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A Not So Adorable Truth: The International Fur Trade

Updated on March 15, 2013
Mink farm after 1900
Mink farm after 1900 | Source

Here We Go Again...An Introduction!

I guess I'm going to consider these little introductory capsules my "signature" (though I'm sure that many others do this, haha!)

In any case -- this is another cheery and optimistic article, woohoo! I guess I'm in that sort of mood.

The fur trade extends across the pond into international territories. A lot of misconceptions are centered around the fact that it is predominantly done in Asia and specifically China -- this is not true. The EU (European Union) is actually responsible for 63% of the global mink production and %70 of fox fur production. More facts to come -- but this gives you an idea of the scope of fur farms and their popularity across Europe, the United States, and Asia.

In reality, we are all responsible, at least in part, for the growth of the fur trade and the high demand for the fur that comes from them. Anyone that buys fur products (as little as there is on the actual clothing or accessory) is part of this vicious cycle.

That's not to say that I'm a huge animal activist (I care about them and love them, but I'm not involved in campaigns and protests etc), but this is something that really astounds me. There are a lot of industrial systems that are in place now that abuse animals and humans alike, and they are unfortunately kept running through the idea of supply in demand in an increasingly materialistic society. Large companies seek cheaper and quicker ways to produce the products they need, and this responsibility is known to fall to Asian countries like China and India, who get most of the bad press.

But truly, no one is solely at fault for any of these atrocities; the companies that sell fur products, the companies that support these companies, the designers that include fur in their concepts, the fur farm employees, and the customers are all part of the cyclical supply and demand nature of our commercial world.

This hub will be more informative than anything, but there might be a little opinion snuck in!

Most of the information will be about the various types of fur that are farmed, where they are farmed, how, and maybe even why. I'll provide hard factual evidence such as numbers and statistics, and the sources that I use will all be listed at the very end of this hub in the last capsule.

Some Facts, Some Lists, Some Stuff Like That

Fur Farming: "the practice of breeding r raising certain types of animals for their fur. Fur used from animals caught in the wild is not considered farmed fur, and is instead known as 'wild fur'".

The countries that farm and a few numbers to munch on:

-The EU (European Union) is responsible for 63% of global mink production.

-The EU is also responsible for 70% of global fox production.

-Denmark leads in the mink production and provides 28% of the world's production.

-Finland is the largest US supplier of fox pelts.

-The US contributes a large amount of fur skin exports.

-Exports to Asia increased from 22% to 47% between the years of 1998 to 2002.

-China is the largest importer of fur pelts, and therefore are the largest re-exporter of finished fur products.

-Fur farming is banned in: Austria, Croatia, and the UK.

-Switzerland's restrictions on the fur trade are so strict that there are no fur farms.

-Major producers of mink include: Denmark, China, the Netherlands, the Baltic States, and the US.

-Major export markets include: China, Russia, Canada, and the EU.

-Between 1980 and 1990 demand fell significantly due to lack of innovative designs and an increase in animal rights activists.

-The turn of the millennium caused a drastic increase in the fur industry because of improved techniques of working with fur.

-Demand increased the development of fur farming operations in China and Poland.

The Animals:

-Beavers, Chinchillas, Dogs and Cats, Foxes, Minks, Rabbits, Raccoons, Seals, and Bears.

-Animals I will discuss: Foxes, Minks, and Dogs/Cats.

The Enormity of the Industry:

-About 31 million animals are killed for their fur each year.

-26 million of these are mink.

-4.5 million are foxes.

-In Scandinavia, 80% of the fur industry is funded with fox farms.

What It Takes To Make A Coat:

-100 Chinchillas are required for one full length fur coat.

-60 female mink produce one coat, 35 male mink are required for one coat.

The Misery of History

Fur coats and fur-adorned clothing is nothing new. Here's a history of its development from the stone age to the luxury item it has become today.

Fur coats were originally worn to protect from cold weather. Animals were found and caught in the wild to be used for all of their resources including food and heat. As populations increased, the demand for insulation grew. Furs, leathers and hides were harvested from sheep, rabbits, cattle, and pigs. Mink fur was attained through breeding as early as 1860 in North America. Canadians were responsible for the first fox farms in 1896.

Fur is economically important for the US, as fur trappers opened up North America to explore. Beaver hats became a trend and commercial competition for the raw materials increased in the late 1900s, leading to the first resistance from animal rights activists against the farmers and the customers.

Despite accusations of animal cruelty, current numbers show that 80% of pelts for fur clothing are harvested from animals raised on farms. Others are animals caught in the wild. Mink are the most desirable at a current rate of 50 million annually, with a second place going to the 4 million foxes harvested per year. Northern Europe claims 64% of fur farms while North America is responsible for only 11%, with the remainder resting in Argentina and Russia among others.

