50 million animals are killed for fur worldwide every year. Approximately 74% of that fur comes from fur farms.
In these fur farms, animals such as mink, rabbits, and even cats and dogs spend their entire lives confined to tiny, filthy cages, constantly pacing back and forth from stress and boredom. They exhibit stereotypical stress behaviour such as self-mutilation and cannibalism, demonstrating that intense confinement drives them insane. 1
Let's look at the example of mink, the most common animals raised for fur. In the wild, mink are solitary animals that have a home range of up to 2,500 acres. Fur farms, however, contain anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of mink. Generally, these animals are housed in individual cages to keep them from killing each other – they are caged together only occasionally, with their own offspring, and then only until sexual maturity. Each cage is about the length of the mink's body – 1 foot by 3 feet. Additionally, they are semi-aquatic animals, and studies have shown that they suffer greatly when denied access to water in which to swim. 2
When it comes time to kill these animals, fur farms utilize one of several methods of slaughter, all of which are approved by the Fur Council of Canada. Larger animals like foxes, bobcats, and lynx are often killed via anal or vaginal electrocution, wherein a clamp is attached to the animal's mouth and a rod is forced into their anus or vagina. Smaller animals like rabbits, mink, and chinchillas are sometimes put into boxes and poisoned with the use of unfiltered engine exhaust. This technique does not necessarily kill the animal, however, and they sometimes wake up while being skinned.
Other methods of killing include lethal injection directly into the stomach with poisons such as chloral hydrate, magnesium sulphate, or nicotine sulphate, possibly in the forms of pesticide. Other methods include gassing, neck-breaking, or simply stunning the animal so they won't struggle while being skinned. Methods of stunning are often as crude as simply slamming the animal into the ground repeatedly until they are too injured to fight back.3
Footage from a Chinese Fur Farm
80 percent of the world's fur, including that sold in countries like Canada and the United States, comes from China.
Much has been made in recent years of a typical technique utilized in many Chinese fur farms; specifically, beating larger animals like dogs to the point that they are too weak to resist and then skinning them alive. Often they are simply swung by the hind legs so that their heads may be slammed against the ground. This is common practice. A bullet would damage otherwise salable pelt. Electrocution and gassing are too expensive for many Chinese fur farms to afford. 4,5
Dog and cat fur
Worried that you might be wearing a dog? You should be - the sale of dog and cat fur is legal in Canada, though it has been banned in most other western countries, including the United States. Workers in China's fur farms often label dog and cat pelts with "rabbit", "raccoon", or many other more marketable names when exporting them to countries where they would not otherwise sell.6 One fur producer in China, Affable Furs, sells vests and bomber jackets made with cat and dog fur. In 2012, a Toronto Star reporter contacted the company under the pretense of being a retailer interested in making a purchase, explaining that consumers in Canada would not be interested in buying cat and dog fur. Owner of the company Chen Shifeng told her he commonly mislabels furs and that if the garments didn't sell within six months, he would send her "mink" labels to affix to them instead.7
Canadian labelling laws only require manufacturers to disclose whether fur is being used in a product, not what type of fur it is. 8 And again, the evidence has shown that even labels that clearly state the type of fur cannot necessarily be trusted.
Two million cats and dogs are killed for fur each year in China, many of them stolen pets gathered by "bunchers" who collect them from yards and from the streets until they have enough to sell to food processing plants or rural markets. Growing animal welfare concerns have led to this particular branch of the industry to go underground, where even fewer regulations exist. The aforementioned Chen Shifeng refused to disclose the source of the dog and cat furs his company uses, stating only, “when I need it I make a phone call and it arrives.” The fur is also a frequent byproduct of the food industry and as such is very cheap. If you have an inexpensive item with fur trim, don't assume it's fake – the price of dog, cat, and rabbit pelts ranges from just one to six dollars apiece. And in Shangcun, the centre of China's rural fur industry, one fur vendor told reporters that nobody sells cat or dog fur there; it's so plentiful that it costs nothing.9,10
When it comes to wild animals, fur trapping is enormously detrimental to a number of species, including our very own pets.11 12 About 5 million "non-target" animals are caught by steel jaw leghold traps every year, including pet dogs, cats, owls, eagles, and various endangered species.13 (Read more on the endangered species – and other non-target animals – affected by trapping here.)
These leghold traps, which have been banned in more than 90 countries, are still legal in places like Canada, the U.S., Russia, and Australia.14 Some of these them are even placed underwater, where they ultimately drown any animal – typically beavers, mink, or muskrats – unfortunate enough to be caught in one. The fur industry claims this is humane, despite the fact that it takes these animals ten or even twenty minutes to drown.
Other common traps are the body grip (or Conibear) trap and the snare trap.
The snare trap is designed to strangle animals or crush vital organs. It becomes tighter as the animal struggles, and the industry has even come up with a term to describe the bloody lymph fluid that fills and surrounds the heads of any canines that are caught – they call it "jellyhead". Like any trap, it is indiscriminate as to what it catches.
Conibear traps, which consist of a pair of metal rectangles meant to snap together and kill the animal quickly, are no less cruel and generally crush animals to death over a period of days. Pet dogs and cats are often common victims of this particular type of trap.
Trappers often wait days to check their traps, which means that trapped animals – who are generally not killed outright – suffer enormously. Some attempt to chew off their limbs in an attempt to escape. When the trapper returns, he or she stomps on the chest or neck of the animal until they die.
Frequently Asked Questions
- But it's cold where I live. What else am I supposed to wear?
- But isn't fur less damaging to the environment than an artificially-created product?
- How can I tell the difference between real and fake fur? Can't I just read the label?
- How many animals does it take to make a coat?
- But my coat just has a little trim...
- Are you against native people hunting animals to survive?
- All the top designers use fur and it's an integral part of the fashion industry.
- What about leather?
Now that we've entered the 21st century, there are many alternatives to fur. It is simply not the warmest thing available. Fabrics such as Gore-Tex and Polypropylene, for example, are renowned for their ability to keep you warm even in arctic conditions. For the look of fur without the cruelty, consider one of the many faux fur options available to the public from such vendors as Fabulous Furs or Coquette Faux Furriers here in Canada. Do a quick Google search and see what you can find!
Despite what the fur industry wants us to believe, it's far more damaging. A study done at the University of Michigan showed that creating a fur garment takes approximately 20 times the energy it would to make a fake fur garment of the same size. Even a fur coat made from a wild animal takes 3 times as much energy.15 16
While an untanned (untreated) pelt is naturally biodegradable and therefore better for the environment, absolutely no untanned coats are sold. After all, who wants a coat that will quickly rot in their closet?
The chemical treatments used to keep the fur from rotting are dangerous to the water supply. Some of these chemicals include sulphuric, formic and lactic acids, lead, cyanide, formaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, chromium salts, alum, sodium chlorite, copper sulphate and ferous sulphate.17 Highly elevated levels of these chemicals can be found in the areas around fur and leather tanneries.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention discovered that the incidence of leukemia in residents near a Kentucky tannery were five times the national average.18
People working in fur or leather tanneries are even more susceptible to cancer; a study conducted by the New York State Department of Health determined that more than half of testicular cancer victims were also tannery employees.19
One must also consider the impact that fur-farming has on the environment. For example, 2.56 million mink were raised and killed specifically for their fur in the United States in 2004. Each mink produces approximately 44 pounds of feces during its lifetime, which adds up to tens of thousands of pounds annually. Mink feces contain phosphorus, and though the fur industry has sought ways to reduce the amount they excrete, U.S. waterways are still polluted with over 1000 tons annually.20 Similarly, in January of 1998 Sweden's largest fox farm was forced to close due to its role in the contamination of the local water supply.21
Fur obtained through trapping brings up an entirely different environmental issue. An average of three non-target animals are trapped and thrown away for every target animal that is caught – and many of these are endangered species.
A study conducted by the University of Minnesota Raptor and Research Rehabilitation program determined that 21% of Bald Eagle admissions involved leghold trap related injuries, and 64% of these admissions were fatal.22
The rare Alberta Swift Fox, which was once thought to have been driven to extinction by hunting, now exists in small numbers despite decades-long attempts to reestablish their population. Despite the fact that it is now illegal to hunt them intentionally, Swift Foxes are still at risk as non-target victims of traps set for species such as red foxes and coyotes.23
BanCruelTraps.org keeps a list of news reports of non-target animals (and people) injured or killed in traps. Some endangered animals are caught not only intentionally but legally. The Sierra Club of Canada has warned that the Red Wolf population – estimated at only 200 to a couple thousand individuals – is severely threatened by hunting and trapping and are disappearing at a rate of 5% annually. They assert that a complete ban on hunting and trapping is necessary in the 37 townships surrounding Algonquin Park if the species is to survive, but no such ban (or even regulatory measure) exists.24 Meanwhile, there exist only 300 Newfoundland Martens remaining because the species was decimated by once-legal trapping.25
It is significant to note that attempts to describe fur as "environmentally safe" in England, Denmark, Holland, Italy, and Finland were actually ruled false and misleading – and therefore illegal – by advertising standards committees.26 Learn more about this issue at Crueltyisnotgreen.com or this report from the Humane Society of the United States.
Since tags and labels have been proven by the RSPCA and the HSUS to be deceptive (see the latest report on this matter here), you should not rely on these alone when attempting to determine the authenticity of a fur. There are a few easy ways, however, that you can tell the difference between fake and real fur without the benefit of a label.
- Feel the fur. Real fur will feel soft and fine and will roll between your fingers smoothly. Fake fur tends to be coarser.
- Push a pin through the base of the fur. If it is real, it will have a leather backing and therefore be hard to force a pin through. If it goes through easily, the fur is probably fake.
- Pluck a couple of hairs from the coat and set them on fire. Real fur will singe like human hair and smell the same. Fake fur will melt and smell like burning plastic, and it will form into small balls at the end.
- Blow on the fur so that it separates. If it is real, you will likely be able to see layers of soft, almost wooly fur through which longer hairs protrude. The backing will be leather. Fake fur is generally one simple layer of nearly identical hairs.
Think that just because a fur is cheap, it must be fake? Unfortunately, this is not the case. Rabbit, cat, and dog pelts, for example, can be had for 1 to 6 dollars a piece. Fur is no longer exclusively a high-priced item.
Additionally, it takes 18 to 24 domestic cats to make a coat.27
Recently the fur industry has attempted to boost its sales by adding little bits of fur to coats and other clothing as purely ornamental trim. The fur may be dyed or mixed with other fabrics to give the impression that it is actually fake.28
Don't fall for these tricks – it may be only a little fur, but it still represents the painful existence of the animal who died for it and may actually be a major part of the sales that fueled its death. For example, up to 90% of fox fur is used purely as "just a little trim."
Analysts predict that soon, the number of animal pelts used for trim will actually outnumber those used for full coats! 29
No. But it is important to note that the role of native people in the Canadian fur industry is a very small one. According to the Canadian Fur Council, there exist in Canada 25,000 native trappers out of 60,000 trappers total. 30 In 2002, the total value of trapped fur was $23.6 million. Assuming that aboriginal fur sold for approximately the same price as non-aboriginal furs, that means that $9.9 million worth of aboriginal furs were sold that year, or only $396 per trapper in annual revenue. In fact, the Standing Committee in Aboriginal Affairs states specifically that "trappers, native and non-native alike, trap by choice and not need."31 In comparison, the Canadian fur industry as a whole makes $800 million a year – therefore, aboriginal profits account for approximately 1 percent annually. Additionally, an overall aboriginal population of 1,319,890 means that less than 2 percent of native people are involved in fur trapping.32 33 If you are interested in buying fur trapped by aboriginal people, you may find it difficult – the fur industry has consistently opposed initiatives to label native fur.34
"Today's fur industry professes to be the champion of Canada's Natives, selflessly watching over the welfare of a people whose future is uncertain. This is ironic considering that the fur industry has been the most destructive force in our history." – Paul Hollingsworth, founder of the Native/Animal Brotherhood 35
It is worth noting that the commercial sealing industry also uses the relatively small number of native seal hunters to discourage criticism while doing nothing to help them market their products.(more)
Actually, the fur industry is in decline and has been since the 1980's. Top designers and fashion moguls such as Tommy Hilfiger, J. Crew, Ann Taylor, Jacob, Roots, Burton, Janice Dickinson, Nicole Miller, and Ralph Lauren have all stopped using fur due to public pressure or personal ethics.
Learn about leather at our page here.
- 1. Nimon A & Broom D, "The welfare of farmed mink ( Mustela vison ) in relation to housing and management: a review", Animal Welfare , 1999, vol 8 (205-228)
- 2. Reuters, "What Captive Minks Miss Most – Swimming," 28 Feb. 2001
- 3. The Humane Society of the United States
- 4. The Humane Society of the United States, Dying for Fur
- 5. Graham, David, How Canada Gets Dog and Cat Fur from China, The Star, 30 June 2012
- 6. Fur-Bearer Defenders, Dog and Cat Fur
- 7. Graham, David, How Canada Gets Dog and Cat Fur from China, The Star, 30 June 2012
- 8. Canada Competition Bureau,Guide to the Textile Labelling and Advertising Regulations, September 2000
- 9. The Humane Society of the United States, Global Trade in Dog and Cat Fur
- 10. Graham, David, How Canada Gets Dog and Cat Fur from China, The Star, 30 June 2012
- 11. Animal Protection Institute, Non-Target Animals & Humans Trapped by Body-Gripping Traps
- 12. Animal Protection Institute, Trapping Incidents
- 13. Global Action Network, Trapping and the Environment
- 14. End Trap, What's Wrong With Leghold Traps?
- 15. Gregory H. Smith, "Energy Study of Real vs. Synthetic Furs," University of Michigan, Sep. 1979
- 16. Animal Writes, "Environmental Ramifications of Fur" 20 January 1999
- 17. WSPA, The Fur Inquiry, London (undated)
- 18. Global Action Network, "Fur Farms and the Environment"
- 19. ibid.
- 20. S.J. Bursian et al., "The Use of Phytase as a Feed Supplement to Enhance Utilization and Reduce Excretion of Phosphorous in Mink," 2003 Fur Rancher Blue Book of Fur Farming (East Lansing: Michigan State University Department of Animal Science, 2003)
- 21. ANZFAS Factsheet: The Fur Trade, May 1994
- 22. Global Action Network, "Fur Farms and the Environment"
- 23. Canadian Wildlife Federation, , 2007
- 24. Sierra Club of Canada, News Release, 23 June 2001
- 25. Parks Canada, Information Sheet: Newfoundland Marten, 20 June 2005
- 26. CrueltyisnotGreen.com, March 2008
- 27. HSUS, What is that they're wearing?, 1998
- 28. HSUS, Fur-Free Holidays – Without the Trimmings
- 29. API4ANIMALS, The Cruelty of Fur Trim
- 30. Statistics Canada Fur Statistics, 2004, vol.2, no.1
- 31. Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade, Reasons for Trapping
- 32. Statistics Canada Aboriginal Peoples of Canada: A Demographic Profile
- 33. Global Action Network, The Real Economics of Aboriginal Fur Trapping
- 34. Hollingsworth, Paul, Natives and the Fur Industry, The Peace Newsletter, October 1990
- 35. ibid.