Every year, more than 50 million animals are bred and killed for the production of fur in the EU. Worldwide, more than one billion rabbits and 100 million other animals are killed for this purpose every year. About 90 percent of fur is produced on fur farms. While more and more people are against fur farming, in recent years an increasing number of fur products are sold with a faux fur label, misleading consumers.
Animals in the fur industry often find it hard to adjust to live in a cage and are kept in horrible conditions. Animals are forced to live in small wire cages until it’s time to be killed. Health problems are common, such as untreated infections and wounds, missing limbs, cannibalism, dead animals left to rot between living animals and lack of (clean) drinking water. These animals are often scared and show disturbing behaviour as they’re unable to behave naturally in their cages. In the end, they’re often either gassed or electrocuted. Gassing takes quite a long time and is very painful. Electrocuting animals is also quite problematic, as it’s risky and when not done correctly it can cause a lot of pain as well. That’s why electrocuting foxes is now forbidden in some places such as New York.
In some countries, breeding animals for the fur industry is no longer allowed. One of these countries is the United Kingdom, which banned fur farming in England in Wales in 2000 and in the rest of the UK in 2002. Several other EU countries are in the process of banning fur farms. The Netherlands still has 160 mink farms, killing 6 million mink every year, but this will be banned in 2024. Some countries like Germany continue to increase welfare regulations for fur farms, making it harder to them to continue existing.
The American mink is bred on a large scale for its fur. They’re kept in small, empty cages and mostly get waste from slaughterhouses as food. They’re usually killed by gassing. Undercover footage in the Netherlands from Animal Rights showed that mink are often treated brutally when being thrown into the gas chamber. In addition, footage showed that it takes quite long for them to be gassed, which means they suffer a lot.
Rabbits are bred the most for the fur industry, in total more than one billion rabbits every year. Rabbit fur is often used for cheaper clothing, as it’s cheaper than most other types of fur. Many people believe rabbit fur is not so bad, as it’s thought to be a byproduct of meat production. Unfortunately, that’s not true. Many rabbits are bred and killed for meat (more than 340 million in the EU alone), but this is another breed of rabbit. Rabbits for meat are bred to grow fast and are slaughtered when they’re only 10 weeks old and their fur has not developed properly yet. The fur of these rabbits is usually not used in the fur industry. Another one billion rabbits of other breeds are bred for fur. These rabbits are kept for longer, usually about half a year, to make sure their fur is at its best. As they live longer, their meat is not as tasty and is often not used for human consumption.
In addition, there is a third type of rabbit that’s bred to make angora wool. This wool comes from special rabbits that have very long hair. Angora rabbits have been bred by humans to increase the length of the hair and can’t survive in the wild. The wool is used a lot to make clothing and is mostly produced in China. Usually the female rabbits are used to make this product, as the male rabbits produce less wool. For this reason, most of the male angora rabbits are killed shortly after birth. To get angora wool, rabbits don’t need to be killed, but their fate is still horrible. The hair is literally pulled out of their skin, which is extremely painful and often results in the rabbits screaming in agony. This happens every three months for about two to five years, when the rabbits are slaughtered.
Raccoon dogs are slightly bigger than raccoons and live in forests near water. The fur of these animals is often used on coats. Raccoon dogs are mostly bred in Scandinavia and Asia and their lives are filled with suffering. Research in Finland showed that at raccoon dogs at fur farms regularly miss limbs and have untreated infected wounds. In China, film footage showed that raccoon dogs are sometimes skinned alive.
Cats and dogs
Every year, around 2 million cats and dogs are killed for their fur, most of them in China. These animals are often kept in small cages in horrible conditions. Even though it’s illegal, undercover footage has shown that these cats and dogs are sometimes skinned alive.
