In this guide, we outline how ethical, sustainable, eco friendly & animal friendly real fur might be.
Summary – Is Real Fur Ethical, Sustainable, Eco Friendly & Animal Friendly?
Real fur comes from the natural fur of animals, so, if you believe that no animal products or by products should be used to make fur, fur is not ethical or animal friendly.
Also in regards to animal friendliness – fur is obtained mainly through fur farms, but, can also be obtained from animals that have been caught or trapped out in the wild.
Some animal farms in some parts of the world are subject to regulations that ensure humane operations and have animal welfare standards in place, but, other parts of the world don’t, and the farming and slaughtering of animals can raise several severe animal welfare issues.
There’s also the question of how much pain and suffering trapping causes animals that are caught in the wild.
The eco friendliness of fur can be assessed across three main areas:
Farming – the farming of animals is a form of animal agriculture. There’s the growing of animal feed (which needs fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc), and also the waste and environmental footprint of farming animals to consider (water, carbon footprint, and so on)
Production stage – fur has to processed, where chemicals are used for tanning, dying, dressing, finishing and so on. There’s also the dumping of waste water containing these chemicals to consider.
Waste stage – fur is generally a recyclable material
Some farms might commit to more sustainable farming practices, and might use closed loop processing and use naturally derived chemicals like vegetable dyes at the production stage, but there currently isn’t a widely recognised certification for either of these things.
Some argue that fur involves the use of natural and renewable resources, fur products last a long time, and fur is ultimately recyclable.
Others argue that no animal derived process is sustainable due to animal welfare concerns, and that agriculture and production of fur have significant environmental sustainability concerns.
Overall Ethics Of Fur
Some people argue that fur is an essential material, as the number one reason (according to some surveys and consumer data) consumers buy fur for is for warmth. They might also argue that fur employs a lot of people, and the regulations and animal welfare requirements in place in some countries (like the US) are adequate to the point that animals are comfortable in the farming stage, and animals are killed via methods that are instantaneous and involve no pain.
Furthermore, some animals hunted or trapped in the wild for their fur can be a pest species or be overpopulated, so, it may be beneficial to other species and the environment to control numbers. Similar to leather, it’s also possible that fur might be supplied in some regions by local indigenous and other communities, and goes towards supporting conservation, sustainability and employment in the area.
But, others argue that fur is mainly a non essential fibre used for fashion items. Even if it is purchased for warmth, there are other alternatives and substitutes available such as faux fur, and many other natural and warm fibre materials that don’t come from animals, or involve animal welfare issues.
Where Does Fur Most Commonly Come From?
Fur farms and fur ranches produce most of the world’s fur, whilst the remaining fur comes from the wild and trapping animals.
Europe produces most of the world’s farmed fur.
- More than 80% of pelts used today in the global fur trade comes from farms.
- Furs taken from the wild are still very important, accounting for almost 20% of all furs used.
- The world’s largest producers of wild furs are Canada and the US, and almost half of all pelts produced in North America today are still from the wild.
- More than half of the world’s fur supply comes from fur ranches, where fur-bearing animals are raised in pens.
- The rest of the fur comes from trapping wild animals.
- The majority of fur is obtained from animals raised on fur farms because it is easier to ensure that these animals, through strict diets and breeding, will have a high-quality pelt.
- Mink and fox are the two most common animals that are bred for their fur.
- While fur farms used to be prevalent in the U.S., now China holds an increasingly large part of the market.
- Around 15% of fur is sourced [from trapping] – mainly from beaver, coyote, muskrat and raccoon from Canada, the USA and Russia.
- … attempts at ‘ethical’ fur include fur garments made from roadkill, and from exotic pest control programs such as possum culling in New Zealand.
- Most of the world’s farmed fur is produced by European farmers.
- There are 5,000 fur farms in the EU, all located across 22 countries; these areas of production collectively account for 50% of the global production of farmed fur.
