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Get The Facts:

The Fur Farm Fallacy

Source: Animal Issues, Volume 34 Number 3, Fall 2003

Upon hearing the word “farm,” most people imagine an picturesque scene: green hills, red barns, contented animals lazing in the sun.

But life (and death) on a fur “farm” is anything but idyllic for the foxes, mink, and other animals imprisoned there. Also disingenuously referred to as fur “ranches,” these facilities are more akin to industrialized torture camps.

Animal advocates have had tremendous success in educating the public about the horrors involved in the trapping of wild animals for the fur trade. Graphic images of foxes and other furbearing mammals fighting desperately to free themselves from the steel jaws of traps are indelibly etched on many people’s minds. Few would deny the cruelty of setting strangulation snares or body-gripping traps to capture animals in forests and fields.

By contrast, many people still mistakenly believe that animals raised for their fur are treated more humanely than those trapped in the wild. A recent study conducted for the International Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies indicated that most respondents objected to trapping animals to make fur products and voiced a preference for furs from fur farms.

Such survey results are pleasing to the fur industry, which for years has worked to popularize products from what it calls “ranch-raised” animals. Fur trade propagandists work hard to sell the idea that animals on fur farms live “the good life.” But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Not Old McDonald’s Farm

On fur farms, animals such as foxes, mink, ferrets, and sables (an animal in the weasel family) spend their entire lives stacked on top of one other in barren cages with nothing beneath their feet but wire mesh. Those in the topmost cages are marginally more fortunate; they do not have feces falling into their food and water from animals imprisoned above. In many cases, multiple animals are forced to share a single, tiny cage. They may have no protection from wind, rain, or snow, save a roof on an “open” shed.

Studies have shown that as many as 85 percent of the animals confined in these facilities develop behavioral abnormalities such as rocking, head-bobbing, and self-mutilation due to boredom, anxiety, and the inability to meet their instinctual needs. A mink who, in the wild, would forage and roam for miles, might spend her days frantically pacing her cage, stopping only to bite repeatedly at her own tail.

Fur farms inflict such terrible psychological trauma on animals that in one study of vixen (female foxes), half of the kit loss that occurred prior to weaning was attributed to infanticidal behaviors, primarily mothers eating their young. Such behavior rarely occurs in wild populations. Diseases harbored in filthy pens and disorders caused by genetic manipulation are also seen in animals on fur farms.

If life on a fur farm is cruel, death there is equally so. After suffering through years of confinement, animals are killed and skinned for their pelts. Killing methods are typically cheap, crude, and performed in such a way so as not to damage the animal’s fur; there is no such thing as humane “euthanasia” on a fur farm.

On U.S. fur farms, one of the most frequently used methods of killing animals is electrocution: the “farmer” puts a metal clamp in an animal’s mouth, a metal rod in the anus, and sends a high-voltage current surging through the body. Sometimes the power surge forces the rod out of the anus, so the procedure must be repeated to kill the animal. Other commonly-employed techniques include homemade gas chambers, such as a box hooked up to a tractor exhaust pipe; lethal injection of various chemicals that kill through paralysis, which can result in immobilized animals being skinned alive; and neck breaking.

More than 36 million animals die on fur farms around the world each year. Thirty-one million (or about 90 percent) of these animals are mink. Foxes account for another 4.5 million, while chinchillas, sable, ferret (usually marketed as “fitch”), coypus (an aquatic mammal also known as “nutria”), and raccoon dogs (not to be confused with the North American raccoon), account for most of the remaining half-million animals. Due to the recent drop in pelt prices for mink and fox, some of U.S. fur farms have attempted to “diversify” by raising bobcat, coyote, raccoon, and beavers, along with coypus and rabbits — all in equally abhorrent conditions.

A Lawless Industry

Some countries, including England, Scotland, and Wales, have recently outlawed fur farms. During debates about fur farms in the United Kingdom in December 2000, government minister Elliot Morley stated:

Fur farming is not consistent with the proper value and respect for animal life. This is a moral issue that goes beyond welfare considerations. In the 21st century, animals should not be killed just for the business of stripping their skins off their backs ... In a modern society there should be room for Government to make ethical decisions and it is right and proper for the Government to have introduced this ban.

Unfortunately, the U.S. government seems not to agree with this assessment. In fact, no federal laws regulate how the animals on the nearly 400 fur farms in operation in the U.S. are to be housed, cared for, or killed.

Even with the handful of countries banning or restricting fur farming, globally, fur-farm production is increasing, particularly in Asia. This phenomenon can be traced the increased marketing and public acceptance of fur trim. Today, male minks and foxes are killed almost exclusively for use in fur-trimmed accessories such as hats, jacket collars, and ruffs — proof that, despite what some apologists claim, fur trim is not a byproduct of the larger fur trade.

Just because animals are raised for their fur in confined and controlled settings doesn’t reduce their intense pain and suffering. It is essential that animal advocates fight myths propagated by fur-farm proponents.

For more information about this topic, visit our website, www.bancrueltraps.com, where you can find extensive information about the fur trade.

Be a Caring Consumer

Sometimes, well-meaning shoppers purchase items containing fur in the mistaken belief that the fur is fake. Part of this confusion stems from a loophole in U.S. labeling law that prevents consumers from easily accessing product information, and that the fur industry lobbied hard to keep in place.

In 2000, after an international investigation into the widespread slaughter of dogs and cats for the fur trade, Congress passed the Dog and Cat Protection Act, which made the import, export, transport, or sale of dog and cat fur illegal in the U.S. Unfortunately, the law left in place an earlier loophole that only those fur items valued at more than $150 dollars must be labeled as real and identify the species of origin. This causes tremendous uncertainty in the marketplace, since it can be difficult even for retailers to differentiate real fur from faux.

The following guidelines may be helpful for consumers who want to ensure that their purchases are indeed fur-free:

Fake Fur:

  • feels coarser than fur from animals;
  • contains hairs that are all the same length and color (real fur usually contains layers of hair of different lengths and textures);
  • and is mounted on a base that can easily be perforated by a pin, whereas genuine fur remains attached to the animal’s skin.

Save animals — shop smart!

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