One of the first things I noticed and continued to notice throughout my time in Iceland was the abundance of fur. In the colder climates of the northern hemisphere fur was an ideal choice to provide warmth but in modern times it seems to be a fashion statement, no more then a murderous act of greed. Frequent fur vended is Mink Mustela vison, rabbit Lepus curpaeums, seal Pagophilus groenlandicus, wolf Canis lupus, reindeer Rangifer tarandus and both red Vulpes vulpes and arctic fox Alopex lagopus. Manufacture of various items is often out of assorted fur, producing bags, shoes, scarfs, rugs, keyrings and a variety of unnecessary trinkets. Whilst Iceland is known for its wealth of arctic foxes I speculated where the fur came from, was it fur farms or hunting? What about the animal’s known not to inhabit the island such as red fox and wolf? I set out on a personal investigation to uncover the answers I needed, I aim to educate myself on these practices and you as my reader, I will include my opinions but leave you to determine your own as the fur trade rightfully leaves us to.
As one of the oldest fabrics known to man and one of natures most enduring products fur is more popular then ever providing more than one million jobs worldwide. As it increases in demand designers are starting to feature more fur in their collections, as it remains one of the most luxurious fabrics around, it is said that choosing a fur is an ’emotional experience’ as fur will always make the wearer always feel and look special whilst lasting a long time; you would hope so after killing the animal for it! It comes from sustainable sources mainly specialty farms and around fifteen percent is from abundant wild populations and nothing can compare to the feel of natural fur. Fur is tanned in the same way as leather but uses gentler chemicals to ensure the natural hairs are not stripped out, working with fur requires craftsmanship and manufacturing skills that are passed down through the generations so it is all manufactured by hand with the most common farmed fur-bearing animal is mink followed by fox.
In northerly remote regions livestock and crops are hard to farm so is often home to fur farms, selective breeding for generations has ‘adapted’ these animals to the farm environment and considered domesticated by veterinary scientists with no comparison to their wild counterparts as they differ in looks, temperament and behavior. This trade is considered a vital part of these regions economy with a seventy percent increase in ten years whilst being economical with feeding left over fish, meat and dairy, although this has been considered unfit for human consumption and using waste products for biofuel or fertilizer. Fur industry propaganda implies that the manufacture of fur is both natural and environmentally friendly but the energy needed to produce a fur coat from farmed animals is over twenty times that needed to produce a fake garment! To me that is outrageous!, while the treatment applied to the fur prevents the possibility of natural degradation and can cause water contamination along with the tons of phosphorus generated by manure annually that can find its way into the water ecosystem.
Over eighty-five percent of fur skins come from factory farms which for both Mink and fox are made up of sheds four meters wide, open-sided with roofing panels that provide standard temperature and light conditions, whilst protecting against direct sunlight, wind and rain. Within the sheds rows of wire cages are raised off the ground to ensure hygiene at the same time as providing ‘sufficient’ space to allow ‘typical’ movement and behavior, which seems unrealistic as these farms hold thousands of animals and cut the costs by cramming as many individuals into these small cages as possible, restricting them to less then a few steps back and forth. Personally it seems the investment of the skin comes before the animal’s quality of life; moral hygiene and movement is not a luxury in life it should be a necessity! whilst the outside can be seen yet not possessed appears cruel as they are confined to a life of imprisonment, that is not a life at all.
Animals homed in these environments exist in fear with enormous amounts of stress whilst facing disease, parasites, and other physical and mental difficulties. Slaughtered by the millions for meat Rabbits were formerly the byproduct of this consumption but currently the fur industry demands thicker pelts of rabbits, instigating the raising and butchery all before twelve weeks of life, amounting to at least one billion murdered a year for their fur! The herding and restriction is distressing to all animals but minks especially; a solitary animal that can occupy over two thousand acres of wetland, despite being ‘domesticated’ they suffer immensely in captivity often through frustration and self mutilation of their skin, tails and feet. Foxes and other animals have been known to suffer just as much with frantic pacing where there is room or endless circling whilst countless have been found to cannibalize their cage mates, but whether this is due to anger or starvation I am skeptical.