- The EU accounts for 63% of global mink production and 70% of fox production
- 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
What Animals Are Most Commonly Used For Their Fur?
It depends on the country, and also the type of fur (regular fur, or luxury fur for example).
- The most farmed fur-bearing animal is the mink (50 million annually), followed by the fox (about 4 million annually).
- The most popular natural furs used for clothing include beaver, fox, mink, muskrat, and raccoon.
- Chinchilla, mink, Persian lamb, and sable are among the most fashionable and most expensive furs.
- North American farms produce very high-quality mink and fox, while other regions farm a variety of species, including mink, fox, chinchilla, Asiatic raccoon, Rex rabbit, and karakul sheep (also known as Persian lamb, or Swakara).
- Furs taken from the wild include a wide range of species …
- Common animal sources for fur clothing and fur trimmed accessories include fox, rabbit, mink, raccoon, dogs, muskrat, beaver, stoat (ermine), otter, sable, seals, cats, dogs, coyotes, wolves, chinchilla, and opossum and common brushtail possum.
Are Animals Farmed Only For Their Fur?
Fur is usually the primary product at fur farms, but there can also be secondary products that come from the animals being farmed.
One example is mink … apart from fur, the mink body is used for:
- Mink oil (from the fat) is used in a range of products
- The remains of the body can be used as crab bait, or processed down for wild life feed. It can also be used for organic compost, pet food, paint and car tyre products
- The manure can be used for organic crop fertilizer
What Are The Current Laws & Regulations Regarding Fur?
Some countries and regions of the world have regulations and standards in place for farming and animal welfare – how much space animals have to have on farm, feed and water standards, health standards, humane slaughter practices, and so on.
But, in some countries and regions there are either no regulations and standards, few regulations and standards, or regulations and standards are poorly followed and enforced. This is where animal welfare issues might occur.
So, laws, regulations, and standards regarding fur, fur farms, and wild caught fur differ worldwide.
Some current laws and regulations worldwide when it comes to fur are:
- There are very few U.S. federal statutes concerning fur animals (although … the U.S. has a Fur Products Labeling Act, which mandates that garments containing fur be properly labeled, and it has a Dog and Cat Fur Protection Act, which prohibits dog and cat fur trade in the U.S)
- China has virtually no regulations to protect fur animals – China is where a lot of animal rights and welfare groups have placed their attention – specifically the killing of and cruelty towards farmed animals
- A few countries have strictly regulated or completely banned fur farms, (Austria, the United Kingdom, and Croatia have bans, the Netherlands has a ban on fox and chinchilla farming, and New Zealand, Sweden, and Switzerland have strict regulations),
- Over 60 countries have banned certain types of animal traps, and some countries have fur labeling laws.
- Israel has a bill pending which would outlaw the importation, exportation, and sale of fur within its country lines.
Specifically in the US for Mink farming:
- Like other livestock operations, fur farming is governed by local, national and sometimes international regulations.
- As with all livestock producers, fur farmers receive information and assistance from licensed veterinarians and agricultural extension officers, as well as professional associations.
- In addition, fur breeders’ associations in all major producing countries follow comprehensive animal husbandry practices developed in cooperation with scientists, veterinarians and welfare authorities. There are set standards for nutrition and housing, veterinary care and humane harvesting.
- In the U.S., standards for mink farms are administered by Fur Commission USA, and for fox by the US Fox Shippers Council. In addition to these standards, fur farms, like other livestock operations, are required to abide by all state and federal environmental statutes.
animallaw.info provides a good summary of some of the laws and regulations in the US, and international fur trade issues. It notes that in the future ‘China’s increasing market share and its lack of regulatory oversight (resulting in alleged cruel slaughter methods and the use of dog and cat fur), have the potential to change the fur industry landscape’.
‘Humane’ Mink Farms
Some people don’t believe animals should be farmed at all. But, some people believe it can be OK as long as animals are farmed in a humane and responsible way.
But, some mink farms are subjectively described by mink farmers as ‘humane’ or ‘ethical’.
