Few people would force an animal to live its entire life in a cramped, barren cage suspended over its own waste. As an example, most humane-minded people agree that puppy mills which keep dogs in precisely such conditions are abhorrent and should be shut down.
But what happens when the animals that are kept in such horrific conditions are not domestic dogs, but wild animals?
This is precisely the situation that exists for millions of animals raised on U.S. fur farms. Globally, the majority of fur used in fashion comes from animals raised on fur farms where they are forced to live in cramped confined conditions that fail to accommodate their natural behavior. Death provides their only release and is often precipitated by extreme fear, stress, illness, and pain.
The frivolity behind such treatment makes it particularly repugnant. Between 10 and 24 foxes and 36 to 65 mink are killed to make a single fur coat. While it may take fewer animals per coat to produce fur-trimmed garments, fur trim collectively may take more animal lives than do full-length fur coats due to its prevalence in today’s fashion.
The United States is the fifth largest mink producing country in the world. In terms of animal lives this amounts to approximately 3 million farm-raised mink killed annually for their pelts. Additionally, approximately 660,000 breeding female mink are held on U.S. fur farms. Reliable data on the total number of farmed fox, and farmed bobcat or lynx, raised or pelted in the U.S. are not available.
The fur industry and its apologists want us to believe that fur farming is a humane, environmentally friendly and highly regulated industry. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A common assertion made by the fur industry is that mink and fox raised for their fur are domesticated animals that have been selectively bred over generations to be adapted to fur farm conditions.
Fox and mink have been bred in captivity for possibly 90 years, which is less than 3 percent of the domestication time of cattle, pigs, horses, and dogs, which have been raised in captivity by humans for more than 5,000 years.
The issue of domestication in farmed fox, and perhaps to a lesser extent farmed mink, creates an interesting paradox for the fur industry. On the one hand, the industryguards itself against charges that it mistreats wildlife by claiming that farmed fox and mink are “domestic animals” in anattempt to akin itself to other animal-based agriculture. On the other hand, the industry must guard against comparisons of foxes and domestic dogs unless it is willing to defend the use of domestic dogs or cats for the fur trade — a practice that is so widely condemned that it has been banned in most long industrialized countries including the United States and Canada.
There are no U.S. laws regulating how animals on fur farms are to be housed or killed. Animals raised for fur are not covered under the federal Animal Welfare Act. The slaughter of furbearing animals is also not covered by the federal Humane Slaughter Act.
The techniques used to kill animals on fur farms vary. Small animals like mink are killed by neck snapping or “popping.” Larger animals like foxes are electrocuted anally by placing a metal clamp on the snout and forcing a rod into the anus, and then connecting the metal to a power source. Some animals are forced into bags or boxes and gassed with carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide. Animals may also be killed by injection, and while this is often considered a humane method, it is not possible to inject a wild, fearful animal skillfully.
It is clear that conditions and killing techniques on fur farms have been designed for the convenience of the fur farmer, not the welfare of the animals.
Fur farming also poses risks to the environment and native wildlife. Like any other factory farm, fur farms produce loads of animal waste (manure) that are too intensely concentrated to be neutralized by natural processes. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus are the most common causes of water pollution in the United States.
Current research also suggests that farmed mink may be having a serious impact on North American wild mink through competition, hybridization, and disease introduction. Hybridization and associated genetic transformations may eventually result in the natural population being incapable of sustaining itself leading to species endangerment and extinction.
In the last 50 years, concern for animals has increased in many countries, resulting in an increase in animal welfare–related legislation and prohibition of acts considered to be unacceptably cruel. However, fur farming suffers a relatively low position on the U.S. political agenda. As a result, the United States lags far behind European countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands and Croatia which have banned some or all fur farming.
While the cruelties and environmental threats of the fur industry have received little political attention, consumers and companies are increasingly turning their backs on fur. In a 2002 national poll of upscale U.S. consumers, conducted by Decision Research, 81% considered selling fur products to be socially irresponsible. At the same time many national and international retailers have ceased selling fur and have put their fur-free commitment in writing by signing onto the international Fur Free Retailer program (www.furfreeshopping.com). Likewise design competitions like “fffashion” www.bornfreeusa.org/fffashion, are encouraging forward-thinking designers to forgo fur in their designs.
The fur industry may attempt to market itself as an environmentally friendly industry that cares about animals, but conscientious consumers, companies and designers aren’t buying that message. They, like many European governments, have recognized there simply is no right way to do the wrong thing.
It is time for the United States to match public opinion and international progress on this important issue and ban fur farming.
Monica Engebretson is a senior program associate with Born Free USA (www.bornfreeusa.org).