Question 3: 'How can I be sure the Canadian fur industry practices humane standards?'
The question obviously has no real bearing on whether or not fur is “green,” but the fur industry knows that by far the greatest concern of potential buyers of furs is that they derive from animal abuse. It cannot avoid addressing the issue.
The answer to Question 3 begins, “Trapping in Canada is strictly regulated by the provincial and territorial wildlife departments.”
None of those departments or agencies has, as its mandate, the prevention of abuse of animals. They are focused entirely on whether the number of animals caught is the number allowed; that the trapper is following the rules in what is, to all intents and purposes, an honor system. There is no way to effectively monitor most traplines or privately owned and managed fur farms. There may be a bottom limit as well as a top limit to the number of animals of a given species that the trapper can trap, but that is about as far as regulation of traplines can go.
But it would really not matter if trappers were governed by humane societies. The fact is that under Canada’s archaic legislation, cruelty deemed “necessary” is also deemed legal. If an animal writhes for hours or even days in agony, chews at its injured leg, bleeds, suffers panic, slowly strangles or takes 18 minutes to drown, no matter — it is all acceptable under Canadian legislation. The stress that leads to ulcers in captive mink, or to stereotypic pacing or the panic associated with having an electric prod shoved up the rectum in order to kill an animal without damaging the pelt, all matter not one whit in a court of law, but are quite legal under Canadian legislation.
Even if such forms of animal abuse were not legal, what happens on traplines in the forests, or on privately owned and managed fur farms, is far beyond the view of anyone who might be concerned, but since it is not illegal, the point is moot.
The FCC’s answer to Question 3 goes on to say, “Canada is, in fact, a world leader in the development of new trapping methods. With support from Environment Canada and the International Fur Trade Federation, more than $20 million has been invested in research coordinated by the Fur Institute of Canada.”
The one thing you do not see on the Fur Institute of Canada’s (FIC) website is any picture of fur trap research. This research consists, in major part, of methodically documenting and measuring what happens to animal after animal after animal who is placed in a cage with this or that trapping device, to quantify how much the animal suffers before death. This research is unmitigated animal abuse; a hidden and shameful part of the fur industry. It has nothing to do with fur being “green,” and everything to do with trying to assure the marketplace that such an inherently cruel business as the fur industry somehow is not all that cruel.
Predictably, the answer to Question 3 goes on to say: “This work provided the scientific basis for the Agreement on International Humane Trapping Standards (AIHTS) adopted by the European Union and the main wild fur-producing regions (Canada, United States, Russia). Trappers cannot receive their trapping licenses until they have taken special courses to learn the most up-to-date and humane methods.”
The casual reader may assume that “most up-to-date and humane methods” are, in fact, humane. Even with “humane” defined only by what the traps do, traps cannot be made humane, so the term “humane” is largely redefined to include what most people would call cruelty or abuse. While none of this has anything to do with the “greenness” of the fur industry, how animals suffer in the production of fur does speak directly to the major concern compassionate people have about the industry — its abuse of animals.
The courses trappers, some as young as 14, take only teach them to use what are essentially the same traps that have been used for decades, or even centuries. These are leg-hold traps, including the padded traps and the laminated traps; the Conibear and other body gripping traps; and the snare.
The leg-hold trap has been in use for three centuries and what the FCC does not mention is that in Canada it is legal to use it for Canadian lynx, bobcats, wolves and coyotes, foxes, beaver, muskrats, otters and mink. Additionally they catch numerous “non-target” species attracted to baits, or that use the paths or openings where they are placed.
AIHTS is a major means by which the fur industry, alarmed by the fact that public awareness of animal abuse in the fur industry was threatening fur sales on both sides of the Atlantic, sought to create the impression that new inventions resulted in eliminating the abuse. The differences between “approved” traps and their predecessors are minor and cosmetic. The so-called “padded” trap 10 is the same old leg-hold trap as has been used for centuries, but with the jaws lined with a synthetic material. It must slam shut with force and grip even the strongest, most healthy animal with enough pressure to prevent escape. It still crushes tendons, veins and arteries, cracks bones, breaks skin and generates excruciating pain.
And it is still indiscriminate in what it catches.
So is the “offset” trap. This is also the old-fashioned leg-hold trap, but set so it does not close tight, but leaves a gap. How big a gap? Three-sixteenths of an inch is the normal width of the gap. Try compressing your own finger or toe, which may resemble the diameter of a furbearing animal’s leg, to 3-16ths of an inch and then decide how humane the device is.
And it is still indiscriminate in what it catches.
And finally there is the “laminated” trap, which is also an ordinary leg-hold trap but with a strip of metal attached to widen the jaws. They are more efficient at holding the animal, who naturally struggles to escape.
And it is still indiscriminate in what it catches. 11
There are other variants, such as extra springs to increase the pressure by which trapped animals are held, but there is little or no diminishment in the cruelty intrinsic to their use.
Several types of traps can be used as “drowning sets” and drowning is considered “humane” by AIHTS. Drowning sets, especially snares and Conibears, may be set underwater. Typically, however, they are placed on land and weighted. When triggered the trap is supposed to slide down a wire into the water, submerging the struggling animal beneath the surface. Even if you consider this to be “humane,” the concept is far from flawless in execution. Changes in weather can cause the water or the wire to freeze, or floating branches and other debris can get in the way, preventing the animal from being far enough submerged to drown. Water levels may decrease due to droughts, also preventing drowning.
