Fur farm investigation reveals mentally distressed foxes, raccoon dogs electrocuted in agony, and fur farm carcasses sold for human consumption

Campaigners report multiple violations to Chinese authorities incl. lack of COVID-19 disease control despite transmission risks

Humane Society International / United Kingdom

Raccoon dogs and foxes intensively farmed for fur in Asia, filmed November-December 2020.

LONDON—Disturbing video evidence of extreme animal suffering on multiple fur farms in China has been released by Humane Society International as part of its #FurFreeBritain campaign calling on the UK government to ban the sale of fur imported from countries overseas including China, Finland, Poland and Italy. In 2019 the UK imported £55,928,562 of fur from other countries despite having banned fur farming on animal cruelty grounds 20 years ago, a double standard that HSI hopes to see an end.

The investigations took place at 13 fur farms between November 2020 – December 2020 and reveal breaches of many of China’s fur farming regulations on animal housing, welfare, slaughter and epidemic control, with a disturbing admission from one farmer that the meat from slaughtered fur animals is being sold to local restaurants for human consumption by unsuspecting diners. On another farm, raccoon dogs were filmed being so ineptly electrocuted that experts say they will have been rendered paralysed but still conscious while experiencing a slow, agonising death from cardiac arrest. Rows of foxes were also filmed repetitively spinning and pacing in their tiny, barren, wire cages, the classic symptoms of mental decline from environmental deprivation.

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK, said: “This is the sickening reality of life and death for animals on fur farms, a million miles from the glamorous image the fur trade tries to portray. It is heartbreaking to know that the first and only time these raccoon dogs see the world outside of their cage is the moment they are wrenched from it with the agony of a high voltage electric shock paralysing their bodies. In addition to the cramped conditions, our investigators also witnessed an almost total lack of disease control and health protection measures on fur farms, which is extremely worrying considering that mink, raccoon dogs and foxes are all capable of contracting coronaviruses. The UK imports millions of pounds worth of fur from China as well as many other countries, and there is absolutely nothing to stop fur from farms just like those we filmed at from being sold in UK shops and webstores.”

On several fur farms, raccoon dogs were seen being electrocuted using a double-spiked lance attached to a high voltage battery. One by one the animals are seen stabbed with the lance in random parts of the body, delivering an agonising electric shock that paralyses but doesn’t instantly kill them because the incorrect method used doesn’t pass through the brain.

Professor Alastair MacMillan, HSI’s veterinary adviser, said: “The animals in this video are being subjected to violent and chaotic electrocution in the body and not in the brain, which means they are highly likely to have experienced several minutes of extreme physical pain and suffering, like heart attack symptoms. Instead of instant death, they are likely to have been immobilised by the electric shocks but remain conscious and feel the intense pain of electrocution.”

Despite HSI’s investigation taking place during the global pandemic, none of the fur farms followed basic biosecurity measures, with disease control regulations routinely ignored. Contrary to Chinese regulations, none of the farms had disinfection stations at entry and exit points, and visitors were allowed to come and go without being asked to observe any COVID-19 safety precautions. In light of at least 422 outbreaks of COVID-19 on 289 mink fur farms in 11 different countries in Europe and North America since April 2020, and raccoon dogs and foxes also being capable of contracting coronaviruses, the lack of adherence to safety measures is extremely concerning. HSI has provided its investigation evidence to the Chinese authorities, both in Beijing and in London.

China is home to the largest fur producing industry in the world, rearing 14 million foxes, 13.5 million raccoon dogs and 11.6 million mink in 2019 including for export overseas to countries including the United Kingdom. In 2019 the UK imported £5.3 million of fur from China alone, and over the past five years (for which full HMRC data is available 2015 – 2019) the UK imported £25.5 million of fur from China. The top five fur exporting countries to the UK in 2019 were Italy, France, China, Turkey and the United States.

Senior government insiders recently confirmed that a fur import ban is “definitely” coming down the line, citing links between mink farms and the spread of COVID-19, as well as the cruel conditions on farms.

Despite the horrific cruelty found at these particular farms, ample evidence demonstrates that animal suffering is an inherent consequence of the global fur industry regardless of the country. HSI’s Claire Bass said: “Although this investigation took place in China, similarly distressing scenes of mentally ill animals being kept in small, barren, factory-farm style cages can also be seen in fur farms across Europe and North America. Factory farming animals for fur inherently results in appalling suffering and an unacceptable public health risk. The UK Government can’t close fur farms overseas, of course, but it can stop the UK providing a market for fur, so we welcome signs that the government is serious about banning fur sales. Such a ban would send a clear message that we won’t be trading in animal cruelty for the sake of frivolous, outdated and unnecessary fashion accessories.” 

Recent exposés on fur farms around the world include:

  • POLAND: Cannibalism, self-aggression, open wounds and paralysis on mink fur farm in Poland. (Open Cages, Sept 2020). Foxes abandoned and left to starve to death on a fur farm, even cannibalising each other. (Open Cages, Oct 2020)
  • FRANCE: Graphic animal suffering including mink exhibiting mentally disturbed stereotypical behaviour, mink with injured eyes and tails, animals with paralysed and even necrotic legs, and skin diseases. (One Voice, Aug 2020)
  • NETHERLANDS: Mink being roughly yanked out of their cages by the tail or hind leg, and thrown from a distance into the mobile gas chamber, in breach of EU regulations. (Animal Rights, Nov 2020)
  • ITALY: Widespread violations of SARS-CoV-2 biosecurity measures on mink fur farms. (LAV, Nov 2020)
  • FINLAND: Dead mink and foxes, animals suffering from untreated wounds including a live mink whose head was partially cannibalised by cage mates. (HSI and Oikeutta eläimille, Oct 2019)
  • CANADA: A mink farm in Ontario has been charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty following a year-long investigation that documented animals with open, untreated wounds and infections. (LCA, May 2018)

Humane Society International is calling on the UK government to end the double standard of allowing the sale of fur from overseas despite the UK having banned fur farming nearly two decades ago. A YouGov poll shows that 93% of Brits refuse to wear fur and 72% support a fur sales ban.

Download photos and video from the investigation


Media contact: Wendy Higgins, director of international media: whiggins@hsi.org

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