Fur Trade

Factsheets

Fur Farms and the Environment

No one in the world needs a mink coat but a mink.—Author Unknown

In a deceitful public relations campaign designed to deflect criticism of their treatment of animals, the Canadian fur industry has been making claims about fur being an environmentally friendly product. But these transparent statements are absolutely false. In fact, advertising standards committees in England, Denmark, Holland, Italy, and Finland have ruled any advertising declaring fur as environmentally safe to be false and misleading.

Please take a few minutes to find out the true environmental consequences of fur farming.

Fur industry myth: "Farmed fur is a natural fiber and an environment-friendly resource." (Fur Information Council of America)

Fact: Fur is a "natural fiber" when it is on an animal's back. Once it has been peeled off, it must be "tanned" in order to stop it from biodegrading. This completely unnatural process uses caustic chemicals including formaldehyde and chromium. These are serious environmental contaminants, and the fur industry is very aware of it. In 1991, the US Environmental Protection Agency fined two fur processing plants approximately $1.6 million as a result of the pollution they caused. The EPA stated that they "found total non-compliance with hazardous waste regulations". The EPA also claimed that wastes from fur processing plants "may cause respiratory problems, and are listed as possible carcinogens."

Fur farms, like all factory farm operations, produce massive amounts of animal waste that is all consolidated in one small area. Animal wastes are high in phosphorous and nitrogen. When it rains this waste can wash downhill towards streams and other bodies of water. Other times it is left to soak into the soil, and sometimes contaminate the ground water. The nutrients in the waste lead to excessive algae growth which in turn depletes the oxygen in the water. This can kill more sensitive species of fish and make the water unsuitable for humans. In the Finnish town of Kaustinen, consumption of the groundwater had to be stopped, and the direction of the water current changed, because of pollution caused by fur farms.

Notably, in the US, fur farm associations have lobbied local governments to keep water quality low, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has addressed fur farmers about ground water contamination. In Finland, home of 65% of the worlds fox farms, fur animal wastes have come to equal the uncleaned sewage of a million people, according to environmentalist Mauro Leivi. Sweden's largest fox farm was ordered to close in January 1998 because of the role they had played in contaminating local water supplies. At roughly the same time the magazine Scientifur reported on a Polish study that found that the soil around fur farms was contaminated with growing forms of nematodes. Another study in the same issue advised fur farmers to be careful when determining the location for water wells on their property.

Fur farms also consume a great deal of energy. In fact, a study by Ford Motor Co. researcher Gregory Smith found that production of a factory farmed fur coat required nearly 20 times more energy than the production of a synthetic coat.

Fur industry myth: "And when your fur jacket comes to the end of its long life, it's biodegradable too." (Fur Information Council of America)

Fact: While raw pelts may indeed be biodegradable, the fur industry conveniently neglects to mention that all of the animal skins used to make fur coats are tanned. Tanning is a procedure that stabilizes the collagen or protein fibers in animals skins specifically to stop them from biodegrading. Today's tanning processes use a variety of environmentally damaging substances, including mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal tar derivatives, and various oils, dyes, and finishes, some of them cyanide-based. In addition to the toxic substances mentioned above, tannery effluent also contains large amounts of other pollutants, such as protein, hair, salt, lime sludge, sulfides, and acids.

Among the disastrous consequences of this noxious waste is the threat to human health from the highly elevated levels of lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde in the ground water near tanneries. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area surrounding one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average.

People who work in tanneries are dying of cancer caused by exposure to dimethylformamide and other toxic chemicals used to process and dye the skins. The coal tar derivatives used are extremely potent cancer-causing agents. According to one study released by the New York State Department of Health, more than half of all testicular cancer victims work in tanneries.

Fur industry myth: "Fur farmers also make an important contribution to wildlife conservation." (Fur Commission USA)

Fact: Not only is the fur industry taking animals out of their native habitat to stock fur farms, but they are also adding non-native species to areas where they shouldn't be. Raccoons in Germany, mink in Iceland, nutria in the U.S. and opossum in New Zealand are just a few examples of species that have established themselves in areas where they should not be, as a result of the fur trade. Fur farmers would bring these animals in, and then release them when market conditions turned bad. Other times the animals would escape when natural disasters struck. These animals in turn are blamed for ravaging the area, but it is not their fault that they are there. They were placed in the area by fur farmers.

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