In the 1980s the University of Guelph strapped beaver, muskrat and mink to boards, attached devices to monitor heart and brain activity, and then submerged the living animals in tanks of water. Beavers lasted longest, taking about 20 minutes to die. Beaver and some other aquatic animals do not, technically speaking, drown. They are equipped with automatic physiological mechanisms that prevent them from inhaling water when submerged, and literally die of asphyxia, when, lacking oxygen, levels of carbon dioxide accumulate in their lungs (see “Terminal Dives in Mink, Muskrat and Beaver” by Frederick F. Gilbert, and Norman Gofton, Physiology & Behavior, Vol. 28, issue 5, May, 1982, pp. 835-840). This is called “induced narcosis” or “submission asphyxia,” or more popularly, dry drowning, so called because little or no water actually enters their lungs. Mink don’t last nearly as long, and, like humans, die from “wet drowning.”
In 1957, with much fanfare, a gentleman who was totally disgusted with the suffering caused by traditional leg-hold traps decided to do something about it, and invented the “body-gripping” trap that bears his name, the Conibear trap, as a “humane” alternative.
Frank Conibear’s invention was revolutionary in design. It consists of a square, thick wire metal frame mounted inside another frame about the same size. When set they form a square-shaped opening with the trigger, baited or not, in the middle. They can be set on land or under water, or in front of dens. When an animal touches the trigger, the two frames suddenly snap shut with literally blinding speed and with approximately 90 pounds of pressure. They cannot be opened, not even by a strong man, without use of a special key or cords and knowledge of how they work, and even then each of two springs, one on each side, must have the pressure relieved in order to extract the victim. There are numerous examples of dogs getting caught in these hideous devices and dying while frantic owners struggle in vain to release them and yet they are deemed humane. Because they are so dangerous some trappers will not use them for fear of accidentally getting part of themselves caught in one in such a way that even they cannot release the pressure of the springs.
The certainly can kill very quickly if the right-sized animal enters them in the right manner and the jaws crush a vital organ, artery or the brain, but when that does not happen they can cause agonizing injury and a slow, painful death.
The third common category of gripping trap is the snare. There are variations of it, but typically it consists of a noose with a device that prevents it from opening. It can close ever tighter, embedding itself ever deeper into the flesh of the struggling animal. If it cuts off a vital artery, death can follow, but sometimes it grips the animal around the body. The bony skeleton of larger animals can be strong enough to withstand the constriction, and snares can even break loose from their moorings, but they continue to remain deeply embedded in the unfortunate animal, leading to a slow death that can not by any standard be called humane, although that is how the device is categorized by the fur industry.
Snares are used to catch red squirrels, which may dangle above the ground, or are suspended from the tops of poles until stress, dehydration, or the trapper, ends their agony.
There are other types of traps, including deadfalls, but there is no trap that invariably causes a near-instant kill, or only ever catches the species it is set to catch.
The answer to Question 3 goes on to say: “Fur farming, like all agriculture, is regulated by the provincial agricultural departments.”
It is, of course, not within the purview of those departments to administer such laws as exist that pertain to cruelty to animals, inadequate though they be.
The FCC continues: “Canadian mink and fox farmers have adopted Recommended Codes of Practice, developed by Agriculture Canada in cooperation with the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) 12 and farm groups.” The codes provide an absolute minimum standard of care, and even then are strictly voluntary. They are, as their name implies, “recommended” within the context of fur production. There was, at the time, those within the CFHS 12 who, while recognizing that the fur industry was firmly entrenched in Canadian culture at the time, thought that by seeking to help the animals, the organization would be misrepresented by the fur industry as somehow endorsing fur farms. The CFHS clearly states: “CFHS is opposed to the pain and suffering in the raising of animals for the production of furs.” It goes on to state that if the practice is to continue, current codes must be upgraded and the needs of animals taken into greater consideration. In short, the codes are inadequate to provide humane care for the animals.
The answer to Question 3 concludes: “Farmers have every reason to follow these codes since only well-cared-for animals can produce the high-quality fur required to compete in international markets. Farmers who don’t provide excellent housing, nutrition and care to their animals will not remain in business long!”
Does this mean that wild animals, not being cared for at all, cannot produce the “high-quality fur” demanded by the industry? FCC does not say, but the same kind of argument is made by numerous people raising animals in order to produce a marketable product, from puppies to pork chops. The only interest the fur farmer has, and then only for the animals who will be slaughtered for their furs and not necessarily for breeding stock, is that at the time the animal is killed, it has a marketable fur coat. The only other concern is for profit, which, as is true in any business venture directed toward profit, means minimum expense for maximum return. It is not necessary to keep the animal healthy throughout its natural lifespan but only to have it produce a marketable fur coat. The results are animals caged in tiny enclosures, often in close proximity. On one hand the FCC seems to be claiming trapping prevents disease, presumably by thinning the population (see above), on the other hand it is OK to concentrate large numbers of animals in small areas, and furthermore, that is ecologically beneficial in ways never explained.
Croatia, the United Kingdom and Austria have banned fur farms. Switzerland has not, but has put in regulations backed by law that are truly designed to reduce suffering, and thus have had the effect of eliminating fur farms in that country. In Austria six of the nine federal states have banned fur farms and mink farming is being phased out in the Netherlands. Animals who are wild by nature and live solitary lives or guard large territories (see above) cannot be humanely kept in fur farms, and develop neurotic behavior such as pacing, cannibalism and self-mutilation.