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.
Useful Sources for this Entry
You can find these and other sources on the Web.
The Socio-Economic Impact of European Fur Farming.
European Fur Breeders Association / International Fur Trade Federation. Undated but latest figurers are for 2004.
International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) web site.
Industry & Trade Summary. US International Trade Commission. Publication 3666. 2004.
(2004): Statistics Canada, Agriculture Division.
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