Earth Talk | The fur industry

Dear EarthTalk: How is the fur industry doing these days? Has it been impacted by activism from PETA and similar groups?
– Clara Andrews, Edmonds, Wash.

An accurate source of up-to-date numbers is hard to come by, but it’s safe to say that the fur industry has been hurt by the ongoing and very visible anti-fur campaign—sometimes featuring top supermodels—by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other animal rights groups.

Whether or not activist efforts are the cause, the governments of the United Kingdom and Austria have banned fur farming in their countries altogether, while The Netherlands has phased out fox and chinchilla farming. The U.S. has not taken any action against the industry, but the number of mink farms in the U.S. has plummeted from 1,027 in 1988 to less than 300 today, according to Weekly International Fur News.

But while the fur industry’s sales numbers may have trailed off through the 1990s, resurgence in the popularity of fur—especially among newly affluent high-fliers in Russia and China—has meant that business is booming for those furriers serving such far-flung markets.

By 2004 the industry was reporting banner sales—some $11.7 billion worldwide—despite the slumping post-9/11 economy. “Fur remains big with international designers and is set to continue as an integral part of fashion,” International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF) chairman, Andreas Lenhart, told reporters.

According to IFTF data, the vast majority of the fur industry’s pelts—upwards of 85 percent—now come from farm-raised animals. (This does mean, though, that 15 percent are still caught in the wild, often by trapping methods that are painful as well as indiscriminate, catching unintended quarry, including endangered species and domestic pets.) The most farmed such animal is the mink, followed by the fox. Chinchilla, lynx, muskrats and coyotes are also farmed for their fur. PETA reports that 73 percent of the world’s remaining fur farms are in Europe, while about 12 percent are in North America.

IFTF argues that fur farming has environmental benefits, such as providing good use for 647,000 tons of animal by-products each year from Europe’s fish and meat industries alone (they are fed to the captive animals), and generating a lot of manure, sold as organic fertilizer. Mink farming also provides fat for soaps and hair products, says IFTF.

Of course, anti-fur activists don’t see it this way. “The amount of energy needed to produce a real fur coat from ranch-raised animal skins is approximately 15 times that needed to produce a fake fur garment,” says PETA. “Nor is fur biodegradable, thanks to the chemical treatment applied to stop the fur from rotting.” PETA adds that these same chemicals contaminate groundwater near fur farms if not handled responsibly.

Activists are also concerned, of course, about the conditions animals endure on fur farms. “The animals—who are housed in unbearably small cages—live with fear, stress, disease, parasites and other physical and psychological hardships…” reports PETA. The group adds that the animals are killed in very inhumane ways—such as by electrocution, gassing or poisoning—to preserve the quality of the pelts above all else.

 

CONTACTS: PETA, peta.org; IFTF, iftf.org.

 

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

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