The EU has banned the import of cat and dog fur since 2008. Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped the sale of these types of fur in Europe. Fur from cats and dogs that have not been killed specifically for their fur can still be imported legally (so fur from cats and dogs that have been killed for meat instead those coming from fur farms). In addition, it’s also very hard to stop cat and dog fur from being imported. Customs doesn’t have the time and capacity to check all fur items and it’s impossible to find out if a product contains cat or dog fur without doing a DNA test or microscope research. Therefore, it still regularly happens that products containing cat or dog fur are sold within the EU. Sometimes these products don’t contain labels saying what type of fur it is, but it’s also sold with false labels (saying it’s fur from another label) or even with labels saying its faux fur. Therefore, even faux fur isn’t always safe to buy.
Interestingly, the import of dog leather is allowed in the EU without any restrictions. It’s not known what products this is used for and it doesn’t need to be mentioned on the product what type of leather is used. Therefore, leather items in the EU can be made from dog leather and only a DNA test can reveal whether this is the case or not. Dog leather is regularly used to make gloves and for leather patches on clothing and accessories.
Coyotes are not bred at fur farms. They’re predators that live in North America. They’re mainly hunted for their fur, as it’s quite profitable. Every year in the US and Canada almost half a million coyotes are killed. Most of them are caught with a leghold trap, which consists of two metal parts coming together, trapping the animal’s leg. It often takes a long time before a hunter finally comes to kill the animal, sometimes several days. During this time the animal suffers a lot and sometimes even dies of hunger or thirst before the hunter arrives. In addition, animals sometimes manage to escape from the traps, but as they are badly injured, sometimes even having lost a leg, they mostly die later anyway.
Another problem with leghold traps is that other animals often get caught in them. It’s been estimated that for every coyote that’s caught, one to four other animals die in the leghold trap. Sometimes these include endangered species. Leghold traps are banned in Europe since 1995, because of the animal suffering they cause. Interestingly, fur from animals caught with leghold traps can be sold in the EU and an estimated 75% of all leghold trap fur is sold in Europe. Therefore, Europe ironically still greatly contributes to the continuation of this cruel hunting practice.
Chinchillas are often bred for their fur. They’re kept in small cages and are known to become scared and aggressive in captivity. It happens regularly that they harm themselves or others and even cannibalism isn’t uncommon. Mothers often kill their own babies, which together with other problems has led to more than 25 percent of young chinchillas dying in fur farms. Chinchillas are mostly bred in China and Russia.
Seals are not bred for their fur, but hunted. Every year, a few hundred thousand seals are killed for fur, mostly in Canada, Greenland and Namibia. Seals are also hunted on a smaller scale in Norway, but luckily the government there has stopped subsidizing seal hunts in 2015, which led to a decrease in seal hunts. Especially young seals are often killed and they’re mostly clubbed to death or shot. Unfortunately, hunters usually don’t check whether the animal is dead, which according to vets regularly leads to seals being skinned alive. Furthermore, wounded seals are often left behind.
In Canada and Greenland, seal hunts aren’t profitable anymore and can only continue to exists because of the millions of dollars worth of subsidies from the governments. In Namibia, it’s still profitable, but less profitable than seal tourism there. An increasing number of countries, including the US and Russia, have banned the import of seal products in recent years, which has greatly decreased the number of seals being killed. The EU also has a seal import ban, but this excludes seal products from indigenous people in Greenland and Canada. In Canada, indigenous people only have small-scale hunts, but in Greenland, most of the inhabitants are indigenous people and many of them hunt seals for a living, killing 80.000 seals every year. Unfortunately, about half of all wounded seals escape and die later, meaning that the death toll from hunting is at least double. As they’re mostly killed for their fur, many carcasses are dumped in sea as there is no demand for seal meat. Therefore, the EU’s limited ban on seal products contributes to the continuation of these large-scale commercial hunting practices.
Karakul sheep are a specific type of sheep from Central Asia. The wool from the adult sheep is quite sturdy and often used to make clothing. The baby sheep, however, are known for their fine soft fur. They keep this fur for three days after birth before getting a coat similar to their parents. Therefore, these baby sheep are often killed when they’re between 1 and 3 days old. Their fur is even softer before they’re born, so sometimes the mothers are killed so the unborn lams can be skinned for their fur. This means two animals are killed for just a small amount of fur. As the lams are still so small, it takes about 30 lams (and 60 lives) just to make one coat of this type of fur.