Using mink as one example, some farms are committed to raising their Mink in ‘comfortable and humane conditions’. They provide evidence via video content and on their website of the conditions their Mink live in on their farms, what they eat, how they ensure their health, and how they manage slaughtering – all in a humane way.
Consumers might want some type of traceability guarantee on their fur though to guarantee their fur was sourced from these types of farms. There doesn’t appear to be a widely recognised certification for this yet.
- When it comes to euthanasia, fur farmers adhere strictly to the methods recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Thus the only method of euthanasia approved for mink harvesting in the U.S. is gas: either pure carbon monoxide (CO), or carbon dioxide (CO2).
- When harvest time comes, a mobile unit is brought to the animals’ pens to eliminate any stress that might be caused by transporting the animals long distances. The animals are placed inside an air-tight container and immediately rendered unconscious. They die quickly and humanely.
Potential Animal Welfare Issues With Fur
There might be animal welfare issues in the following areas:
On farms – including congestion and amount of space animals have to sleep and exercise/move, invasive and painful farming procedures, lack of health care, live transport and export, painful or prolonged slaughtering methods
Animals caught in the wild – trapping, beating/bludgeoning
Some sources indicate that some of these animal welfare issues can be reduced if:
A fur substitute is used
Fur farms use responsible, humane and a safe standard of farming practices on their farms – with a zero pain and suffering standard
Hunting and trapping is as humane as possible, and is for the purposes of conservation and protecting the local environment and other species from overpopulation, and other environmental issues
- Animals are either trapped in the wild, or bred in fur farms
- There is pain and suffering involved in trapping for the animals
- Animals on farms are confined to dirty, small cages
- Killing methods can include suffocation, electrocution, gassing and poisoning, or getting bludgeoned, hanged, and bled to death + other methods of inflicting death and suffering. This is only to name a few
- Animals can be skinned alive for their fur
- There’s controversy over how animals are trapped, and how cruelty free it actually is (despite other claims by those who support the fur industry)
- Some of the most graphic investigations and exposés have come from brutalities found on fur farms
– peta.org.au, wikipedia.org
- Animal rights advocates object to the trapping and killing of wildlife, and to the confinement and killing of animals on fur farms due to concerns about the animals suffering and death.
- … the traps used to hunt wild animals have a history of ensnaring “non target” animals like domestic dogs, cats, birds and small mammals
Attempts At Increased Animal Welfare In Fur Industry
- In an attempt to reassure consumers about its treatment of animals, the fur industry launched the voluntary Fur Europe scheme in 2016.
- It aims to regulate fur farms across Europe and improve animal living conditions through what it terms ‘Welfur’ assessments.
- The scheme looks at cage size, location, food and overall treatment of the animals.
Environmental Impact Of The Fur Industry
Environmental issues resulting from the production and use of fur might include:
Farming – resources and chemicals used to grow animal feed, resources and waste that comes from raising animals and farms (and slaughterhouses), footprint that comes from agriculture (water, carbon, land, and so on)
Production and processing of fur – tanning, dressing, dying, finishing and the associated heavy chemicals involved. Waste water that is dumped untreated into the environment from tanneries and other production facilities. There’s also the potential human health issues caused by exposure to heavy chemicals in the production process.
Some farms do make an effort to engage in environmentally responsible and sustainable/organic farming practices, and some production facilities use closed loop processing where they capture and re-use harmful chemicals, treat waste water, or try to use naturally derived chemicals and dyes where possible.
- Fur requires complex processing and chemical treatments to manufacture.
- Animal skin will decompose and rot unless it is treated with toxic chemicals, such as chromium and formaldehyde. These pose a risk to waterways as well as the workers who handle them.
- The land, feed and water consumption of the animals also produce carbon emissions. In fact, the climate change impact of 1kg of mink fur is five times higher than that of wool, the best-scoring textile in a life cycle assessment conducted by the independent research organisation, CE Delft.
