There are no federal laws that regulate the welfare of animals on Canadian fur farms.¹ National industry guidelines for the care and handling of farmed mink and foxes have been developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).² Some provinces defer to these guidelines as “reasonable and generally accepted practices of animal management.” These guidelines are problematic as they are voluntary, not legally binding, and are developed in large part by those that profit off the confinement of these animals: fur farmers and fur industry groups. As a result, even meeting the most basic requirements results in profound animal suffering.
For example, for housing a single female mink, the minimum size allowance for a wire pen is 8in (width) x 15in (height), only a few inches larger than a letter size piece of paper.³ Farmed mink are confined to this pen and a small nest box for their entire lives until they are killed, which is not a painless death. The Codes of Practice requirement and industry standard for killing mink is to asphyxiate them by placing them into large gas chambers filled with carbon monoxide. The requirement for killing foxes is through anal electrocution. This is done by inserting an electric probe into a fox’s rectum, a bite bar into the fox’s mouth, and passing electric current through the animal’s body until he or she dies.⁴
Because fur farms do not receive regular inspections by government officials, instances of animal cruelty and neglect are unreported and undetected, resulting in pervasive animal suffering throughout the entire fur farm industry. Animal welfare concerns are typically only brought to light through complaints from the public or through the work of advocates and whistleblowers. In 2018, the Ontario SPCA charged a mink farm with 14 counts of animal cruelty after receiving a concern about the welfare of mink at the farm. Their investigation found sick and injured animals with large legions all over their bodies, rough handling of animals, unsanitary conditions, and lack of adequate care.⁵⁶
After a 2014 investigation by the Montreal SPCA, a Quebec fur farmer was charged with six counts of animal cruelty and negligence after horrific conditions were revealed on his farm that housed approximately 100 foxes and 10,000 mink.⁷ Many animals required immediate euthanization due to their extremely poor conditions. But as a Montreal SPCA lawyer points out, the problem of fur farming is not limited to individual acts of animal cruelty and neglect, but the entire system as a whole.
Even meeting the standard industry practices outlined by NFACC leads to severe physical and psychological conditions. Because mink are semi-aquatic animals, their welfare is significantly impacted by being prevented from accessing open water and engaging in natural behaviours. An article in the journal Nature writes, “Despite arguments that mink housed in fur farms have successfully adapted to captivity, these animals may suffer by being deprived of resources that exist in the wild.” The authors find that the high level of stress that mink experience by being denied access to water parallels the stress they experience from food deprivation.⁹
Animals farmed for their fur develop physical and psychological conditions due their extreme confinement. Behavioural abnormalities include stereotypies (pacing along cage walls, repetitive circling, head-bobbing, repeatedly entering/exiting their nest boxes) and self-mutilation (chewing on tails, limbs, excessive grooming).¹⁰ Animals in fur farms can become aggressive towards themselves and each other, and some are driven to cannibalism, a disturbing behaviour that has been observed both in Canada and internationally on numerous fur farms.¹¹ ¹²
Fur farming is an inherently cruel practice where profound animal suffering occurs every day in Canada. While many countries across the world have acknowledged the cruel conditions these animals experience and have banned fur farming, Canada continues to support it by providing millions of dollars to keep the fur industry afloat.¹³
¹McCague Borlack. (2019, November). An Overview of the Regulation of Fur Farming in Canada.
²National Farm Animal Care Council. Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals.
³National Farm Animal Care Council. (2013) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Mink.
⁴National Farm Animal Care Council. (2013) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Fox.
⁵Ontario SPCA. (2018, March 11). Southwestern Ontario mink farm charged with 14 counts of animal cruelty. GlobeNewswire.
⁶Gignac, J. (2018, May 13) ‘This is not normal’: Ontario mink farm charged with animal cruelty after activists go undercover. Toronto Star.
⁷CTV News. (2014, November 10). A Quebec first: Fur farm owner charged with cruelty, negligence.
⁸CTV News. (2014, November 21). Fox fur farmer guilty of three counts of animal cruelty.
⁹Georgia, J. M., Cooper, C., & Clarebrough, C. (2001). Frustrations of fur-farmed mink. Nature 410, 35-26 (2001).
¹⁰Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare. (2001, December). The Welfare of Animals Kept for Fur Production. Prepared for the EU Commission.
¹¹McSheffrey, E. (2015, November 18). Behind bars: Canada’s fur-farmed mink and fox. National Observer.
¹²The Guardian. (2020, September 29). Film showing mink ‘cannibalism’ prompts probable ban on fur farms in Poland.
¹³Cutherbertson, R. (2020, May 29) A booming niche industry goes bust, quietly taking millions in public money with it. CBC News.