This past October, Wellesley, MA became the first municipality in the United States outside of California to pass a ban on new fur sales. Though not a new issue animal protection issue, the fur trade is back in the spotlight in Massachusetts and across the world as we grapple with its connection to COVID-19, and its longstanding cruelty.
The fur trade is valued at around $40 billion and encompasses fur factory farms, the trapping of wild animals for their fur, and the sale of these fur products. Fur factory farms, which supply about 85% of the fur trade, confine hundreds of millions of wild, fur-bearing animals in small, barren, wire cages for their entire lives. Roughly 100 million of these animals are killed every year for their fur, to be used in coats, shoes, and accessories; about half are killed for fur trim alone. In 2018, the United States farmed 3.1 million mink alone to meet the demand.
Confining these naturally active and curious animals in such conditions has severe physical and mental health effects. Deprived of the ability to engage in natural behaviors such as digging, roaming large territories and, for semi-aquatic mink, swimming and diving, fur-farmed animals are known to display stereotypical behaviors, an indicator of mental distress, wherein they repeatedly pace and circle their cages. Fur farm conditions can also lead animals to self-mutilate and housing in unnatural social groupings can lead to fighting between cage mates, and even cannibalism.
If these conditions weren’t horrendous enough, fur farming creates conditions ripe for the emergence of new zoonotic diseases. Highly stressed animals are kept in extremely close quarters, providing ample opportunities for new viruses to evolve in animals with weakened immune systems, and to then jump to people in a form that can infect and sicken humans.
The coronavirus has in fact been documented on numerous mink farms in several countries, including 11 mink farms in the United States, including in Utah and Wisconsin, 166 mink farms in Denmark, 68 in the Netherlands, one in Spain, one in Sweden, and an unknown number in Italy.
Fortunately, the fur industry is being tackled on several fronts, including through legislation and regulation, the private sector, and consumer and citizen grassroots pressure. More than 300 brands and retailers, including Armani, Bloomingdale’s, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Gucci, H&M, Macy’s, Michael Kors, The North Face, Prada, and Versace, have adopted fur-free policies. In September 2019, California became the first state in the nation to ban fur trapping. A month later, the state passed legislation banning the sale and manufacture of new fur clothing and accessories. Prior to these statewide mandates, four major California cities passed bans on the sale and manufacturing of fur: Los Angeles, Berkeley, San Francisco, and West Hollywood, which helped to tip the state toward being fur-free.
Getting involved can help to bring an end to the cruel fur trade. On the heels of the success in Wellesley, legislation will be filed in Massachusetts for the 2021-2022 session that will ban the retail sale of new fur in the Commonwealth. However, as seen in California, municipal action drives state legislation. If you are interested in passing a retail fur ban in your city or town to keep this momentum going, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep up with fur legislation and other animal protection issues across the Commonwealth, join our MSPCA Animal Action team at mspca.org/jointheteam. To learn more about the fur trade, visit mspca.org/fur-trade.