Most of the animals used for fur are raised on factory farms. The number of animals killed every year to make fur products remains unknown, though some estimates are between 40-60 million, of which 30-50 million may be raised on fur farms. Though most of the animals used in fur farming are in the European Union,1 the fur farming industry is growing in China, and other countries such as the U.S. and Canada also have considerable fur farming industries.
To make one fur coat, it takes 150-300 chinchillas, 200-250 squirrels, 50-60 minks, or 15-40 foxes, depending on the animals’ subspecies. For the production of fur to be more economical, animals are kept for their whole lives in tiny cages in which they can only move a very small amount and can never do things such as run or swim. This is especially stressful for semi-aquatic animals such as minks, because although they have drinking water, they never have access to most significant sources of it.
Having such little space to live in causes severe stress for the animals, resulting in self-mutilation and cannibalism. Even infanticidal behaviors sometimes occur, with most being cases of mothers eating their young. These are highly abnormal behaviors for minks. Due to confinement and lack of activity, they become frustrated and frequently exhibit stereotyped behaviors, like repetitively moving in a certain way for no apparent reason.2 In one of many mink farms, a female mink confined in a 75 x 37.5 x 30 cm (30 x 15 x 12 inches) cage was seen repeatedly standing up to grasp the ceiling of the cage and then falling down and onto her back.3 Similar types of behavior are seen in human beings who, in certain moments, feel a lack of control over some important aspect of their lives, as in situations of deep stress or confinement.
Being caged is a reason in itself for animals to be distressed. So that workers don’t have to clean the spaces in which the animals are kept, the floors of their cages are made with wire so the animals’ excrement can pass through to pile up below the cages. This means that the cage floors are uncomfortable for these animals. They have to step, sit, and lie on the wire net beneath them for their entire lives. The piled-up excrement is not only a source of possible diseases and parasites, but also a cause of suffering for these animals; the strong stench of excrement is very bothersome to minks due to their acute sense of smell.
These animals also suffer significant discomfort and sometimes pain because of weather conditions. They may have to endure freezing cold in the winter and scorching heat in the summer, and sometimes, as explained in the section on weather conditions, they can die due to heat stress. Also, even though farms are often covered, when there is heavy rain the cold water or snow can still reach them.
Several methods used to kill minks often only leave them unconscious. The most common ones are anal and oral electrocution, neck breaking, and suffocation. The animals are also often skinned alive while they are still conscious.
In the past few decades, there has been a growing social awareness regarding the ethical problems with the use of fur. Therefore, the fur industries have implemented a strategy of including fur in only certain parts of coats, such as necks, sleeves, and hoods. For this reason, in order to avoid financing the fur industry which causes the deaths of all these animals, it is important to be careful when buying coats and jackets.
Minks are small mammals in the Mustelidae family. Those that are most often used for fur production are American minks. Minks bred by the fur industry commonly spend the majority of their short lives on the same factory farm on which they are born – and eventually killed – without ever going outside.
Minks give birth once a year during the spring. The babies remain with their mothers for several weeks, after which they are then taken away and separated forever. They are killed at about six months of age, usually during November or the beginning of December.
There are several methods used to kill the minks. Farmers gas them with carbon dioxide or sometimes nitrogen. In many cases, in order to reduce production costs, carbon dioxide is used in low concentrations. This causes a slower death. With carbon dioxide concentrations around 70% it can take about 15 minutes of pain before the animals die.4
The gases emitted by tractor exhaust pipes have also been widely used. Even though this method has been prohibited in some countries due to the pollutants these gases contain, it is still used. The gases cause stress and convulsions in the animals before they die. Unlike humans and other animals such as pigs, minks are able to detect anoxia (lack of oxygen), which stresses them intensely and causes them much suffering when they are killed.5 The method of killing minks that is considered “less cruel” is through injections of chloral hydrate or pentobarbital. However, it takes several minutes to kill the minks, and during this time they can feel pain and anguish. This shows that there is not any way to kill minks that is more “humane” than others; each method causes them to suffer.6 Since chloral hydrate can cause gasping and muscle spasms, pentobarbital injections are preferred by the industry because this allows the mink killers to take the animals back to their cages for them to die. Other methods that are less frequently used are electrocution and neck dislocation.
Rex rabbits are the rabbit breed traditionally used by the fur industry. Babies are kept with their mothers for the first 4-5 weeks of their lives, and then they are put in different cages with their siblings. Finally, when the rabbits are 7-8 weeks old, they are taken from their siblings and spend 1-2 more weeks in a cage completely alone, and then they are killed.