This fur is sold under various names such as karakul, karakulcha, qaraqul, swakara, Persian lam, persianer, astrakan, breitschwanz and broadtail. It’s mostly used by famous brands, such as Gucci, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabana.
Fur from the red lynx is very rare and therefore extremely profitable. Sadly, this is the reason why these animals are hunted in the US and Canada, where they live in the wild. They’re mostly hunted with leghold traps, which kill about 50.000 red lynx every year. The lynx often suffer for a long time in these traps before being killed by hunters. There are also other reasons why these leghold traps are extremely cruel, which are mentioned in the paragraph about coyotes. Lynx are often killed by strangulation with a metal wire so as not to damage the fur.
Foxes are bred for their fur in fur farms and hunted in the wild as well. In fur farms, they often get very stressed as they’re not domesticated animals. They make repetitive movements and often bite themselves, causing wounds. In some countries, such as Finland, they’re bred to become unnaturally big and overfed in order to produce more fur per animal. Unfortunately, this harms their health and makes their lives even more miserable.
Another problem with foxes in captivity is that spontaneous abortions are a regular occurance and mothers sometimes kill their babies. Because of these reasons, half of all baby foxes in fur farms dies. Foxes are mostly bred in Scandinavia, North America and China and they’re also hunted in most of these areas. Finland also has a lot of fur farms, where more than 2.5 million foxes are bred and killed every year.
Fur is regularly promoted as a natural and sustainable product, as opposed to the more unnatural faux fur. However, fur is processed and treated with chemicals before it’s used in clothing or other products. Therefore, it’s definately not a natural or environmentally friendly product.
The first environmental problems related to fur production involve the breeding and keeping of the animals. Just as with animal agriculture, this requires a lot of land, water, feed, energie and other resources. All these resources can also be used for other purposes, often more efficiently. In addition, keeping millions and millions of animals also produces a lot of pollution, especially manure. When hunting animals for fur, the usage of leghold traps contributes to a decrease in biodiversity and threatens endangered species.
After an animal is skinned, the fur has to be treated with a variety of chemicals. If this is not done, the fur simply rots away. Just as with the processing of leather, this involves very poisonous chemicals and heavy metals. These chemicals contribute considerably to water and air pollution. For that reason, in recent years, most fur factories have moved to third world countries, where pollution regulation is much less strict. These chemicals are not only bad for the environment, they’re a threat to human health as well. People working in fur factories are known to often have health problems related to working with these chemicals, including skin and eye problems and an increased cancer risk. The ‘Industrial Pollution Projection System’ of the World Bank analysed which industries cause most heavy metal pollution and concluded that the fur industry belonged in the top 5. The poisonous chemicals can also be damaging to fur wearers. Research in the Netherlands showed that some fur items contain residu from these chemicals that are poisonous and contain carcinogens. Research in Germany and Denmark showed that this was also the case in those country and harmful substances were even found on children’s coats that contained fur.
Compared to other textiles, fur is quite bad for the environment. The production of fur requires much more energy and resources, and causes the emission of more greenhouse gasses and other pollution. Dutch research organisation CE-Delft analysed the environmental impact of the production of mink fur compared to textiles such as cotton, acryl and polyester. Fur scored worse on almost all types of environmental impact. The emission of greenhouse gasses was even more than 10 times higher than those of plant-based textiles. Another study by CE-Delft showed that the production of faux fur is also more environmentally friendly than real fur. Faux fur scored better on all 18 types of environmental impact, often even 3 to 10 times better than real fur. Textiles are more environmentally friendly than faux fur, but if someone wants to wear fur, faux fur is a much more environmentally friendly choice than real fur.
Bont voor Dieren & PETA
CE Delft (2011). The Environmental Impact of Mink Fur Production, https://www.ce.nl/publicaties [Accessed on 18-05-2018].
CE Delft (2013). Natural Mink Fur and Faux Fur Products, An Environmental Comparison. https://www.ce.nl/publicaties [Accessed on 18-05-2018].