Fur used from animals caught in the wild is not considered farmed fur, and is instead known as 'wild fur'. Most of the world’s farmed fur is produced by European farmers. There are 6,000 fur farms in the EU. The EU accounts for 63% of global mink production and 70% of fox production. Denmark is the leading mink-producing country, accounting for approximately 28% of world production. Other major producers include China, the Netherlands, the Baltic states, and the U.S. Finland is the largest United States supplier of fox pelts. The United States is a major exporter of furskins. Major export markets include China, Russia, Canada, and the EU. Exports to Asia as a share of total exports grew from 22% in 1998 to 47% in 2002. China is the largest importer of fur pelts in the world and the largest exporter of finished fur products.
Fur farming is banned in Austria, Croatia (started on 1 January 2007, with a 10-year phase out period), and the United Kingdom. In Switzerland, the regulations for fur farming are very strict, with the result that there are no fur farms. Some other countries have a ban on fur farming of certain types of animals.
Demand fell in the late 1980s and 1990s because of a number of factors, including the failure of designers to come up with exciting new lines, and also the efforts of animal rights campaigners. Since the turn of the millennium, however, sales worldwide have soared to record highs, fueled by radically new techniques for working with fur, and a sharp rise in disposable income in China and Russia. This growing demand has led to the development of extensive fur farming operations in China and Poland.
While wearing fur clothing in cold weather as protection goes back to the stone age, the source for this material came from the wild. As human populations grew, furs, leathers, and hides for use in clothing came from farm stock, such as sheep (sheepskin), rabbits, cattle, pigs, and goats. The earliest records of breeding mink for fur in North America were in the 1860s. Foxes were first raised on farms for fur in Prince Edward Island in Canada in 1895.
Historically, the fur trade played an important economic role in the United States. Fur trappers explored and opened up large parts of North America, and the fashion for beaver hats led to intense competition for the raw materials. Starting in the latter half of the 20th century, producers and wearers of fur have been criticized by animal rights activists because of the perceived cruelty they believe is involved in animal trapping and because of the availability of substitutes such as synthetic fibers (made from petroleum oil).
Today, 80 percent of the fur clothing industry's pelts come from animals raised on farms. The rest is from animals caught in the wild. The most farmed fur-bearing animal is the mink (50 million annually), followed by the fox (about 4 million annually). Asiatic and Finnish raccoon and chinchilla are also farmed for their fur. 64 percent of fur farms are in Northern Europe, 11 percent are in North America, and the rest are dispersed throughout the world, in countries such as Argentina and Russia.
Mink have been farmed for fur in the United States for 130 years. In 2010, the U.S. ranked fifth in production behind Denmark, China, the Netherlands, and Poland. Mink typically breed in March, and give birth to their litters in May. Farmers vaccinate the young kits for botulism, distemper, enteritis, and, if needed, pneumonia. They are killed in November and December. Methods for euthanizing animals on fur farms, as on all farms, are detailed in the American Veterinary Medical Association's Report on Euthanasia which is used as a guideline for state departments of agriculture which have jurisdiction over all farms raising domesticated livestock, including mink.
Mink are bred once a year; the average litter is three or four kits. The best animals are kept for breeding stock for the next year, and the remainder are harvested.
The white mink, a northern European breed, was introduced into Canada in 1968. Most mink production in Canada occurs in Nova Scotia which, with 120 farms in 2012, generated revenues of nearly $150 million (includes foxes) and accounted for one quarter of all agricultural production in the Province. Production of black mink in particular has grown significantly since 2000, with emerging markets in Russia, China, and South Korea accounting for most of the new demand. Black mink was first bred in Nova Scotia in the late 1950s and has proven popular as a versatile colour. Most Nova Scotia product is sold in China where it is manufactured into luxury garments. About 1.4 million pelts were produced in Nova Scotia in 2012.
