which to be active. Confining them on fur farms in tiny cages inevitably causes them suffering.
Wild Caged Animals
People assume that raising fur-bearers is like rearing other farm animals and that providing the animals are well cared for they pose no welfare or ethical problems. The fur trade claim that mink and foxes are domesticated animals well suited to the farm. This is not true. People have not bred these animals over centuries like dogs, sheep and cattle, for pliancy and toleration of humans. Fur-farmed mink and foxes retain their wild instincts - they are suffering, caged, wild animals.
Rights & Ethics
However, there are people who insist that the concept of welfare entirely misses the fundamental issue. They maintain that humans have no right to impose suffering on animals to farm and trap them for their fur. This is an issue welfare cannot address and the fur trade continually fails to engage in ethical debate. Aside from welfare ("standards are always improving") the fur trade's arguments extend only to conservation ("we do not use endangered species") and that fur is somehow indispensable ("...the ultimate modern luxury for today's lifestyle").
It is the end users of fur, the people who ultimately wear fur, who are key to the continuation of the fur trade. They finance the trade by buying fur apparel and the trade will keep going as long as fur-wearers pay for it. But the fashion conscious wearers of fur give no thought to the suffering and cruelty behind their actions and dismiss animal suffering as trivial compared with their need for glamour.
For & Against: argue your case
- Claim: You cannot blame fur-wearers for any wrong-doing, because they did not kill the animals they wear.
- Claim: The people who buy furs to wear sustain and propel the industry by financing it, so they are the most blameworthy of all for animal cruelty.
- 2. Pleasure
- Claim: Fur is good because it gives pleasure to so many people.
- Claim: These people are not thinking or do not understand the suffering behind the fur.
- 3. Choice
- Claim: You should leave the choice to individuals to decide whether or not to wear fur.
- Claim: We must have free choice, but ban the cruel practices and trade behind the choice.
- 4. Livelihoods
- Claim: The fur trade is necessary because the way of life of many people depends on it.
- Claim: Employment cannot justify cruel practices. People can adapt to changing employment but the animals they kill lose everything.
- 5. Million Dollar Donations
- Claim: The fur trade is good because it contributes million of dollars to animal welfare and conservation projects.
- Claim: Fur farming and trapping still cause suffering and are still immoral no matter how much money you throw about.
- 6. Natural & Sustainable
- Claim: Fur is good for society because it is a natural product, based on the sustainable use of renewable resources.
- Claim: You can find fur in nature (ie it is 'natural') and fur-bearers reproduce (so are 'sustainable'). But this does not give you an automatic right to exploit fur-bearers relentlessly, bringing suffering and death to tens of millions of them every year.
- 7. Environment-friendly
- Claim: Fur is biodegradable and therefore environmentally sound, unlike synthetic fabrics.
- Claim: Fur farming and all the chemicals that go into processing pelts are anything but environment friendly.
- 8. Freedom of Activity
- Claim: Fur farming is a lawful trade. Banning it infringes the legitimate freedom of people to trade.
- Claim: You cannot defend cruel practices on grounds of rightful trade. In any case, other cruel trades and practices have been banned.
- 9. Farming
- Claim: Fur farming is as justifiable as farming any other animals.
- Claim: Real farms do not confine wild animals in tiny cages.
- 10. Quality Farming
- Claim: Fur farming is not cruel. Guidelines and regional, national and international laws regulate fur farmers.
- Claim: In some countries there are guidelines and laws that support fur farming as a legal activity. But these guidelines and laws do not prevent fur-farmed animals from suffering.
- 11. Established Economy
- Claim: Fur farming is an important, established and normal part of farming in many countries.
- Claim: Practices are not right just because they are entrenched and taken as customary.
- 12. Offal
- Claim: Fur farming makes good use of millions of tonnes of animal by-products by feeding the by-products to fur-farmed animals. Doing this is a valuable link in the food and recycling chain.
- Claim: Killing one lot of animals (by-products) to feed another lot (fur-farmed animals) justifies nothing except human economics and is part of the global industrial exploitation of animals.
- 13. Ethical Obligation
- Claim: Providing fur-farmed animals with humane care is an ethical obligation of the fur industry.
- Claim: You cannot provide animals with humane care by locking them into little wire cages and brutally killing them after a year.
- 14. Welfare
- Claim: Fur farms are compassionate because they provide high standards of care for animal health and welfare.
- Claim: They are not and do not. And China and other Asian countries have no concept of animal welfare.
- 15. Science
- Claim: The fur industry recognises that farming and trapping must take account of scientific advice on welfare - not emotions or morals.
- Claim: Science cannot say how we should act. Nor is taking account of scientific advice on welfare sufficient because you do not act on it.
- 16. Glossy Fur
- Claim: You can tell fur-farmed animals are in good health by their glossy good-looking fur. Fur farming and good welfare go hand in hand.
