Educational Series: It’s Time to Stop Raising and Killing Animals for Fur


By Nick Engelfried
Fur farms, where hundreds of animals spend their entire lives in cramped wire cages before being brutally killed for their skins, are among the fashion industry’s cruelest secrets. Approximately 100 million animals including mink, foxes, chinchillas, rabbits, and raccoon dogs are raised and slaughtered on fur farms around the world every year. Their brutal deaths are completely unnecessary, as they are killed primarily to make high-end clothing for wealthy consumers making a fashion statement.

On a typical fur farm hundreds of animals are confined in rows of cages, barely able to turn around and completely unable to participate in natural behaviors. Many engage in pacing, extreme aggression toward other individuals, or even self-mutilation as a result of severe stress. Most species raised on fur farms are not truly domesticated, but are wild creatures unused to living in captivity; for example, foxes and mink, two of the most common fur farm animals in North America, are predators with a hunter’s instincts who would roam over large areas of territory in the wild. On fur farms, they exist in a state of near-constant terror from interacting with people in a confined, highly artificial environment.

While fur farming is a relatively recent phenomenon of our modern world, animal fur has been big business for centuries–and in North America the arrival of the fur industry even predates the establishment of colonies by the U.S. or European governments in regions like the Pacific Northwest. There, the arrival of fur hunters seeking otters, beavers, and other species was closely tied to the displacement of Indigenous peoples who had lived sustainably on the landscape since time immemorial. Fur traders including the Hudson’s Bay Company played a major role in colonization and the genocide of Native peoples, while hunting their target animal species almost to extinction. Modern conservation laws eventually put a stop to the unregulated slaughter of wild animals for fur in most of the U.S. and Canada. However, while today’s fur industry is less reliant on hunting animals in their natural habitat, it is no less bloody or cruel.

Today, more than 95% of the fur used by the fashion industry is produced on farms that raise their own captive-bred animals. Mink are the species most often used for fur in the United States, with the industry producing 1.41 million mink pelts in 2020. Mink are semi-aquatic predators who naturally spend most of their time in or near the water hunting birds, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents. They have evolved to hold their breath for long periods of time while submerged, which makes one of the main methods used to kill them–suffocation with gas–especially cruel. Mink subjected to suffocation endure long minutes of suffering, gradually becoming more disoriented and confused as they slowly succumb to a lack of oxygen.

Outside of the U.S., other major fur-farming regions include Europe–the source of 60 percent of the world’s fur production–and China, which produced 25 percent of the world’s fur. Which animal species are most victimized by the fur industry varies from country to country; while mink and fox fur remain extremely popular in Europe, European and Chinese fur farmers have also grown increasingly reliant on raccoon dogs, a small member of the canid family with a raccoon-like mask.

A native of temperate and subtropical ecosystems in East Asia, raccoon dogs are natural omnivores that hunt in pairs or small family groups. Today they have become a staple species of the fur industry, with millions of pelts being exported and sold in U.S. and European markets where they often appear under the label “Asiatic raccoon.” Recent undercover investigations by animal rights activists have appeared to reveal horrific conditions on the farms where these naturally gentle animals spend their entire lives.

After infiltrating two fur farms during an undercover investigation in 2022, the nonprofit Animal Equality released reports that paint a grim picture. Raccoon dogs were allegedly confined in cages full of feces, deprived of water, and forced to resort to cannibalism. Most individuals were reportedly killed when only a few months old, often skinned alive after being stunned with a bolt of electricity. Unfortunately, this type of treatment is standard for millions of animals on fur farms.

The good news is that growing numbers of people are turning against this fur farming industry, with signs that it may be in permanent decline in some parts of the world. Europe remains perhaps the most important player in the global fur market, producing, exporting, and importing millions of animal pelts every year. However, EuroNews reports that the value of fur imports to the continent have declined 60 percent over the last ten years, a sign of waning consumer interest. Fur farming has even been banned in 19 European countries, including France, Italy, Ireland, and the U.K. And while countries like Finland and Poland continue to produce large amounts of fur, this could change. Activists have collected 1.5 million signatures on a massive petition to ban fur farming throughout the European Union–and if successful, this grassroots initiative would have a major impact on the lives of animals across the continent.

Public sentiment is also turning against fur in the United States, where the industry’s fortunes peaked in the late 1980s. In recent years fur production in this country has plummeted, with the number of pelts sold declining 49% between 2019 and 2020. In 2019 California became the first U.S. state to ban fur farms and the sale of fur within its borders, and several other states have considered following suit. Legislation has even been introduced in Congress to ban fur farming at the federal level–although passage of such a bill in the near term is far from guaranteed. The COVID-19 pandemic put additional momentum into efforts to end fur production amid fears that fur farm animals could become hosts for new variants of the virus.

Finally, while governments in some parts of the world take steps to phase out fur clothing, some fashion companies are voluntarily ending their participation in the industry. Brands that have gone fur-free or pledged to do so include Canada Goose, Nordstrom, Prada, Gucci, Armani, Michael Kors, and Neiman Marcus Group. With artificial “faux fur” alternatives readily available, it is no longer necessary for brands to use a product literally taken from the backs of helpless animals.

The decline of fur is perhaps one of the best examples of how activists and consumers who care about animal welfare can shift the direction of an entire industry. That said, there are still millions of animals suffering on fur farms today, and much work remains to be done. A good first step is to spread awareness of the true impact of fur farming–and why this cruel industry deserves no place in a humane society.

Photo credit: Oikeutta elaimille

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Which fact about giraffe anatomy is NOT true?
What percentage of fur sold today comes from animals raised in captivity?
Which of these animals was important to the fur trade in the U.S. Pacific Northwest?
To what continent are raccoon dogs native?
True or false: Legislation to ban fur farms has never been introduced in the U.S. Congress
Which statement applies to wild mink?
Which of these countries has banned fur farms?

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Nick Engelfried Writes About Animals, the Environment, and Conservation for the ForceChange network

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