The international trade in chinchilla fur goes back to the 16th century and the animal (whose name literally means "Little Chincha") is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who wore its soft, dense fur. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare. In 1923, Mathias F. Chapman brought the eleven wild chinchillas he had captured to the U.S. for breeding. Only three of these were female. Empress Chinchilla is the breeders association for the chinchilla farmers, many of whom are based in the United States, including California. Empress Chinchilla runs a certification program for farmers.
Finland is the world's leading producer of fox pelts. In the USA, fox production is about 10,000 pelts, produced in about 10 states. Wisconsin and Utah have the most mink farms in the USA. Canada produces ten to fifteen times as many fox furs as the USA.
Dog and cat
The USA banned the import, export, and sale of products made from dog and cat fur in 2000. Italy, France, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, and Australia ban the import of domestic cat and dog fur but the sale is still quasi-legal,. In most countries, novelty items made from farmed cat and dog fur is available in the form of animal toys or as trim on garments like boots, jackets and handbags. The European Union ban on imports took effect as of 1 January 2009.
The main breed in the rabbit fur farming industry is the Rex (Castor Rex and Chinchilla Rex). Breeding animals are kept for up to 3 years, and usually give birth twice a year. The kits are taken from their mothers at 4 weeks old and put in a nursery with other kits. After this the mothers are kept separated from their kits, and they get put together only for feeding. When the kits are 7 to 8 weeks old, they are put in solitary cages, where they are kept for about 6–7 months, and are harvested after they have shed their winter fur. The rabbits are kept in bare wire mesh cages. A cage for one rabbit has the floor space of about two shoe boxes. The mortality rate for caged Rex is 10 – 15%, mostly from respiratory disease. Another breed of rabbit, is the Orylag, which is farmed only in France. The Orylag is bred for fur and meat. They are slaughtered at about 20 weeks. It was bred by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA). The mortality rate for caged Orylag is 25 – 30%, mostly from respiratory disease. Broken bones and traumatic lesions are common when rabbits are transported to the slaughter. A small percentage are also dead on arrival, often due to the rabbits being tightly packed in, with poor ventilation.
Fur farms dispose of their dead animals as economically as possible. The meat from most fur-bearers is not usually eaten by humans, therefore the carcasses will go on to become various products such as pet food, animal feed, organic compost, fertilizer, paint, and even tires. Carcasses sometimes go to animal sanctuaries, zoos, and aquariums to feed animals, and some end up as crab bait. Mink feces are used as organic crop fertiliser, and mink fat is turned into oil to manufacture soap, face oils, cosmetics, and leather preservatives.
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As with other types of animal farming, living conditions of animals vary, and the extreme cases are ones of much contention. According to PETA, the majority of fur farmers pack animals into small cages, preventing them from taking more than a few steps back and forth. PETA claims foxes and other animals suffer equally[clarification needed], and may even cannibalize each other as a reaction to their crowded confinement. In other cases, as with passing of animal welfare legislation in Italy, animals are required to be given enriched living environments in which they can climb on branches, dig holes, use a nest of 50 × 50 cm and also have a water basin of at least 2 × 2 metres and 50 cm deep in which to swim. Farmers argue that 50 years ago, the animals were kept in large outdoor holding areas, with pools of water. However, such farms resulted in high disease rates for the animals and were not practical. Farmers claim that today's farmed animals only know farm life as they have been domesticated through over hundred years of selective breeding. The methods used for euthanizing the animals on farms and in the wild vary depending on the animal. For farmed mink, the American Veterinary Medical Association researches the best methods and publishes a report on the subject every 7 to 10 years. This report is used to guide state departments of agriculture which have jurisdiction over farm animals, including farm-raised mink. For those harvesting wild furs, biologists and wildlife managers dictate seasons, methods of harvesting, and numbers of animals to be harvested.