Our Furry Little Friends in Frustrating Farms

Here I will present to you the three main animals that are bred and killed for their fur. This section might be graphic in my explanations and will include some information on the animal itself, where it is trapped in farms, and how fur farmers harvest their product as well as other misc facts.

Animals raised in fur farms are generally kept in enclosures far too small, living in their own waste. They are treated horribly with little medical assistance, lack of food and water, and a lack of compassion from their captors. These conditions often lead to mental illnesses and physical illnesses in these animals.

Mink: Also known as "marsh otters", minks are avid swimmers and often are around bodies of water. In the wild, mink are territorial and solitary creatures who are able to travel long distances. They often use other animals' dens as "pit stops", and prefer habitats that offer good natural cover that keeps them well hidden.

In fur farms: Mink do not adjust well to cages. They often are kept in cages that are, on average, 10x24 inches. Psychologically, mink in these situations often display neurotic behavioral patterns that include moving back in forth for hours on end and biting their own tails as a form of self-mutilation.

Mink are killed after their winter coats reach their prime, which allows fur farmers to harvest fur that hides flaws caused by self-harm and other medical issues. As many as 17% of mink raised in a farm will die prematurely because of stress, a dirty environment, overheating, or cannibalism.

The growing demand for unique fashion trends has led breeders to practice methods of inbreeding in attempts to develop more unique colors such as white, gray, mahogany and shades of blue. This inbreeding obviously causes health issues with the offspring of the two mink, and the genetic manipulations cause physiological problems such as loss of hearing after 30 days of life, a "screw neck" which causes mink to twist their head and neck awkwardly on a regular basis, and weakened immune systems.

Female mink are bred once a year with an average litter of 3-4 kits. The best of the best are chosen for the next year's breeding stock and the rest are harvested for their fur. When a mink outlives its use, they are usually killed by gas or poison, with many of them suffering from having their necks broken.

Foxes: Foxes are intelligent animals that often are active at night. Their tails spread scents as a form of communication, and their main diet consists of berries, fruits, roots, carrion, rats, and slugs. They are ecologically important because of their ability to "clean" the environment. Their survival is often dependent on their ability to find food in their designated territories; they bury their food to protect it. Their hearing and sense of smell are beneficial to them in picking up the sounds of small animals and hunting at night.

In fur farms: Finland leads in fox pelt production while the US is responsible for about 10,000 pelts per year in about 10 states. Canada produces about 15 times more than the US.

The main issue the foxes have in confined conditions is cannibalism. Because they are stressed from their cramped living situation, they are known to turn to cannibalism as a result of this environment. An entire 20% of foxes raised on farms die prematurely, with half of those deaths being a result of cannibalism.

Foxes who aren't born in fur farms are often caught in violent ways; steel-jaw traps are used to ensnare them and crush their legs while they await trappers who commonly beat them to death ove a period of hours or days. Some are even hunted down by starving hunting dogs as a sort of sport. Dogs that catch a fox are free to rip their catch apart from limb to limb.

Dogs/Cats: Much of the dog and cat fur trade exists in China and are well-hidden. PETA recently discovered these farms and found their conditions truly appalling. In the US, the import, export and sale of dog and cat fur products were banned in 2000. Italy, France, Denmark, Greece, Belgium and Australia have banned the import of domesticated cats and dogs but the sale of these furs is not yet entirely illegal. The EU put a ban on imports in 2009, but some products still slip through the cracks.

In fur farms: Dogs and cats raised on fur farms are frequently abused through bludgeoning, hanging, bleeding to death, and strangling with the assistance of wireless nooses. These methods allow fur traders to turn their fur into trinkets and trim.

Often fur from these farms is mislabeled as other species and exported to unsuspecting companies and consumers. Nearly half of the final fur garments in China are imported into the US.

A Better Look at the Dismal Dens

In my above capsule I outlined what each of the three animals go through when they grow up in fur farms to be killed, bred, or harvested. There are umbrella conditions that apply to almost every fur farm in the world, however, that give a better visual insight (no matter how undesirable the results may be...) of the exact conditions that all of the animals subjected to the fur trade experience.

Much of the abuse of these animals occurs for the sake of cutting costs, maximizing space, and ease of mass "care" or maintenance.

Animals are most commonly kept in wire cages, among thousands of other animals of either the same breed or a collection of different animals. These wire cages were their entire lives, 24/7. Some animals are raised for food, and fur farms use methods that increase profits with no consideration for the condition and well-being of the animals being used.