- To prevent fur clothing from decomposing, the fur item is treated with chemicals – which is bad for the environment when it is discharged in waste water, and certain chemicals can also be exposed to humans (harming health)
- Fur clothing also requires energy and resources to make (almost 15 times more energy than faux fur)
– peta.org.au, wikipedia.org
- Anti-fur advocates agree that synthetics [faux fur] are a less-than-ideal substitute, but they point to environmental hazards in the fur manufacturing process — the CO2 emissions associated with keeping and feeding tens of thousands of mink on a single farm, manure runoff into nearby lakes and rivers, the formaldehyde, nonylphenol ethoxylates and other toxic chemicals used in fur dressing and dyeing — as evidence that the alternative is even worse.
Processing Of Fur – Also A Health Risk For Humans
Some of the potential human health issues associated with fur processing might include:
- Animal skin will decompose and rot unless it is treated with toxic chemicals, such as chromium and formaldehyde.
- These pose a risk to waterways as well as the workers who handle them.
- Depending on the type of fur and its purpose, some of the chemicals involved in fur processing may include table salts, alum salts, acids, soda ash, sawdust, cornstarch, lanolin, degreasers and, less commonly, bleaches, dyes and toners (for dyed fur).
- The chemical treatment of fur to increase its felting quality is known as carroting, as the process tends to turn the tips of the fur a carrot orange color.
- Workers exposed to fur dust created during fur processing have been shown to have reduced pulmonary function in direct proportion to their length of exposure.
- Fake fur (or “faux fur”) designates any synthetic material that attempts to mimic the appearance and feel of real fur.
Mislabelling Of Fur and Faux Fur
When fur is mislabelled, the consumer doesn’t know where the fur came from, how it was made, and so on.
- Pelts [can be] deliberately mislabeled in China and sold overseas to the US as something else i.e. real fur shipped to the US and labelled as faux fur or something else
- Real domestic animal furs have even been found in products that were sold as fake fur in the UK.
Comparing The Leather & Fur Industries
goodonyou.eco compares leather to fur:
- PETA argues that leather production is just as violent, painful, and deadly as the fur trade.
- The environmental impact of leather is arguably worse too. … [some have pointed out] the toxic leather tanning industry in Bangladesh that puts workers and children in danger.
- The sheer scale of the leather industry compared with fur is a environmental and health disaster for the communities that produce the material.
- … [some say] an ethical consumer motivated by the interests of animals would not consider purchasing any new product made from fur [regardless of how it compared to leather].
- Some argue fur is more sustainable because it can last a long time
Demand For Real Fur Is Much Higher Than Faux Fur
One of the perceived problems with faux fur is that demand is lagging far behind real fur.
So, either consumer awareness about faux fur is questionable, or, consumers are bypassing the ethics involved with fur production for various reasons.
- In 2018, the global industry [of real fur] is still valued at more than $40 billion (a number that dwarfs the market for faux fur)
Some Arguments In Favor Of Fur As Being Ethical
There’s several arguments in favor of fur.
Some of those are …
Fur might be ethical when:
- The survival of a species isn’t threatened
- No unnecessary pain or suffering is inflicted
- The killing and end product serves an important [or essential use]
- Killing involves minimal waste
There’s also this from Fashionista:
- [the] trapping [of] wild animals like fox, beavers and coyotes, which constitutes about 15 percent of the trade, helps manage wildlife populations and provides a continued livelihood for many indigenous communities …
- The fur trade provides a crucial, finely-tuned symbiotic relationship that helps to achieve the objectives of wildlife management and conservation and society as a whole
One of the arguments people make about real fur is that it biodegrades quicker than faux fur, and lasts far longer – making it more eco friendly and sustainable in those aspects. You can also recycle real fur, whereas that is not as likely with faux fur.
Comparing Real Fur & Faux Fur
14. Animal Legal & Historical Center (Author,: https://www.animallaw.info/article/detailed-discussion-fur-animals-and-fur-production