Human wants, by themselves, do not constitute moral necessity. Some ethicists hold that deliberately causing animals suffering is intrinsically wrong. Others hold that the good procured must be essential and that no alternative means are available. Some also hold that because humans are moral agents capable of knowing right and wrong, we should not be the kind of people to cause animal suffering. Such actions damage ourselves, inter alia, through desensitisation. Viewed from each of these perspectives it can be seen that fur farming fails basic moral tests.
When buying a piece of fur, you might be forgiven for thinking that the animals used were free-living animals. So, at worst, you are killing a few “cute” animals, who might die of natural causes anyway. However, the reality of the fur farming industry harms more than “cute” animals.
Almost all fur comes from fur factory farms. It is estimated that around 100 million animals are killed by the fur industry each year. It is hard to be exact, as many countries only count the pelts produced not the number of animals killed, and some countries do not keep count at all. Animals are kept in rows of barren wire cages in open-sided sheds. A typical cage for fox measures just 0.8-metre square or two and a half feet square.
You may have come across labels such as “Welfur” and “Furmark” – these are tools used by the fur industry to suggest that the animals killed for their fur live a good life beforehand. The reality is sadly far from a good life. On the contrary, the fur factory farm system is inherently inhumane. It causes suffering either mental or physical, or both. Welfur, the best welfare standard the industry provides, does not prevent the infliction of major harm on animals, such as unhealed injuries, half-tails missing, and severely bent feet.
After a life spent entirely in close confinement, unable to exercise their natural behaviours, they are inhumanely killed. Most killing in fur farms is done by electrocution, gassing, neck-breaking, or poison. One study of fur farming in China found foxes were being electrocuted, beaten and skinned alive.
It is not just the sentient animals that are affected by the choice to support the fur industry. Fur has a huge environmental impact, far worse than faux fur. Scientific studies indicate that fur farming contaminates the water supplies in the area surrounding the farms. While all textile production has an environmental impact, fur farming is one of the worst. A 2011 Delft report concluded that the environmental impact of mink fur was two to twenty-eight times higher than other common textiles. Moreover, studies have found that the process of treating the fur to make it a wearable textile involves exposing humans to toxic chemicals with long-term health implications.
Fur farming also has a large impact on human public health as demonstrated by the recent pandemic. Fur farms were some of the worst affected by the Covid pandemic, as the animals are kept in such close conditions, that the virus spread easily from one animal to another. The worst Covid outbreak hit mink farms in Denmark, which suspended mink fur farming until 2022, and embarked on a massive programme of “culling” (killing) fur-farmed mink. The decision was taken to kill 17 million mink as more than one in five farms was revealed to have been infected. Many other countries also saw Covid spread in their fur farms including the US, and nine other EU member states.
Although the fur industry has been impacted by the resulting legislation banning fur production and sales in some parts of the world, there are still millions in cages. By choosing not to buy fur, consumers can choose not to support this inhumane industry. Although fur farming is banned in Britain, we can help end the fur trade, by encouraging lawmakers to end the import of fur.
In ethical terms, to show that something is necessary requires more than a simple appeal to what is fashionable, or even desirable. Fur does not just kill sentient animals, it ruins the environment and puts humans at risk of further zoonotic pandemics, and toxic chemicals. When there are other fashionable alternatives to fur, there really is no reason to support this cruel industry. Since fur is a luxury, vanity product, the most fashionable and ethical choice possible is to not buy fur.
Andrew Linzey and Clair Linzey direct the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. They are also the authors of “An Ethical Critique of Fur Factory Farming”.
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