At a meeting of the federal Agriculture Committee on April 4, 2019, the Canada Mink Breeders Association made a presentation regarding public trust in agriculture. This presentation provides some insights into how fur farmers view themselves and want the world to view them. Additionally, it shows what they think will improve their market (which has trended downward for the last several years internationally).
But it also provides an opportunity for advocates for the animals farmed for their fur to contest information and communicate with members of the committee and other lawmakers about serious gaps in this dying industry, and what the future of mink farming in Canada will be.
Analysis and discussion
The presentation began with the usual platitudes: the fur industry is why Canada is a country (but not the part about colonization) and we should all be grateful. There is also the blanket statement that’s common to trappers, as well, that they exist within a highly regulated industry, “with animal and environmental welfare and sustainability at its core.”
Bemusing ethical conundrums aside, the statement leans into one of the fur industry’s failures: regulation. The regulations spoken of are voluntary codes of practice. Those codes are being adopted as law in some places, but still focus on keeping mink alive for the purpose of selling their pelt, not on animal welfare. Should the purposes of these codes be animal welfare, surely they would include in-depth analysis on how to provide for the basic five freedoms and consequences for failing to do so. However, these documents do not – and since they are not law, there is no ramification for not following even the most basic of welfare-based concepts within the codes. Further, those laws were created by and for the fur industry – an industry whose purpose is to effectively sell as many pelts for the highest price possible, not to create a humane environment for intelligent animals being kept in tiny, wire bottomed cages.
Third Party Auditing
“Canadian mink farmers are currently being audited by third party auditors, with the expectation of all farms being certified by the end of 2019. This process provides a comprehensive and transparent approach to animal welfare in the Canadian mink farming sector.”
The intent to provide third party auditing for the purpose of transparency is commendable. However, it also fails to address any problems or create transparency. FurMark is operated by the International Fur Federation, an organization whose primary goal is to promote the business of fur. How exactly this is a third party is somewhat incredulous. Nonetheless, should the industry be genuine in their desire to be truly transparent they must address accountability, first. The Fur-Bearers is unaware of the fur industry at any point supporting or recommending laws that would put animal welfare first; laws that allow surprise inspections from truly third party evaluators (or even a combination of one from government, one from an SPCA, and one from the industry); laws that make prosecution of cruelty possible; laws that eliminate “best practice” loopholes in agriculture; and laws that prohibit animal ownership for anyone convicted of animal cruelty.
Transparency without accountability is marketing, nothing more.
Terrorism And Hyperbole
While we appreciate that fur farmers are alarmed by people checking out their operations without permission, it is important to note that the majority of these cases seem to be people photographing – primarily because the fur industry has so hidden itself away from public eyes, without transparency or accountability. Laws require a complaint before SPCA agents or others can investigate, but other than fur farm owners and their seasonal workers, generally no one sees inside a fur farm. It is a problem created of the industry’s own failures.
“As fur farmers, we've always been grateful that the MPs in 1913 had the wisdom to amend the Criminal Code, section 460, to make entering a dwelling with a pen, a cage or den with fur-bearing animals an indictable offence. Unfortunately, this law is not being enforced to protect our farmers. We need your help.”
Much like in trapping, the laws that exist protect the farmers, not the animals or those who want to advocate on their behalf. Should fur farmers want people to take their concerns for welfare seriously, laws (not voluntary codes, oversight from their own profit-driven industry, or single-page checklists) must be put in place and admissions of past and current failures must be made and managed appropriately.
Their concerns of biosecurity are laughable, however. Most of these sheds and dens in which mink are farmed are open air or built like shanties and diseases can easily transfer from mink who escape farms (a regular occurrence according to those who live near them), from the mink to various other animals that may be near the open access sheds, or even the plain and simple transfer from the massive quantities of urine and feces produced on fur farms.
Indicating that Canada should follow America’s lead and consider those who cross the threshold to document inhumane treatment or put a spotlight on the darkest cage terrorists is an indicator that the fur industry feels attacked and is fearful. But rather than finding a way to make these minor acts akin to mass murder by zealots, perhaps the fur industry should consider that their image problem isn’t actually an image problem, but a simple issue of the greater public rejecting their ethical stance.
The fur industry should spend less time on how advocates see them and more time on creating the laws that would create change and render the advocates’ purpose moot.
So, what’s next?
Though the presentation in this committee indicated that the fur industry is worth $1B to Canada’s economy, a CBC article provided an estimate that at the height of the mink pelt price bubble the fur farm industry in Nova Scotia (which is where the largest concentrations of fur farms have existed, and knowing that fur farming makes up a large amount of the actual pelts produced) was worth $140M. Accounting magic aside, what’s the future of this industry?
Fur farmers in Canada have received incredible bailouts. In 2014 the fur industry received $9M in payouts in Nova Scotia with 93 of 96 fur farmers stating they needed aide through an agri-stability program. It was part of a total $20M payout.
Internationally the demand for fur has dwindled. Major designers are rejecting its use, noting that there are serious animal welfare and environmental concerns, in addition to a simple decline in interest by shoppers. Countries across Europe are banning the farming of mink, citing unaddressed or unmanageable welfare and environmental concerns. Cities, states, and countries are banning the sale of fur products, citing the aforementioned concerns.
Is it time to move on?
Absolutely. Fur farmers have some great assets and knowledge that can be converted to actual necessities rather than fashion accessories such as hot house or green house growing, developing wineries (a massive, expanding industry in Nova Scotia), traditional produce farming, marijuana farming, and so on. It would behoove the industry to be honest with its members: things aren’t going to magically get better, and if you’re concerned about your future, you should be looking for an exit strategy.
To indicate that the woes of the fur industry are based in public perception is fair; it’s the interpretation of what that public perception is that’s problematic. The public wants Canadian farmers to succeed. The public wants their friends, family and neighbours to have well-paid, meaningful work in the agricultural sector. But the public is making clear that they don’t want to support the fur industry.
And that means it’s time for fur farmers – and the Canadian government – to move forward and leave the fur industry to the history books.
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