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61 percent of U.S. voters support a ban on fur farming — yet the $22 billion industry is still legal in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.
Words by Jennifer Mishler
Wearing fur has long been considered a symbol of status, wealth and luxury and, in some communities, part of a cultural tradition. Demand for fur has dipped in recent years amid increasing public concern over treatment of animals, sustainability and public health. “Fur has never been less fashionable,” Hannah Marriott wrote for the Guardian in 2020, following moves by Armani, Chanel, Gucci, Versace and other big names to eliminate animal furs from their product lines. Canada Goose, best known for its fur-lined winter coats, has since done the same.
Despite this trend, approximately 100 million animals are still farmed and killed for fur globally each year, according to most estimates. The use of fur trim to line coats and boots has kept fur production alive. It is likely that millions of animals are also captured from the wild for the $22 billion industry.
A fur farm is an operation in which animals are bred and raised for their fur and skins, known as “pelts,” which are most often used in clothing and accessories. While some fur comes from wild-caught animals, around 95 percent is obtained from animals kept and killed on farms.
Farming animals for fur remains legal in much of the world, including in the majority of U.S. states. However, in recent years there have been signs of a shift away from fur farming as local and national governments have implemented bans on the sale of new fur products.
There is no federal legislation outlawing fur farming in the United States, but progress on a smaller scale may signal the beginning of the end for this controversial industry.
In October 2019, California became the first state in the nation to ban sales of newly made fur products, with the exception of those produced by Native American tribes, as Governor Gavin Newsom signed a historic piece of legislation that has now been in effect since Jan. 1, 2023. Citywide bans had already been passed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and West Hollywood.
While California’s ban was not the nationwide prohibition that animal advocates hoped for, most groups, including Humane Society of the United States, celebrated it as a victory won in the most populous U.S. state and a major economic blow to the fur industry. Of the $574 million of U.S. fur clothing sales in 2017, California accounted for $129 million — the most of any state.
The America COMPETES Act, passed by the House of Representatives on Feb. 4, 2022, included an amendment that would have effectively banned the U.S. mink industry by prohibiting the possession, trade and transport of farm-raised mink. This amendment was, however, not supported by the Senate and did not become law.
According to polling research, the public holds a negative opinion of fur farming. A March 2022 survey of 1,178 likely voters across the U.S. found that 61 percent were in support of a nationwide ban on fur farming. When asked whether they were in favor of a similar ban in their city, 65 percent of respondents answered in favor. A previous poll conducted in September 2020 had found that 71 percent of Americans opposed killing animals for fur.
There are an estimated 250 fur farms across 21 U.S. states.
In 2021, the U.S. produced 1.44 million mink pelts, worth nearly $60 million. Of those pelts, 579,460 were contributed by Wisconsin, which continues to be the nation’s largest mink producer. It is followed by Utah, which accounted for 319,690 pelts.
Many nations have followed suit with bans that are already in place or taking effect in coming years, including Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czechia, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Estonia passed legislation in June 2021 that made it the first Baltic country to ban fur farming, set to take effect in 2026. Polling shows that three-quarters of Estonians oppose the breeding and killing of foxes and mink.
In June 2021, Israel became the first nation in the world to pass a ban on fur sales, with one religious exemption. The public was strongly in favor of an end to the killing of animals for fur, with 86 percent of Israelis voicing support.
Citizens of the European Union have widely indicated that they are in favor of an end to the fur trade. On Jan. 3, 2023, an initiative called Fur Free Europe ended its collection of signatures after less than 8 months, with over 1.7 million signatures in support of ending fur production and sales, surpassing the 1 million needed to receive a response from the European Parliament.
As the public becomes increasingly opposed to the fur industry, more bans are likely to be enacted.
Mink and foxes are typically reported as the animals most commonly farmed for fur, but several other species are raised on fur farms around the world. Like animals slaughtered for meat, most are killed at less than 1 year old.
Mink are semi-aquatic animals who, in the wild, spend much of their time in water, hunting in solitude and running actively on land. In stark contrast to their natural lives, millions of these animals are intensively raised on fur farms crowded with other mink, confined to small wire cages.
It can take 35 farmed mink to create just one coat, which contributes to the farming of these small animals in such large numbers — but data shows that this is a market on the decline. In Europe, production of 45 million mink pelts in 2014 fell to 12 million in 2021. ACTAsia reported in 2019 that mink production in China and globally had fallen from a peak in 2014, but also cautioned that some Chinese fur farms appeared to be expanding and stabilizing, finding a continuing steady market for their products worldwide.
Denmark was once the world’s largest mink fur producer, contributing 40 percent of the global mink supply, but the industry is reemerging at a fraction of its previous size after all of Denmark’s 15 million farmed mink were culled due to outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many farmers have now chosen to walk away.
In response to COVID-19 outbreaks in animals and workers on mink farms, the Netherlands — formerly among top producers as well — voted on June 23, 2020 to close all of its mink farms ahead of the 2024 deadline set by the nation’s fur farming ban.
According to most estimates, around 80,000 chinchillas are farmed for fur annually in Europe alone, and the production of one coat requires 150-300 of these small rodents, who are also popular pets in many parts of the world.
Life on a fur farm is unsuitable for chinchillas, who are highly social animals. They also sleep during the day, require exercise and enrichment and, as prey animals, seek out places to hide — natural behaviors unlikely to be accommodated on a fur farm. Living 8-10 years naturally, they will be killed for fur at about 8 months old.