- Claim: Caged animals show behavioural abnormalities (ie they are mentally deranged). These behaviours (eg stereotypies), not coat quality, are the best indicators of health and well-being.
- 17. Breeding
- Claim: Fur farms specifically breed animals for their fur so there is no harm done to wildlife.
- Claim: Fur farms still deprive millions of animals of their freedom and lives. Furthermore, fur farms are factory farms and harm wildlife by polluting the environment.
- 18. Adaptation
- Claim: Fur farms breed mink and foxes so that they adapt to the farm environment.
- Claim: The animals have not had sufficient generations to breed and essentially are wild animals in cages.
- 19. Longevity
- Claim: Most wild-living mink live only a few months but the care of mink farmers ensures that farmed mink live until the end of the year.
- Claim: This 'care' is perverted. Better to live and die free than to live caged and deranged.
- 20. Soap
- Claim: Mink framing is beneficial because it provides fat for hypoallergenic soaps and hair products and supplies manure for organic fertiliser.
- Claim: You are thinking entirely about human-centred interests. No one, who is sensitive to animal issues and recognises them in the products they buy, would want any part of these products.
- 21. Native Peoples
- Claim: The survival of indigenous cultures depends on fur trapping and the fur trade.
- Claim: Commercial trapping is not important for the survival of native societies and it was a cause of the decline of native societies in the first place.
- 22. By-Catch
- Claim: Trappers catch only as many animals that they can manage responsibly and the law allows.
- Claim: Trappers incidentally catch millions of unwanted animals in addition to their target animals.
- 23. Over-population
- Claim: Trapping is necessary for wildlife management. It prevents disease and habitat deterioration because of animal over-population.
- Claim: Humanity first hit animals by upsetting their natural balance. Now humanity is killing them to restore a semblance of balance. The real population that needs management is the over-populated human one (see Human Overpopulation).
- 24. Indispensability
- Claim: Trapping is indispensable for managing animal populations for the protection of people's interests and for the survival of the animal populations themselves.
- Claim: Wild populations can and should regulate themselves naturally. Food availability, weather and disease have always limited wild populations, long before humanity came on the scene playing God.
- 25. Surplus
- Claim: Trappers trap only surplus wild animals (ie those who do not breed and therefore do not contribute to the size of their population). So trapping does not harm wild populations.
- Claim: Traps are non-specific: they kill all who step on them whether breeders or non-breeders. You cannot justify trapping animals even if some of them are non-breeders. Traps also incidentally kill countless no-target (non-fur-bearer) animals.
- 26. Pest Control
- Claim: Trappers trap for pest control.
- Claim: 'Pest' is a human concept, meaning an animal who competes with humans for the resources that humans want. Animals should not suffer in traps because of this. (See Vermin.)
- 27. Law
- Claim: Trappers trap humanely, ensured by international agreements.
- Claim: Animals still suffer and die no matter how humane office-bound bureaucrats try to make trapping in international agreements. In any case, the police cannot monitor or control trappers in the wilds.
(4) Fur Species & Value
Table 1 is a list of common fur-bearers used by the fur trade. Fur-bearers are usually carnivores (such as mink, lynx and wolf) or rodents (for instance muskrat, beaver and squirrel). The two most important fur-farmed animals are mink and Arctic fox. Mink are far the most numerous fur-farmed animals and the fur trade describes them as "the staple raw material of the fur industry." Other important fur-bearers for the fur trade are sable, red fox and chinchilla. Inexpressible numbers of domestic cats and dogs in Asia are skinned for their pelts.
|Table 1. Common Fur-bearers Used by the Fur Trade.
|North American Beaver
|North American grey fox
|South American grey fox
|North American lynx
|North American Otter
Science labels each species with a unique two-part name to avoid confusing species. The fur trade, however, gives the same animal species different names, sometimes depending on coat colour variation (as with the foxes) and this can be confusing. Common confusions are:
|Table 2. Common & Fur Trade Names for Fur-bearers.
||Fur Trade Name
||White or Blue fox
||Fitch or Ferret
Value of Fur Retail Sales Worldwide
The retail sales of fur include fur garments, trim and accessories. The worldwide value of the fur trade has increased in the last few years despite a growing public opposition to the trade.
|Table 3. Value of Fur Retail Sales Worldwide, 1999 - 2005.
Useful SourcesYou can find these and other sources on the Web.
Andrew Linzey (2002): The Ethical Case Against Fur Farming.
Hsieh-Yi, Yi-Chiao, Yu Fu, B Maas & Mark Rissi: Dying For Fur: a report on the fur industry in China. EAST International/Swiss Animal Protection SAP. January 2005 (revised April 2006). Similar to Fun Fur? A report on the Chinese fur industry, by the same authors.
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