An undercover investigation by an animal rights organization in Finland has uncovered footage of overgrown animals bred for their fur on farms.
Oikeutta eläimille, a Finnish animal welfare group, obtained footage from anonymous activists who accessed five different farms at night. The activists went after pelting season, meaning that the animals left onsite were those used by farmers for breeding.
They found bizarre, overgrown foxes with folds of skin that are prone to infection and that had problems moving due to their weight. It is illegal in Finland to breed animals in conditions that cause them to suffer.
Fur farmers breed, raise and kill minks, foxes, and other animals for their fur, selling the pelts to the garment industry, where they are used for coats and the linings of hats and gloves.
Farmers typically kill foxes at less than a year old and many animal welfare organizations consider fur-farming inherently unethical. “These cages are less than one square meter, and these are wild predators. Keeping them in cages like that for their whole lives is wrong,” said Kristo Muurimaa from Oikeutta eläimille.
But not all animal welfare groups believe that trying to dismantle the fur farming industry is the best way to prevent cruelty. Some prefer to focus on improving the breeding and husbandry of farmed animals, so they can live a good life before slaughtering season. That means keeping animals generally free from hunger, pain, discomfort and stress.
“In Europe we have very strict rules when it comes to fur farms,” said Mette Nielsen, CEO of Fur Europe. “In fact, Finland has some of the strictest rules when it comes to animal welfare.”
After Oikeutta eläimille made the footage and images public, Fur Europe responded with a statement saying that breeding oversized foxes is neither standard nor tolerated. “Although [people breeding oversized foxes] is only a limited problem,” the statement reads, “Finnish fur farmers now recruits additional vets and intensifies cooperation with authorities in order to effectively put an end to the breeding of oversized foxes.”
Fur Europe has also been working on a science-based animal welfare assessment system called WelFur. Scientists visit fur farms to ensure that they are following welfare standards that WelFur developed with peer-reviewed research. After three visits (at different times during the animals' life cycles) and a high enough welfare score, Baltic Control can issue them certification.
Starting in 2020, any farm without certification will not have clearance to sell at major fur auction houses. “If you are not in the welfare program then you would basically be out of business,” said Nielsen. “Because then where will you sell your fur?”
Both pro- and anti-fur sides condemn the monster foxes, which FurEurope says do not represent the fur industry. “It is not representative of what we see in fox farms every day,” said Nielsen. “I go to many farms and all I see are healthy animals.”