Claire Bass, the Executive Director of Humane Society International (HIS) for the UK, was visiting two fur farms in Finland when she saw something she would never be able to forget.
“We went at night because we wanted to get an accurate view of what the fur trade is … and we certainly got that,” Bass said. “It was the most horrific experience of my whole professional career … and one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.”
In the first farm Bass and her team visited, foxes and racoon dogs were bred, and in the second one, minks were raised. However, both farms had distinct similarities, when it came to treating these animals.
“There were tiny, wire barren cages as far as our torchlight would show,” Bass said. “We saw awful injuries and wounds. But I think the more haunting and terrible aspect of these places … is just the model of the battery cages. There was just row after row of tiny cages, measuring about a meter squared [3.2 square feet] — barely bigger than the animals’ lengths themselves.”
“It was just so sad,” Bass added. “Just an absolute tragedy to treat animals like that … and for it to be for such a frivolous product is just unacceptable.”
Many animals were showing repetitive patterned behaviour like swaying their heads and pacing, which is a commonly known sign of stress in animals known as stereotypic behaviour. Bass referred to it as signs of “mental breakdown.”
On the contrary, the remaining animals were not moving at all. “They were just sitting and lying down, looking like ghosts, looking like there was no one home,” Bass said.
All the animals held in the farms have only eight months to live before being killed for their fur. However, the breeding animals are kept alive for a much longer time.
“The breeding animals are kept alive for years and years in tiny cages, and so the ones who only get to eight months are in some ways perversely the lucky ones,” Bass said.
Moreover, the farm operators use doubtful methods to kill the animals.
“Minks are typically gassed,” Bass said. “They put maybe 10 or 20 minks into a sealed box, and gas them with either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. And often that can be as basic as a box that’s attached to a small tractor or something. So, they’re killed by the fumes.”
“Foxes and racoon dogs are killed by anal electrocution, which is every bit as horrible as it sounds,” Bass added.
According to Bass, these sorts of methods are used to damage as less fur as possible. “They don’t want to be knocking them on the head … when they want to preserve the pelt as intact as possible,” she said.
To their surprise, Bass and the HIS team discovered that these farms claimed to be of high standards with regards to animal welfare and environmental standards. Not to mention, they had even received certification from a fur brand who sold “ethical furs.”
“The fur farms can’t get away from its cages and remain economically viable, so they dreamt up these certification schemes, which reward really, really minimal enhancements on the status quo,” Bass said. “For example, giving foxes a bit of plastic tube to chew on or a plastic bone … in the fur industry’s eyes, that’s good welfare. But vets and animal welfare experts around the world completely disagree that it’s in any way humane what they’re doing.”
There are other European countries, life Denmark, Poland, Italy, France, and Russia, profiting from the fur farms, too. According to China, however, China is the biggest producer, which kills and breeds more than 45 million minks, 16 million racoon dogs, and 15 million mink pelts every year.
The U.S. is also no less in fur farming. There are around 290 fur farms across the US itself. They produce 3.4 million mink pelts every year. The Us’ largest producing companies are located in Wisconsin and Utah.
Even though fur farming is not a legal activity in the UK, fur has been continuously imported to the country by local vendors and businesses. This has been giving continuity to fur business around the world. Currently, Bass and the HSI UK are actively campaigning to stop selling and importing fur in the UK.
More and more number of people are being aware of the problem and trying their best not to buy fur. This has given hope to Bass. However, she warns people not to buy “faux-fur” which are real fur being sold in the market as fake fur.
“People need to be on their guard … even if they think they’re buying fake fur because the product is cheap or it doesn’t clearly say on the label that it’s real fur,” Bass said. “Just don’t accidentally sleepwalk into propping up the fur trade.”
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