In the mid-1980s the INRA, a French governmental organization, started the Orylag breeding program. The Orylag is a new breed of rabbit that has been bred for commercial purposes. Orylag rabbits are exploited for both meat and fur, with the profit coming mostly from the sale of the fur (60%). Breeding females are made pregnant again by artificial insemination between three and seven days after they first give birth. Rabbits not used for breeding are killed when they are about 20 weeks old.
Rabbits also suffer from confinement in cages. The industry standard for the spaces allowed for rabbits raised for fur, or for fur and flesh, is one rabbit per 60 x 40 x 30 cm (24 x 16 x 12 inches) cage. This is only about as much floor space as two shoe boxes would occupy. In bare wire mesh cages, rabbits are sometimes separated from each other to prevent fighting but are often crammed together. The rabbits can hardly move and may develop bone disorders. Sometimes the rabbits develop deformation of their vertebral column. The cages also prevent the rabbits from sitting up with their ears erect and prevent them from digging, both of which are innate behaviors.
Rabbits are social animals, and being separated from each other is stressful for them. Rabbits that have been separated may develop stereotyped behaviors such as gnawing on the bars of the cage and excessive grooming. Overcrowded housing also causes many problems, and it leads to behaviors such as fur-plucking and ear-biting.
The mesh flooring in cages can lead to sore hocks (ulcerative pododermatitis), which can lead to infections and abscesses. In 2003 it was found that up to 15% of female rabbits suffered from sore hocks,7 and other research has shown that up to 40% showed discomfort due to paw injuries.8
Mortality rates during transport to slaughter can be as high as 7-8%.9 Broken bones, traumatic lesions, respiratory failure, and the spread of viruses are all common. But many Rex farms carry out slaughter themselves. The rabbits are hit on the head with a club or a tree branch on smaller farms, or stunned by electrocution at larger farms or commercial slaughterhouses. The rabbits are then killed by slitting their throats and letting the blood drain.
The foxes most often used by the fur industry are common foxes and arctic foxes. Foxes have been selected because of the desirability of their fur, and also because they are normally docile and bite fur farm workers less frequently. Foxes are normally independent animals who only live in couples or in hierarchical groups during mating and while taking care of their offspring. However, on a fur farm, they spend their lives in tiny cages in which they are surrounded by many other animals in neighboring cages. Foxes develop psychological problems in this environment, showing anxiety, panic, and mistrust; they adopt aggressive and fearful behaviors from being confined. Foxes are only taken out of their cages for farmers to classify them according to their fur, to receive certain veterinary treatments, or if they have to be transferred to another cage for insemination or to be killed.
The way foxes are handled is by holding their necks with 50 cm (28 inch) long steel pliers, with a hole of 7.5 cm (3 inches) diameter for the neck of females and 8.5 cm (3.5 inches) for males. The use of these pliers causes injuries to the foxes’ mouths and teeth when they try to escape by biting the metal.10
Foxes reproduce once a year. They give birth in the spring, and the offspring stay with the mother for around a month and a half. At this point, the children are weaned and put into separate cages, each of which will be shared by two of them. In November or December, when their fur has developed, the foxes are killed.
Foxes are usually killed by electrocution, using a device consisting of two electrodes with which a discharge is applied. The electrodes are put into their mouths and anuses, and the electric discharge kills them over three to four seconds. Foxes are also killed by injecting pentobarbital or other anesthetics into their hearts.
Chinchillas are rodents who have dense fur, which is needed because of the low temperatures in the area to which they are native, the Andes. Some of the countries in which many chinchillas are killed for their fur include Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary. However, the main demand for this fur is in Japan, China, Russia, the U.S., Germany, Spain, and Italy.
There are two types of cages in chinchilla farms: breeding cages and growing cages, which commonly hold only one animal. Young chinchillas are separated from their mothers at 60 days of age. Cages may be piled one on top of the other, so that it is possible to have the maximum number of animals in the minimum space. Because of the lack of room, the cage changes, and the separation of the young chinchillas from their families, it is common for them to suffer much distress.11
The ways chinchillas are killed include gassing, electrocution, and neck fracture. Electrocution is most common and is used to kill large groups of chinchillas, and neck breaking is used on smaller groups. Electrocution is mainly carried out by applying the electrodes to one ear and to the tail of the animal. There are concerns that these deaths are often painful and that the chinchillas are often not killed immediately. The animal welfare stipulations in place require that heart rate and respiration should be checked to make sure that the animals are dead, but this is often not done. When the chinchillas are killed by breaking their necks, they are held by their tails with their heads hanging down. Their heads are then held and twisted rapidly until the animals die.12 The pain these animals endure as they are killed adds to the devastation of their being killed unnecessarily in the first place.
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