Fur farm myths and realities

2 11 2014





Becky sent me this last week: an SPCA news release linking to this ‘Make fur history’ video.

And here is my Sylvie trying to release a fox that appears in this film…



As anti-fur items go it’s not bad. They’re right that stereotypic behaviour is a sign of poor welfare and ‘craziness’ (the example they show is disturbing), and that the small barren cages should be improved (the size being problematic because they’re then harder to enrich; whether small cages are inherently bad is something Maria and I should know in a year or two, though right now I doubt it). It’s good that they don’t show close-ups of multiple mink piled into a nest box and pretend that they’re crammed into a tiny cage (something you’ll find elsewhere online). They’re right that letting faeces accumulate on the ground is polluting. They’re right that animals biting and chewing each other is awful; a problem in young mink as they transition from milk to solid food and water, it’s a dreadful one and really needs to be solved. I must also admit, I also find sad and troubling the fear of humans that’s so common in farmed foxes.

However, the video also uses the emotive language, misinformation and cherry-picking that typifies this sort of campaign. I read several of these when preparing for my UPEI talk. Don’t like animals being kept in small enclosures in vast numbers for money? I sympathesise, but let’s admit that fur-farming is hardly special: behind almost everything in your average pharmacy and supermarket meat or dairy aisle is a similar story. What about the more sinister-sounding aspects of fur animals’ lives and deaths? Do they live in their own faeces, as this piece implies? Or in tiered cages, with animals in the top rows crapping on those below? Absolutely not: the last thing any farmer wants is a dirty pelt. The strangest poo-related claim I read was this (here), about a recent expose of a run-down failing farm in Quebec: “one photo shows feces spilling out of a container attached to a cage stuffed with rodents“. After reading it a few times, and puzzling about mouse problems, I realized that this must be another journalist who thinks that mink are actually rodents!

Do farmed mink also commonly go without drinking water, as PETA claims? Nope: what a cruel, stupid way that would be to lose a valuable animal. Do the animals have “no protection from bone-chilling cold, driving rain, or sweltering heat“, as PETA also claims? No: they live in sheds. Do “parasites and disease run rampant“, another PETA claim? Nope, mink are pretty healthy as a rule, and again, since the aim is to achieve large litters of animals with big, glossy, perfect pelts, parasite and disease control is central to productivity. Yes they are “gassed” — with its sinister implications of Zyklon B — but the gas is carbon monoxide, and the time between being removed from the cage to being unconscious is under a minute (when it comes to being killed, I’d much rather be a mink than a pig, chicken or cow). Are they then, finally, skinned alive? Since mink are very strong, very bitey, and also very easy to kill using CO, only a total idiot would do this  — and practicalities aside, your average farmer would be appalled at the idea of such cruelty.  I don’t doubt that there are welfare problems on mink farms, but wish the campaigners would focus on the right ones and not distract with nonsense.