Investigative footage filmed in 2021 on Romanian farms showed chinchillas in small wire cages stacked on top of one another, standing above their own waste. Some were filmed repeatedly chewing on their cages, a behavior considered to be a sign of stress or lack of enrichment. Humane Society International alleged its investigators were told that cervical dislocation was used to kill some chinchillas, which is prohibited by EU law, and Romania has since considered a ban on chinchilla and mink farming.
After minks, foxes are the second most widely farmed species in the fur industry, with an estimated 4 million killed for their pelts each year.
Many species of fox, including the commonly known red fox, live 3-4 years naturally. On fur farms, they are killed at around 4 months old. Like minks, they are kept in small wire cages. A recent investigation in Finland revealed farmed foxes suffering from eye infections, tail injuries and deformities, as well as baby foxes cannibalizing deceased cagemates.
Finland is the top EU producer of fox fur and globally is second only to China. Canada produced over 58,600 fox pelts between 2010 and 2018, and the U.S. has what is believed to be a very small industry, although the number of farms is unclear.
An estimated 2 million dogs and cats are killed for their fur annually. Some of these animals are bred and raised on farms, while others are reportedly captured strays or stolen pets. Furs may be directly produced for the fur industry or come about as a byproduct of dog and cat meat production.
One fur coat requires the killing of 10-12 dogs or as many as 24 cats. The latter are sometimes killed by strangulation, while dogs have been known to be hung by their necks with metal wires and cut across their groins.
While the Dog and Cat Protection Act prohibits the importation or sale of furs made from these animals, the products may still end up coming into the United States. Some nations, including Canada, continue to allow the trade of dog and cat fur.
Rabbits are a prime example of the contradictions in the ways we treat animals. They are at once thought of as beloved pets, wildlife to be hunted for sport, pests who destroy gardens and crops — and animals to be farmed en masse for their meat or fur.
On fur farms, rabbits are kept in crowded metal cages until they are killed at around 6-7 months of age, a fraction of their natural lifespans of up to 10 years. Rabbit fur is used for less expensive clothing and accessories than pelts from minks and foxes. Yet it is a misconception that their fur is a byproduct of the rabbit meat industry rather than being farmed.
Angora rabbits are one breed farmed for their fur — often known as angora wool. In 2013, an investigation revealed these rabbits screaming as their fur was ripped from their bodies on farms in China, which at the time produced 90 percent of the world’s angora supply. This prompted the Guardian to explore the question: “Can angora production ever be ethical?”
In addition to the severely cramped and unhygienic conditions in which animals farmed for their fur are often kept, these animals die long before they naturally would and suffer deaths animal experts consider slow and inhumane.
There are no federal laws governing the killing of animals on fur farms in the U.S. Instead, the methods used here and around the world are largely chosen based on what will result in the least possible damage to the animals’ valuable pelts.
Thus, unlike animals farmed for their meat, those on fur farms are not cut and exsanguinated (with the possible exception of rabbits). Instead, they are most commonly killed by gassing, cervical dislocation or electrocution.
Fur-farmed animals are often killed en masse inside gas chambers flooded with carbon dioxide. This method is intended to render animals unconscious as their blood oxygen level diminishes, eliminating brain function and causing death.
However, some animals remain alive and conscious after a gassing attempt, which would prolong suffering. Unprecedented investigative footage filmed inside a gas chamber revealed minks on a Polish fur farm thrown and then gassed ineffectively. They were later bludgeoned with a metal rod or slammed against wooden joists.
In cervical dislocation an animal’s spinal cord is severed by quickly pulling their neck away from the rest of the body, preventing blood from flowing to the brain.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, which reports that electrical brain activity has been found to continue for 13 seconds after cervical dislocation in rats, warns that the process must be done correctly and by trained individuals in order to avoid animal suffering. It is typically not recommended for chinchillas and other small rodents, for whom gassing is considered a more effective and humane method.
Some animals will be killed with a high-voltage electrical current administered through water or via metal instruments inserted into both their mouth and anus. Investigations have found that this is not always performed effectively.
In 2008, this method was banned by the state of New York and made punishable by up to one year of jail time.
These are the most common methods, but some animals are beaten to death and others may be injected with poisonous substances that may only paralyze prior to skinning.
A poll conducted in 2021 among 400 high-income Chinese consumers found that 24 percent opposed the use of fur in clothing. 62 percent of those respondents said that their opinion had changed within the previous year.
Animal-free fur alternatives are now being made from a variety of materials including vegetable oils, repurposed denim and recycled plastic. While demand for animal fur shrinks, the faux fur market is projected to grow, primarily driven by increasing awareness of treatment of animals on fur farms.
Declining public demand for fur products and the fashion world’s response are widely cited as the main reason for the decline of the fur industry. The single most effective way to help animals farmed for their pelts is to choose animal-free alternatives. However, analysis has shown that some clothing marketed as “faux fur” actually contains fur obtained from animals — mostly raccoon dogs. While there are ways one may be able to tell the difference, opting for items that do not have fur-like materials is a more certain way to ensure that you do not support the fur industry.
If you already have fur clothing that you wish to eliminate from your wardrobe, animal advocates suggest donating such items to participating wildlife rehabilitation facilities and sanctuaries, as fur garments can be a source of warmth and comfort for orphaned animals.
More ways to make a positive impact can be found on Sentient Media’s regularly updated Take Action page.
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