Watching damning undercover footage of appalling conditions on European fur farms, MEPs from Finland, France, Luxembourg and Poland called fur farming incompatible with EU animal protection law at an event held at the European Parliament by a coalition of animal welfare organisations.

At the roundtable debate on 20th November hosted by MEPs Pascal Durand (Renew Europe), Sylwia Spurek (S&D) and Ville Niinistö (Greens/EFA), animal protection organisations Humane Society International, One Voice and Oikeutta Eläimille showed MEPs shocking footage from fur farms in Finland and France in which mink and foxes could be seen kept in filthy conditions in small, wire battery cages. Campaigners and MEPs were united in their belief that the evidence constitutes a breach of EU Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. In what campaigners say are violations of basic animal welfare standards, animals can be seen with eye infections and gaping wounds, which appear untreated. The films reveal foxes and mink displaying stereotypical behaviour, and foxes so obese they can hardly move, or in some cases even see. They also show shocking scenes of animals lying dead in the cages while others either walk over or cannibalise their bodies.

Veterinarian Professor Alastair MacMillan BVSc MSc PhD FRCPath MRCVS who worked for the UK’s Department of the Environment at the time the UK introduced a ban on fur farming in 2000, said the footage was some of the most harrowing he’s viewed.

“The most basic welfare needs of these animals simply cannot be met in barren battery cage farming systems, the physical and psychological suffering documented in these investigations is clear. Numerous studies show that foxes and mink are highly motivated to carry out key behaviours such as digging and swimming, these behaviours are completely denied to them in wire cages. So-called welfare certification schemes like Welfur do not measure or tell us anything meaningful about the welfare of these animals in scientific, absolute terms, they simply measure how farms compare with each other in the context of a fundamentally inadequate farming environment,” commented MacMillan.

“The world is changing, and the preoccupation that citizens have with animal suffering, with animal rights, is growing to an extent we haven’t seen before. The awareness of animal suffering, of animal exploitation, and the use of animals, has made our society’s perception evolve. Henceforth, citizens want issues concerning animals to be treated as priority political issues. To the representatives of economic activities on this issue, I tell them that the past will not be brought back. Humans’ capacity to exploit nature and the world of living beings will not be brought back. We no longer live in a world of men’s undivided domination,” said Pascal Durand MEP (Renew Europe, France).

“The footage we have just seen shows that the standards, even the minimum standards, are not met by the fur farms. I want to talk about the issue of accountability, sometimes nobody feels responsible but this institution [the European Parliament] is responsible, legally, to do something, and this footage shows that state supervision is very weak or just doesn’t exist, although it should exist, and work. At the end of the day, there is no state that highlights the situation and the investigations and shows the reality, and this is a very improper situation, the proper institutions are not responsible and the NGOs are in the lead role in this regard,” added Sylwia Spurek MEP (S&D, Poland).

According to Ville Niinistö MEP (Greens/EFA, Finland) “it is arrogant to say that these are domesticated animals when the history of the practice is very short and it is obvious that the conditions are such that there are undue stresses inflicted on these animals quite constantly which is already illegal in current legislation…It is obvious that when it comes to the future of fur farming, if we implement the behaviour of the animals properly into farming practices it will make fur farming non-existent because it would be too costly to continue with this kind of production. This is the morality of the issue, giving animals proper space to move, enough stimulation and for mink access to water, this would mean a production form that cannot exist, that’s one way of fighting fur farming.”

“The fur trade reviewed the footage we showed them, and even their veterinary experts had to concede that there were many instances of inadequate management on these farms. With various EU Member States having now either banned, or being in the process of phasing-out, fur farming, countries like Finland, France, Poland and Denmark are looking increasingly isolated and out of step. We urge the governments in these countries to review the shocking cruelty we consistently document and to join the fur-free revolution. We will continue to work with compassionate MEPs to raise this issue up the agenda of the European Commission,” underlined Dr Joanna Swabe, HSI Europe’s Senior Director of Public Affairs.

As Muriel Arnal, director of One Voice, said “the appalling suffering of mink and foxes filmed by our NGOs is by no means unusual. We truly wish it was. But the evidence we showed to MEPs in Brussels proved beyond doubt the cruelty of the fur industry. And the attendance at the event confirmed that the interest and support for our calls for national fur farming bans have never been stronger.”

There is no specific EU legislation pertaining to the welfare of animals kept on fur farms. These species are covered only by the terms of Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, and Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing.

Article 4 of Directive 98/58/EC states that Members States shall ensure that “the conditions under which animals (other than fish, reptiles or amphibians) are bred or kept, having regard to their species and to their degree of development, adaptation and domestication, and to their physiological and ethological needs in accordance with established experience and scientific knowledge, comply with the provisions set out in the Annex.”

However, video evidence presented by HSI and One Voice demonstrated to MEPs that the fur farms investigated do not meet the requirements of Article 4, most notably in relation to a) the inadequate size of the cages; b) the lack of non-wire substrate to allow for key behaviours such as digging, c) (in the case of naturally solitary and semi-aquatic mink) the lack of provision of water for swimming and lack of opportunity for animals to withdraw meaningfully from the presence of other animals, d) lack of provision of veterinary care or isolation for injured animals, and e) (in the case of many foxes on Finnish fur farms) failure to provide a diet in sufficient quantity to maintain them in good health.

Fur farming has already been prohibited and/or is in the process of being phased-out in the following EU Member States: Austria, the United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Belgium. Ireland and Bulgaria are also presently considering bans on fur farming. Fur farming, however, continues to persist in other Member States with Denmark, Finland and Poland being the biggest producers.