Cutting cost is a major concern. To do this, animals are put into cages far too small for their needs. Often, their living area prevents them from taking more than a few steps, if they have room to move at all. This prevents any of their natural roaming or moving instincts, and these conditions often cause anguish and frustration for the caged animals. Many animals self-mutilate, pace and circle for days on end and cannibalize as a result of the stress of their living conditions.

Photographs of fur farms often look similar; rows upon rows of cages are smashed together in dark and dirty shed. Ammonia from the animal's waste (urine and feces) circulates throughout their living space and can often lead to the burning of eyes and lungs. Sometimes animals are even lined up outside, with little to no protection from the winter cold, the spring downpours, or the summer heat.

Parasites and disease are also common in either of these living conditions, and often their only source of food is a meet by-product that is unsuitable even for human consumption. Water is offered to them via the nipple system which is likely to freeze during the winter or fail because of a farmer's mistakes.

Slaughter is not, by any means, a relief to these animals who would probably prefer to be dead given their situation. In order to preserve the integrity of their valuable fur, farmers have creatively perfected methods of murdering these animals that protects their commodity. Animals are often electrocuted by having a clamp or rod pushed into their mouth or anus. There is also genital electrocution, which often causes cardiac arrest on conscious animals. Some animals are slammed across the ground several times to weaken them or knock them unconscious. Others, like foxes, have their necks stepped on in order to either weaken them or strangle them to death. Kittens are put in large metal cages 20-30 at a time and tossed carelessly onto concrete surfaces from extreme heights, causing bones to break and rendering them immobile. Some animals are poisoned with strychnine. This suffocates the animals by paralyzing their muscles, causing painful and rigid cramps. Animals also have their necks snapped as a relatively common method.

The worst is animals being skinned alive; though for the most part they are hurt in a way that prevents them from remaining conscious and thus able to struggle, they sometimes awake during the procedure and fight for their life as a farmer peels the skin off of them from foot to head. The skinned animals are then tossed in piles, where some of them can live for several minutes without their skin before perishing.

Legal Logistics

As the fur trade has become more and more a commodity and less and less a necessity, laws have been implemented to prevent the cruelty to animals. It is arguable, however, that not nearly enough restrictions are put on the fur trade by countries ranging from the US to the EU.

The US: The Lacey Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Fur Seal Act, and the Endangered Species Act only protect animals in the wild and do not apply to animals living in fur farms or in captivity. The Fur Products Labeling Act mandates an accurate labeling of fur garments. The Dog and Cat Fur Protection Act makes the dog and cat fur trade illegal in the US because of the fur farms in China focused on cats and dogs.

Each state has their own laws as well. Many have rules against trapping animals including a license requirement and trapping only in hunting season. Some even prevent specific trapping mechanisms. Most of these animal rights laws do not retain to the fur trade. There are only a few states that require a license to own a fur farm, and some states designate fur farm animals to be raised by conditions regulated through the Department of Agriculture. Anti-cruelty statutes are also in effect that apply to all animals but there are loopholes pertaining to hunting and wildlife animals used for farming purposes. Some states have gone so far as to enforce the federal laws by invoking their own labeling and cat dog fur laws.

Internationally: International restrictions range from nonexistent to incredibly strict. China has little to no restrictions applying to the animal fur trade. Austria, the UK and Croatia have strict bans against fur farms and the Netherlands have a ban on harvesting chinchillas and foxes. New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden also maintain strict regulations. 60 or more countries have banned specific trapping mechanisms and some have labeling laws similar to the US. Israel has a pending bill whose purpose it is to outlaw the importation, exportation, and sale of fur inside the country lines.

Despite all of these regulations and bans, there is a hue market for the illegal fur trade. Tigers are especially lucrative in Asia. CITES, an international agreement between 175 or more nations, is working to protect endangered and threatened species. Despite this, China still has tiger farms; other countries are working to eliminate poaching and are attempting to increase law enforcement.

The UK: UK mink farmers who faced daily protests of their processes agreed to shut down their farming. Their request? Compensation in England and Wales in the year 2000. However, another look over the ban, the ban in England and Wales was justified by public morality because of the lack of supporting evidence on banning the farming on human grounds. Before the ban took effect, there were 11 fur farms in the UK. Collectively they harvested 100,000 pelts per year. Scotland closed their last fur farm in 1993, and they officially banned fur farming in 2002 (for safe measure). Despite all of this, rabbits and sheep used for their meat and pelts remained legal despite animal rights campaigns that are trying to make these trades illegal as well.

Austria: 6 out of the 9 federal states of Austria have effectively banned fur farming and the other three carry out incredibly strict regulations that make fur farming no longer a profitable investment.

Republic of Ireland: Ireland has around 5 fur farms in operation. Most of these farms concentrate on mink fur, though some use fox fur despite the fact that it is becoming less and less economically advantageous. 170,000 mink and 300 foxes were harvested in 2006, and exported to the EU, Asia and even North America. Farms are monitored by the Department of Agriculture and conditions are held at strict standards at all times. 2009 sparked a discussion in the political community surrounding the banning of fur farms in Ireland. Animal welfare groups understandably supported this idea, but the economic impact on rural areas that had little else to run to for industry caused doubt. It is thus still in effect, and the Republic of Ireland offers approximately 3.1 million euros per year to the economy.

China: SFA, The State Forestry Administration, offers training courses for fur farmers. In 2009 legislation was drafted to prevent the cruel treatment of animals in China in hopes of regulating how farm animals would be raised, transported, and killed. The Swiss Animal Protection accused the Chinese of skinning animals alive in 2005, and offered up a video as evidence. The European fur industry was shocked, but the Swiss animal rights group's refusal to show the unedited video raised suspicions on its legitimacy. It was decided that such documentation could not have been fabricated, however, despite the lack of an unedited version. The China Fur Commission along with the China Leather Industry Association challenged the validity of the video as well, and government figures in Suning County, Heibi Province provided a statement giving an outline of the welfare practices performed in the fur farms. They called the skinning of animals alive "unimaginable" and urged the Swiss Animal Protection Organization to "respect the truth".

To Summarize: PETA's Factsheet

In case you don't want to read this entire article, here's an extended summary of the conditions of fur farms and the treatment of the animals contained in them. These come directly from the PETA website at

1. Farms can hold thousands of animals in an attempt to maximize profits; this is true world-wide.

2. 58% of mink farms work out of Europe, 10% from North America, and the rest from around the world including China, Russia, and Argentina.

3. Mink farmers breed their animals once a year. Each litter has 3-4 surviving kits who are killed at 6 months old while those kept for breeding purposes live for 4-5 years.

4. Animals suffer from fear, stress, disease, parasites, and other physical/psychological difficulties as a result of their unbearably small cages for the benefit of the industry.

5. The UN reports that around 1 billion rabbits are killed per year for their fur. This is used in clothing and lures for flyfishing, or even trim on craft items.

6. Animals on farms are put into small cages which prevent them from moving past a few steps back and forth. This is especially distressing to the mink, who are solitary and active creatures.

7. Cage life leads to anguish and frustration that often leads to self-mutilation, and endless pacing.

8. Raccoons, foxes and other animals are not let off easy; they often cannibalize cagemates due to their confined living conditions.

9. Slaughter methods are tailored towards the preservation of fur though the killing. This means that animals are electrocuted either in their mouth/anus or their genitals. Some animals are hit on the ground, strangled with wire, or bludgeoned to unconsciousness. Others are stepped on in efforts to either disable or kill them, while still others are boiled alive. Some farms even go so far as to skin their animals while they are alive and conscious.

10. PETA's 2005 undercover investigation unveiled living conditions including small cages with visibly stressed and exhausted animals in the Southern China market. Animals were not given food or water for days and often were stuffed into cages with so many other animals that they couldn't even more. Horrid conditions as a result of lack of care and cross-country transport led to dead cats stacked on cages and dying cats and dogs stuffed inside them. Many animals had open wounds, were lethargic, or violent towards each other due to their confinement and exposure to the elements.

11. Around 8,000 animals are loaded onto every truck with cages on top of one another. Live animals were tossed from the top of the trucks in their confined, thin wire cages. This often shattered the legs of the animals. Some of the animals in cages were still wearing their collars, evident of their previous life as a house pet before they were stolen and beaten. Cats and dogs were often bludgeoned, hanged, or bled to death. Strangling was done with wire nooses to prevent damage to the fur that would soon become coats.

12. Swiss Animal Protection/EAST International unveiled the conditions of other animals in the Hebei Province of China. Foxes, mink, rabbits and others were discovered pacing and shivering in outdoor cages that were unprotected from the sweltering summer heat and the frigid winters and spring downpours.

13. Results of these conditions involved disease and injury, psychosis, self-mutilation and throwing bodies against cage walls.

14. Fur is not biodegradable due to the chemical treatment applied to the fur to prevent rotting. This also can contaminate water supplies.

15. Mink produce around 44 lbs of feces each. In 2006 the US skinned 2.86 million mink, resulting in almost 1,000 tons of phosphorus. This can result in damage to water ecosystems.

And finally! The Sources, Revealed

These are both sources that I used and that I had open. If I didn't use them, I would suggest you look at them if you are looking to expand your knowledge.

PETA has an extensive amount of information on the subject and how you can help prevent the fur trade from expanding. If you're interested in this at all, I suggest you take a look around their website and others like it to find out more about how you can contribute and donate your time and passion.


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