Foxes With Deformed Feet, Missing Ears, Diseased Eyes Found on 'High-Welfare' Fur Farms

Animal rights activists have uncovered what they said was disturbing animal suffering on supposedly "high-welfare" fox fur farms in Finland.

The country's fur industry says that almost all fox and raccoon dog fur farms in Finland are certified by the Saga Furs assurance scheme, which promises the "highest level of animal welfare," according to animal advocacy organization Humane Society International/U.K.

"Saga Certification is the most important management system connected to animal welfare in Finland," reads the Saga Furs website. "Saga Certification, launched in 2005, is a comprehensive quality management system that places a high emphasis on animal welfare and health."

Finland is the biggest producer of fox fur in Europe, rearing and killing between 1 and 2 million of these animals every year for this purpose, according to animal advocacy organization Humane Society International/U.K, which added that fur originating in Finland is used by several luxury international fashion brands.

Humane Society International, accompanied by other Finnish and British animal welfare campaigners, conducted an undercover investigation of three fur farms in Finland's Ostrobothnia region, two of which are certified by Saga Furs—a Finnish fur brand and auction house.

Investigators said they found Arctic foxes confined in tiny, barren wire cages, suffering with deformed feet, diseased eyes, missing ears and obesity.

"Fur trade buzzwords about welfare ring incredibly hollow when you are staring into the eyes of an animal tormented by a life of deprivation for a frivolous fashion item that nobody needs," Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/U.K., who visited the fur farms, said in a statement.

"Most fashion-forward designers have gone fur-free because of the indefensible cruelty," she said.

Bass called on fashion brands who use fur and governments who allow this practice to "stop being complicit in this cruelty."

British vet and animal welfare campaigner Marc Abraham also accompanied investigators to the Finnish fur farms.

"As a vet and campaigner who has dedicated my life to animal welfare, it was... truly depressing to seeing the appalling state of these foxes. What I witnessed first-hand was shameful from an animal welfare point of view, row upon row of pitiful animals imprisoned in tiny cages, barely larger than the length of their body from nose to tail."

Abraham said many of the foxes had "painfully swollen eyes," deformed feet with overgrown claws from having to stand on the wire floor of their cages, as well as exhibiting signs of self-mutilation—a clear sign of psychological trauma resulting from their immediate environment.

"It must be mental torture being denied the freedom to run and exercise in their natural woodland environment that they can clearly view surrounding their cages, which their instincts are telling them to explore 24/7, but to which, tragically, they will never have access during their short lives," said Abraham.

Two of the farms covered in the investigation were said to be home to "monster foxes" that have been bred to have unusually large folds of fat, which increases the amount of fur that can be harvested.

Kristo Muurimaa from Finnish animal protection group Oikeutta Eläimille, who also accompanied the investigation, said in the statement: "I have visited more than a hundred fur farms across Finland and every single one is as horrific as the last."

Abraham told Newsweek that he we was expecting the reality of what was going on in the fur farms to be distressing.

"But what was even more shockingly clear to me, is how utterly meaningless the fur trade welfare schemes are, especially if the multiple cases of painful disease, social deprivation, and mental torture I witnessed passes for the industry gold standard," he said.

"It's not acceptable to confine any animal for its life in a small wire cage, but to do that to wild species like foxes, on a legal, licensed fur farm is, sadly, just another level of extreme cruelty" he added.

Newsweek contacted Saga Furs for comment regarding the HSI investigation and was forwarded a statement (below) from FIFUR—the Finnish Fur Breeders' Association.

Finnish Fur Breeders' Association FIFUR received information on 16 November that three separate fox farm trespassings and secret filmings have been done by Finnish and foreign animal rights activists. Trespassings were done on October 17-18, 2021.

As a policy, FIFUR examines trespassings and media claims thoroughly before giving further statements to avoid any speculations. FIFUR has been able to verify that trespassed and secretly filmed farms are all currently FIFUR certified.

FIFURs' veterinarians have visited all three farms during November 18-19, 2021. In total, there are almost 5,000 production animals on these three farms. Of these animals, some individual foxes had symptoms or illnesses (for example eye infections), and they all are being treated by the farmers. Most likely the trespassers have deliberately looked for animals that have visible symptoms to be filmed.

FIFUR emphasizes that secret filming and the selective use of images tell nothing about the level of animal care and welfare on the farms. In general, responsible farmers treat their animals as soon as they become aware of any health issues. Trespassers will not know whether the animal has received treatment or at what stage the healing process is. Moreover, all operations in the farms are strictly controlled by national laws and regulations.

FIFUR veterinarian Johanna Korpela said there can as many as tens of thousands of animals on these farms.

"Despite careful care, individual animals can be injured or get ill between rounds of inspection and feeding. If you think of a city of 10,000 inhabitants, for example, some inhabitants are likely to have, for example, a sudden outbreak of an eye infection or wound," she said.

UPDATE 11/24/21, 9:40 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include additional comments from Marc Abraham and a statement from FIFUR.

Arctic fox on Finnish fur farm
Arctic foxes at a fur farm in Finland in October 2021, according to a photo provided by the Humane Society International. Kristo Muurimaa/Oikeutta eläimille