Twenty years ago, Europe had a virtual monopoly on fur farming. At the turn of the millenium, 73% of all animals farmed for their fur were raised on European fur farms. Today, that figure is around 50%, and several EU countries have either banned fur farming entirely or are in the process of phasing it out. The top fur producing countries in Europe, including Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands, and Finland, have been joined by China, Russia, and the US.
COVID-19 has also put pressure on European fur farming. Mink farms, including in Spain and the Netherlands, have been told to cull thousands of animals (and the phasing-out of mink farming has been accelerated in the Netherlands as a result).
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Jovan, who points out Europeans have worn fur for thousands of years (since we all lived in “wooden huts”). Yet, despite Jovan’s comment, fur farming has now been banned in some EU countries and is being phased out in others. So, despite our history, is it wrong to wear fur?
To get a response, we spoke to Reineke Hameleers, CEO of the Eurogroup for Animals, an association of animal advocates across Europe campaigning to “measurably improve the protection of animals” in the EU. What would she say?
There is a short and a long answer for this good question. Yes, it is wrong, because we cannot get this practice right for the animals. Most importantly, the fur farming industry is inherently cruel because, as you may know, annually in the EU, tens of millions of mink, foxes, but also raccoon dogs and chinchillas are being killed for their fur. These are wild animals who are being kept in cramped conditions in wire cages for their entire lives. The problem is that they cannot express their natural behaviour, and we have seen numerous investigations that have exposed the extreme suffering of these animals. Only recently, one of our member organisations – Otwarte Klatki in Poland – published evidence of the systematic abuse of mink, for example, aggression among the animals, cannibalism, mink with deep wounds dying in their cages, lack of veterinary care, etc.
So, we believe it’s high time to ban this practice throughout the EU. Many Member States have already done that, and we believe it is very important for the others to follow their example. Because causing this tremendous suffering and taking the lives of animals for non-essential luxury and trivial reasons can never be morally justified.
For another perspective, we also spoke to Mette Lykke Nielsen, CEO of Fur Europe, an international member association representing all parts of the fur sector in Europe. How would she respond?
I think it’s definitely not wrong to wear fur. I think that in today’s society it’s the sustainable choice. Compared to ‘fast fashion’ that produces collection after collection after collection, we have natural products like fur, leather, and wool that is long-lasting and can be re-used a number of times, and survive for generations, not only for a month or two before becoming unwearable in the wash.
So, I think actually that fur is the sustainable choice. We see today – especially with younger generations – a trend towards buying clothes second-hand and getting them re-fitted, and fur really fits in with this agenda. I know furriers in many countries who make a living from re-fitting a lot of old winter clothing from their grandmothers or items they find in markets, so I think fur is a sustainable choice.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Mimi, who worries that China has much lower animal welfare standards than Europe when it comes to fur products. If Europe stops producing fur, is there a risk that production will just move to other countries (with lower animal welfare standards)?
How would Reineke Hameleers, CEO of the Eurogroup for Animals, respond?
Yes, I think this is a serious concern and also a very good question. Indeed, there may be a risk that fur farmers might move abroad outside of the EU, but the fact that cruelty is still happening abroad can never be a reason to not take action in the EU. Because the EU is one of the global leaders on animal welfare, and they need to really keep up to that reputation and lead the way. Indeed, we have seen over the past decades that many other countries around the world have followed the EU’s example in banning certain cruel practices.
So, we believe that, also with consumer attitudes changing and consumers becoming increasingly aware of animal welfare issues, it’s a matter of time before fur farming will be banned all over the world. So, we really believe the EU should now start acting and ban this practice despite the fact that other countries and continents are still allowing for this practice.
Finally, what would Mette Lykke Nielsen, CEO of Fur Europe, say to Mimi’s comment?
I understand the worry, especially when it comes to China. It’s not only about the rules, it’s also about the enforcement, and in Europe we are very good at enforcing rules. So, I would say to Mimi that if she is going to buy fur, I would buy fur produced in Europe because you know here that we have high animal welfare standards. It’s not only me saying this, in Europe farmers have taken the step to go even further than the legislation, asking universities in Europe to develop an independent welfare programme, where they assess all the research that has been done on mink, and fox, and Finn racoon, and they make it into a WelFur protocol that is then checked on the farm. So, if I were Mimi, I would buy from a European farm because then I would be sure that animal welfare standards were high. When it comes to China, it comes to enforcement; whether they really are enforcing the laws that they have, this is not my expertise.
Is it wrong to wear fur? Should more EU countries ban or phase out fur farming? If Europe stops producing fur, is there a risk that production will just move to other countries (with lower animal welfare standards)? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!