After UK mink farmers were subjected to almost daily protests, they agreed to shut down their farming in exchange for compensation in England and Wales in 2000. At second reading, the ban in England and Wales was justified principally on grounds of public morality. Prior to the ban, there had been 11 fur farms in the UK producing about 100,000 pelts annually. Although the last fur farm in Scotland had closed in 1993, the Scottish Parliament nevertheless banned fur farming in 2002.
In Austria, six of the nine federal states have banned fur farming, and the remaining three enforce such strict welfare regulations, in relation to the availability of swimming water, that fur farming is no longer economically viable.
Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland there are currently five fur farms in operation. These farms focus mainly on the trade of mink fur (some farms which have used fox fur are currently winding down operation as such trade is no longer economically viable). In 2006, approximately 170,000 mink and 300 foxes were harvested in the Republic of Ireland. Furs are exported from the Republic of Ireland to other EU member states or to countries in Asia and North America. In the Republic of Ireland, fur farms are monitored by the Department of Agriculture, and welfare standards of Ireland and the European Union must be adhered to at all times. In October 2009, there were discussions within the political sphere on the banning of fur farms in the Republic of Ireland. Animal welfare groups have welcomed such proposals, though concern has been highlighted, in terms of its impact on rural communities where alternative industries are scarce. Fur farming in the Republic of Ireland contributes about €3.1 million per year to the economy.
Fur farming of chinchillas and foxes is banned. Legislation to phase out mink fur farming (and thereby effectively all fur farming) by 2024 was approved by the end of 2012.
The State Forestry Administration (SFA) is set to offer training courses for fur farmers. Legislation was drafted in September 2009 to address any cruelty to animals in China. If passed, the legislation would regulate how farm animals are raised, transported, and slaughtered. In 2005, animals right group The Swiss Animal Protection accused the Chinese of skinning fur-bearing animals including the "Asiatic raccoon" (raccoon dog) while still alive, and produced a controversial video on the subject. The China Fur Commission and China Leather Industry Association challenged the authenticity of the video, stating: "Pictures showing animals being skinned alive are obviously plotted. All those with common sense would not choose this slaughter method to attain fur." The government of Suning County, Hebei Province also issued a statement, outlining welfare practices it claimed to practice on its fur farms and calling the alleged practice of skinning animals alive "unimaginable."  Swiss Animal Protection later published a video showing the live skinning of raccoon dogs and other canines. The video shows raccoon dogs being beaten with sticks and thrown against the ground in an attempt to stun them before being hung from their rear legs and skinned alive. In another film a worker begins to cut the skin and fur from an animal's leg. The animal is still alive breathing and kicking. The free limbs kick and writhe making it difficult for the worker to cut the skin from the animal's body. The worker stamps on the animal's neck and head. One investigator filmed a raccoon dog being skinned alive before being thrown onto a heap of carcasses. After the skinning the animal still had enough strength to lift it's bloodied head and stare into the camera. (warning graphic content) Several local Chinese animal welfare groups have reported these cruel practices as commonplace.
Finnish citizens have human right for the parliamentarian law initiatives since 2012. The first citizens' initiative to gain enough signatures was the ban of fur farming. Some 70,000 citizens signed it within the required time period in 2013. 400–500 people appealed to MPs to approve the citizens' initiative to ban fur farming in a march to Parliament House, Helsinki on 18 June. According to animal expert MSc Sesse Koivisto (wife of Ilkka Koivisto exdirector of the zoo Korkeasaari) in HS in 2010 fur farming does not provide acceptable conditions for the animals. In order to stop the suffering of animals, she demanded in Helsingin Sanomat to progress to banning the farming like the other countries have done. The Finnish Parliament rejected the first citizens' initiative to ban fur farming on 19 June 2013. Positive development in the politics of Finland was that the initiative was taken in the Parliament for public voting.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fur farming.|
- Fur is Green – Fur Council of Canada
- A Brief History of the Fur Trade – White Oak Society
- The Fur Industry – MSN Encarta (another archive)
- Ernest Ingersoll (1920). "Fur-Bearing Animals, Cultivation of". Encyclopedia Americana.