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May 18, 2009

MEPs Miss Chance to Help Animals on Fur Factory Farms

25 million killed each year in EU

Humane Society International

  • Hopelessly trapped. HSI

  • Doomed to a painful death. HSI

Update: While the outcome of a June 2009 EU Council meeting considering the proposed Regulation was not ideal, a few positive gains were made for animals on fur farms.

Each year, around 25 million animals in the EU are kept and killed solely for their fur. The main species of animals reared in fur factory farms are still essentially wild animals. They have been subject to little active selection for tameness or adaptability to captive environments.

These animals spend short, miserable lives in small wire cages, only to be gassed or electrocuted to death when their pelts are at their prime.

On May 6, 2009, the European Parliament voted on a proposed Council Regulation which is supposed to protect animals such as mink, fox, chinchillas, raccoon dogs, polecats and rabbits at the time of killing. Right now, it does nothing of the sort and, if adopted, would entrench the cruel methods routinely used to kill animals in fur factory farms.

World-renowned expert on slaughter methods, Dr Mohan Raj from Bristol University, has concluded that none of the methods that appear in the draft EU Regulation are humane.

There are major concerns under consideration:

Gassing animals such as mink

Carbon dioxide at high concentration, carbon monoxide (pure source) and carbon monoxide associated with other gases (i.e. exhaust gases from petrol engines) all appeared in the proposal as allowed methods for killing animals on fur factory farms.

Veterinarians have expressed deep concerns about the use of gas in this context for the following reasons:

Carbon monoxide (CO)

The use of CO is an unacceptable method for killing animals kept for their fur. Major concerns include poor CO concentration reliability, the use of contaminated engine fumes, the animals’ detection of hypoxia and the long period it takes for animals to become unconscious. There are also human health and safety concerns related to CO usage as it is poisonous and explosive at high concentrations.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

The aversiveness of this gas and the practical difficulties in achieving reliable high concentration of gas in the killing chamber make CO2 an unacceptable method for killing mink, fox or other animals kept for their fur.

By contrast, veterinary scientists have advised that the use of argon (Ar), an inert gas, is a less aversive killing method for fur animals. This gas is cheaply and readily available and is, moreover, a far safer gas for the operatives engaged in killing animals on factory fur farms to use.

Head-to-tail electrocution

Head-to-tail electrocution is currently listed as a method applicable to killing animals on factory fur farms in the proposed Regulation. However, electrocution requires electrodes to be inserted into the animals' mouths and rectums, and animals killed in this way have to be restrained. If cardiac arrest is induced without first inducing unconsciousness, the animals can suffer severe pain and distress. Electrocution equipment also presents hazards to the operator.

New York State recently banned the use of electrocution to kill animals for their fur.

Certification of personnel

The proposal before the Parliament on May 6 only mentioned requiring certification for supervisors on fur factory farms during killing operations. By contrast, all those involved in livestock slaughter would be required to be certified. Given the scale and nature of the killing process on fur factory farms and the technical nature of the process, it is impossible for a supervisor to ensure that all the animals are being consistently humanely handled and killed. HSI believes that all individuals involved in the killing and handling of fur animals should be subject to the same level of training and certification by the competent authority as those employed in abattoirs. The majority of MEPs agreed, and an amendment calling for this was voted through.

Notification of authorities

Animals in fur factory farms are killed at a very specific time of each year and over a very short period of time—just a few days after they have moulted and when their thick, winter coat is in prime condition. HSI suggested that it is essential that the relevant national veterinary authority be notified, in advance, of when the slaughter is due to take place so that the relevant and necessary supervision can be planned for and implemented. This, too, was put forward as an amendment and agreed upon by the Parliament.

Cruel killing methods endorsed

It is very disappointing that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) rejected amendments that would have prohibited cruel killing methods—including gas and electrocution—for fur animals. The pro-fur factory farm lobby was successful in its aim of maintaining the cruel status quo.

What’s next?

The proposed Regulation is being considered under the Consultation procedure. That is, the European Parliament only provides an opinion on the proposed legislation; the Council (representatives from each of the 27 Member States) will have the final word. The amendments on certification and notification are therefore at risk, but this means there is also an opportunity to raise, once more, the cruel killing methods being put forward for endorsement.

HSI takes the stance that as long as factory fur farming continues to be legal in many EU member states, there is no reason why these animals should not be afforded the same degree of protection as other mammals covered by the proposed Regulation. We will continue to campaign on this issue as it moves forward in the legislative process.

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