Female minks are typically bread annually with both mink kits and fox cubs remaining in the same cage as their mothers until weaned at the age of seven to eight weeks, although only three to four from a litter survive. Housed in minute groups of two to three through their growth period, only breeding animals are selected among the mature animals to be housed separately before being killed after four to five years whilst non-breeding mature animals are killed quickly and humanely ‘according’ to National and European law and North American provincial/state or national requirements around six months old depending what country they live in. Just because a law is abided does not necessarily make it humane, many practices that many others and I would consider inhumane are legal or simply swept under the rug. Farmer’s priority is the maintenance of the fur pelts so many slaughter methods cause extreme suffering especially in Chinese fur farms, where there are no penalties for abusing animals. Cruel techniques include cramming small animals into boxes and poisoning with hot, unfiltered engine exhaust fumes from trucks, which cannot always be lethal with many individuals waking up whilst being skinned. I do not understand how that can be considered okay when I am sat here feeling guilty that this practice is still continuing. Larger mammals such as wolves have clamps attached to them or rods forced into mouths or anuses before being agonizingly electrocuted which does not cause unconsciousness for ten to thirty seconds whilst the individual suffers from a lethal heart attack. Other common practices in fur farms include injection with strychnine; a paralyzer of muscles with causes a painful suffocating, neck breaking, gassing and decompression chambers but whilst these butcheries are allegedly not applied all slaughters are administered on the farm to ‘minimize’ stressful transport, so that is okay right? A worthless, agonizing, draining life is cut short drastically but at least they are not travelling to their death! When I started researching this trade I was very nearly convinced by the ‘respect’ given to these animals and the work they do with the environment but now I am just heated writing this, how can it be deemed okay to trap animals into cages for their entire lives to then have a brutal death so some snob can wear a warm coat! they could get just as warm from wearing another jumper!
PETA conducted an undercover investigation into the dog and cat fur trade in 2005, despite the international fur trade ‘not’ dealing in domestic cat or dog fur! Attending an animal market in Southern China discovered that dogs and cats were suffering in tiny cages, evidently wearied from travel in small feeble cages with no food or water, packed tightly reducing any movement. Individuals could be seen fighting, lethargic whilst many dead or dying animals inside the cages, and many with open wounds but all terrified. Over eight thousand were loaded onto each truck with live animal filled cages, many still had collars on thrown on top of each other and from the truck ten feet below shattering the bones of the animals inside. Formerly someone’s companion, stolen to be beaten, hanged, bled to death, and throttled with wire nooses so that their fur can be turned into needless trinkets! This is something that would bring many individuals to tears including myself, this cruel act does not only happen in China but kept quiet across the world, but the globalization of the trade has made it impossible to distinguish where the fur has originated from or what it came from. Moving through auction houses fur is distributed to manufacturers around the world and even complete goods are exported, although labels state European manufacture the animals were more likely to be raised and slaughtered elsewhere.
Many furs are taken from abundant species as part of conservation management in agreement with the sustainable use, and not taken specifically for their fur but regulated by governments if there is any over population or ecological imbalances. The world has a natural balance when one species rises another falls so why do we as humans find it necessary to intrude on this balance and play God? The majority of imbalances in the world right now are due to our interference and frankly we should stop trying to ‘help’ as it seems to make matters worse. What gives us the right to determine life and death and what is wrong or right? The fur trade invests millions in animal welfare research, certification programs and animal husbandry technology in addition to supporting local, regional, national and international animal welfare legislation, which is all good in itself but seems they are compensating for something they know they are doing wrong in order to play the better person when they are slaughtering for fashion and greed. Wild animal trapping can be extremely cruel with a prolonged death from blood loss, shock, dehydration, frostbite, gangrene and predator attack from being caught in steal-jaw traps which cut through to the bone, conibear traps that crush animal necks with ninety pounds of pressure or water-set traps which leave animals struggling for over nine minutes before slowly drowning, is there anything humane about this? Because we are not leaving the natural balance to work its way out with a chance of a few animals starving it is deemed okay to trap them and give them a worse fate?
Many coastal communities worldwide including Iceland participate in the practice of sealing which in itself controls the population sustainably and humanely whilst meat is rich in protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B-12 and the skins are extremely valuable. Mainly used for clothing seal fur is full of oil, which increases their water repellence whilst porous, allowing humidity to escape; an ideal material for winter coats, boots and hats that cannot be replicated making it popular both now and in medieval times which it was only worn by privileged few. A common but misleading image is commonly used throughout animal right campaigns against sealing is the hunting of seals or “whitecoats” which is illegal and there is no trade in seals this young, but the image is powerful and does make an impact, in my opinion you may not be personally killing the infants but your killing there family members; mothers, fathers, sisters and generally making them watch a brutal act if not then leaving them to fend for themselves or starve, what is humane about that? Is that not worse?
During my time in Iceland I was obviously the most affected and concerned by the great quantity of fur whilst many of my peers did not support it I came across many people who let it slip from their minds as it is ‘culture’ which I think is ignorance! My love of animals fuels my desire to understand the different roles they play in our ‘human ran world’ It is no different from us using leather and I would be a hypocrite to differentiate myself as I eat meat at the current time but I do not understand fur for fashion, with so many man made materials which have been proven to be as efficient and more environmentally friendly why is this practice still commencing? I feel content that a vast majority of the fur in Iceland is imported but is that worse? With the cruel killings that happen behind closed doors it makes me speculate where the line is on humane and personally I do not think there is such thing, we cannot determine it as we no matter how hard we try put ourselves in their fur.
Sign the promise to not wear fur like me: