New Report on Fur Animal Production
The Danish Fur Breeders’ Association welcomes the report of the Animal Ethics Council as a good contribution to the future development of a large and important Danish livestock production.
In the report the Animal Ethics Council mentions a number of positive elements in relation to the present Danish fur animal production and in several areas the trade is commended for its own research and development initiatives.
However, the Council points to other means of improving production even further. Several of these recommendations address conditions or topics, on which the Danish Fur Breeders’ Association is already working in a co-operation with the Danish Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The fur trade will now evaluate the recommendations in order to review if there is a need for further initiatives and action plans.
The comments on ethics is a rejection of the campaign which fanatic animal rights activists run against fur farming once in a while. Most of the council members state that fur farming is to be reviewed on par with any other livestock production. What matters is that the animals are cared for and that the housing meets the requirements of the animals, it does not matter what the animals are to be used for. Some council members also include other considerations, but they all agree when considering what is most luxurious, it is difficult to differ between fur and for instance meat, if you want to maintain a logic of consistency.
The Danish Fur Breeders’ Association will now ask the Minister of Justice to finish the draft of a new Danish regulation based on the Council of Europe recommendations. This has been delayed several times, and the trade is now looking forward to have the new regulation.
Comments on the Danish Animal Ethics Council’s Report on Fur Animal Production
The Animal Ethics Council was established in Denmark in 1991. The Council consists of 11 members and is chaired by Peter Sandoe, professor at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University of Denmark. The Council has so far submitted reports on the keeping of horses, pest control, animal experimentation, poultry, and pigs etc.
In 1999 the Council of Europe adopted a number of recommendations regarding fur farming. These are now to be implemented in Danish law and in this connection the Council has decided to submit a report on fur farming in Denmark. The council has in their considerations included areas like domestication, animal welfare, ethics and fauna pollution.
Denmark is the world’s largest producer of fur skins and the yearly export of fur skins amounts to nearly 3 billion Danish kroner. Mink is the dominating production; foxes, chinchilla and rabbits only account for a small percentage of Danish fur farming. The fur breeders’ co-operative society, Copenhagen Fur Center, in Glostrup sells approximately 50% of the global production of fur skins.
In a few European countries extreme animal rights activists have penetrated politically with an anti-fur-agenda. In England fur farming has been banned with reference to “public morality”. Despite several attempts nobody has succeeded in justifying a ban based on animal welfare issues.
The Danish Fur Breeders’ Association adopted the recommendations of the Council of Europe in 1999 and throughout many years the association has co-operated with the Danish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about the preparation of improvements to animal welfare.
Ethics: Fur farming does not differ from any other animal husbandry
In the recommendation the Animal Ethics Council touches on particular ethical aspects that lie beyond the comments on scientific work and animal welfare.
The members of the Council differ in their opinion on fur farming, from the most common being “fur farming is an animal husbandry that is to be evaluated on the same terms as any other animal husbandry” to ” the purpose of the production makes a great difference to the ethical evaluation”.
To the majority of the members it does not matter if the animals are farmed in order to produce fur or foodstuffs. They want to review if the farming of the animals meets the requirements of the animals.
Some members find that it is unacceptable to use fur – and thereby fur animals – merely for decoration or as a status symbol, when so many other products can be used instead. However, all members of the Council agree that it is difficult to make a general definition, whether people’s needs are more or less luxurious.
As it is stated: “If as a starting point we regard fur as a product on par with other products we get from animals, it is difficult to see in which way fur should differ from the rest as a particularly luxurious product. In our society we surround ourselves with products that are unnecessary, and the definition of luxurious can therefore seem somewhat random. For instance, it is difficult to argue why fur should be more luxurious than meat, when in our parts of the world there are plenty of substitutes for both. And if you choose to include environmental considerations, fur may seem less luxurious than meat, as you can argue that fur is a more environmentally desirable product than synthetic materials and against the production of meat that has a negative impact on the environment and a poorer exploitation of land than plant production”.
Therefore, the Council finds that discussions on fur production must be divided into several levels, where you – if the logic of consistency is to be intact – first and foremost must come to a principle decision, if production of animals is acceptable.
In other words: Do you want to eat chops and wear leather shoes and fur coat; or are you a vegan (abstain from using animal products)?
The members of the Council dissociate themselves from the so-called “Disney-fying”, meaning that the entertainment business accredit farm animals human qualities.
All members of the Council find it realistic to expect that it is possible to meet the needs of farmed mink to an appropriate degree. However, some members consider that the production of fox cannot attain the same level in the foreseeable future.
Production: Many good things, but it can be even better
In their evaluation of the conditions in the Danish fur production, the Animal Ethics Council directs attention to a number of positive elements:
- Fur farming has not been intensified in the same way as other animal husbandries.
- A research project has recently been initiated to find the composition of feedstock that best meets the requirements of both females and kits.
- The mortality is limited.
- Selection against pelt biting is a part of the breeding programme and pelt biting is not a problem in the mink production.
- No study demonstrates that wire netting is a problem to mink’s paws, and in practice there are no problems.
- Researchers seems to agree that mink have no essential need for swimming water, which therefore is only one of many opportunities for cage enrichment.
- The Danish Fur Breeders’ Association recommends – regardless of economic considerations – that mink be kept in pairs and not in groups.
- Throughout many years farmers have selected against fearful animals and as a consequence mink show no fear of humans.
- Nests with a tunnel entry is presently standard on Danish fox farms.
- Research in cage enrichment is ongoing.
- There is no scientific proof that foxes need to dig in the ground. Testing has shown that foxes do not even seem to prefer ground to wire.
- Compared to other animal husbandry, fur animals are left intact (no castration, tail docking etc.).
- Compared to other animal husbandry, fur animals are not pressed with regard to reproduction (fixed yearly cycle).
- When killed the animals loose conscious within seconds, after which death follows rapidly.
- The killing of the animals is conducted on the farms without the need for transportation.
- The foodstuff is produced from material left from the human food production in the fishing and meat industry.
- Fur farming is no bigger strain on the food chain and environment than any other forms of husbandry.
- Nowhere in the world have escaped mink caused extermination of other species.
- The cage sizes recommended by the Council of Europe are a little smaller than the cages that, throughout many years, have been the most common in Denmark.
- The trade has already proved that they are willing to and interested in adopting measures that improve animal welfare.
The members of the Animal Ethics Council do, however, agree that there are a number of welfare problems in the fur animal production and therefore the Council submits a number of recommendations.
The most essential problem with mink is considered to be the stereotypical behaviour of some breeding animals. Stereotyped behaviour is primarily displayed prior to feeding time and during winter in connection with the anticipation of food. In general mink rest most of the time (approximately 70 per cent in the nest). Stereotyped behaviour is seldomly displayed among production animals.
The most essential problem with fox is considered to be fearfulness, where the fox withdraws and hides.
The future: The Council’s recommendations
Like the Danish Fur Breeders’ Association the Animal Ethics Council supports the Council of Europe recommendations.
In addition to these the Council states that there are ways to improve animal welfare without heavily making the production more expensive and onerous. The recommendations are:
- 1. The trade must take joint responsibility for the development, partly by financing research and studies – but also by initiating action plans for improvements of animal welfare to be implemented as soon as possible.
- There must be public funds available for research into welfare improvement.
- Looking ahead, it could be considered stating the requirements for cage sizes as kilogram animal per square metre instead of number of animals per unit.
- Trust and temperament ought to form part of the specific breeding parameters.
- There is to be selected against particular problems with some mink and fox types.
- There must be a requirement for education and supplementary training – the education must be specifically related to the species.
- The size of the case is not that important. It is more important that the housing environment is enriched with activity objects and is fitted with shelves, tubes and loose objects.
- Mink must have sufficient straw material in their nests. Straw is a good activity object.
- Pregnant females must be placed in every second cage. After the birth the female with kits is to have access to two cages.
- The possibility of activation through the presentation of feed is to be investigated.
- In Danish legislation there should be a requirement of a cage length at 70-centimetre at the same level.
- Periodic restrictive feeding of mink should be avoided. Instead the feed could contain less energy in the same quantity of feed.
- Vixens are to have access to two cages outside the breeding period.
- Foxes are to have different shelves and boxes throughout the whole year.
- The contact between animals and humans is to be increased in fox production.
- It is to be investigated if vixens can be placed in cages according to their ranking.
- As world leading, Denmark is to set a good example for other fur producing countries.