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May 10, 2011

Fur Farming in the European Union

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Mink. Tom Tietz

The European Union is the world’s largest producer of factory farmed fur. Around 30 million mink, 2 million fox and 100,000 raccoon dogs are killed each year in EU fur factory farms [1]. There are presently no reliable figures available for the number of chinchillas who are bred and killed for fur in Europe.

Fur production in the EU is largely concentrated in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, although fur factory farms can also still be found in the following EU Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

Animal welfare problems on fur factory farms

The main species, namely mink and fox, that are reared on fur factory farms are still essentially wild animals. As the European Commission’s own Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) concluded in its 2001 report, "The Welfare of Animals Kept for Fur Production":

“...these species, in comparison with other farm animals, have been subjected to relatively little active selection, except with respect to fur characteristics. There has thus been only a limited amount of selection for tameness and adaptability to captive environments.” [2]

Mink and fox are carnivores, predators and highly inquisitive, active animals, with complex social lives. Unlike most other types of farm animals, who tend to be flock or herd species, mink are solitary by nature. Mink and fox are territorial and, in the wild, go to great lengths to defend their territories. These animals are unsuited to farming conditions and especially intensive breeding and rearing.

Kept in small, wire cages, animals on fur farms have been found to exhibit stereotypical behaviour (such as pacing along the cage wall, repetitive circling/nodding of the head, etc.) as well as self-mutilation (i.e. sucking or biting of the animal’s tail fur, or other parts of their pelts). [3]

Footage from investigations into fur farms in Denmark, Finland and Czech Republic suggests that such abnormal behaviours and self-inflicted injuries are still prevalent on EU fur factory farms.

Killing methods for fur animals

The methods used to kill fur animals also leave much to be desired. Mink, for example, are generally gassed to death after being placed one after the other in killing boxes.

Carbon monoxide (either pure source or associated with other gases) is the most widely used technique for killing mink. EU legislation continues to permit the use of gas produced from engine exhaust, despite scientific evidence which shows that even filtered exhaust gases induce unconsciousness in mink more slowly than pure CO, while first provoking excitation and convulsions. [4]

EU legislation also continues to allow the use of carbon dioxide as a manner of killing mink. The aversiveness of carbon dioxide and the practical difficulties in achieving reliable high concentration of gas in the killing chamber make CO2 an unpalatable and unacceptable method for killing mink in groups. Semi-aquatic and highly evolved physiologically to hold their breath, mink are able to detect a lack of oxygen in their blood and are prone to hypoxia, which means that they can suffer particularly during gassing.

Finally, anal electrocution is also a permitted means of killing animals on factory fur farms. However, electrocution requires considerable restraint, and use of electrodes inserted into orifices. If cardiac arrest is caused without first inducing unconsciousness, there is potential for the animal to experience severe pain and distress. It should be noted that New York State banned electrocution of foxes; this method was also banned in the UK before fox farming was prohibited there altogether.

Fur farming legislation in the EU

There is no specific EU legislation providing detailed animal welfare requirements for the keeping of animals for fur production. Fur factory farms are covered by Council Directive 98/58/EC [5], which lays down the general minimum requirements for the protection of all animals kept for farming purposes.

According to this Directive, EU Member States may maintain or apply stricter provisions than those laid down in this legislation, thus creating the possibility for individual countries to restrict or prohibit the keeping of animals for fur production.

In addition to the aforementioned legislation, killing methods for fur animals are also included Council Directive 93/119/EC on the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing. This legislation was revised and, from 1st January 2013, will be superseded by Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009.

Unfortunately, under the terms of this legislation, killing methods such as the use of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide (pure source, or associated with other gases) and anal electrocution will still be permitted in the killing of fur animals.

Efforts to prohibit or restrict fur production in the EU

Several EU Member States have recognised the inherent cruelty of raising wild animals in intensive confinement and have already taken steps to restrict or ban fur production altogether. Austria [6] and the United Kingdom [7] are the two countries that have thus far passed legislation to fully prohibit the breeding of animals for fur production.

Production of fox and chinchilla fur was banned in the Netherlands in 1995 and 1997, respectively. Following a long phase-out period, all fox and chinchilla farms were eradicated by 2008. The Dutch Parliament also voted in favour of a ban on mink production in the Netherlands in June 2009. This legislation, which must still be approved by the Dutch Senate, would lead to the phase-out of all mink farms by 2024. At present, the Netherlands is Europe’s second largest mink producer, with nearly 5 million mink being gassed to death there each year.

Although it is the world’s largest fur producer, Denmark recognised the inherent welfare problems associated with raising foxes in captivity and consequently prohibited fox farming in 2009. The Danish ban does, however, include a phase-out period for fox producers.

Sweden also effectively ended fox farming in 1995 through an amendment to its Animal Protection Ordinance, which required that foxes be kept in such a way that they can engage in natural behaviours, such as digging. This legislative change rendered fox farming economically unviable and all Swedish fox farms closed by 2000.

Finally, it should be noted that Croatia, which is expected to accede to the European Union in 2012, already passed a ban on fur farming in December 2006.

1. According to the figures in the European Fur Breeders’ Association 2010 Annual Report. http://www.efba.eu/download/annual_report/2010/index.html 
2. Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (2001) The Welfare of Animals Kept for Fur Production. pp 82-98, 185.
3. Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (2001) The Welfare of Animals Kept for Fur Production.
4. Report on the literature relevant to euthanasia of mink and foxes by argon with reference to other gases. Dr. I. Rochlitz, Cambridge University Animal Welfare Information Centre, 14 November 2008.
5. Council Directive 98/58/EC of 20 July 1998 concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes; OJ L 221, 8.8.1998, p. 23.
6. Austrian Federal Animal Protection Act (Tierschutzgesetz TSchG) 2004 http://bmg.gv.at/cms/home/attachments/9/0/3/CH1119/CMS1097184527208/tschg1.pdf
7. Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000; Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Scotland) Act 2002; Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Northern Ireland) Order 2002.

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