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The case against fur factory farming: A scientific review of animal welfare standards and 'WelFur'

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The Case
Against
Fur Factory
Farming
A Scientific
Review of
Animal Welfare
Standards and
WelFur’
P. O. Box 6500, Nottingham NG4 3GB Tel: +44 (0)115 952 5440 Email: info@respectforanimals.org www.respectforanimals.org
Many images contained within this report ©Jo-Anne McArthur (www.weanimals.org)
These images were taken in Europe and North America for the We Animals project and The Ghosts in Our Machine
The Case Against
Fur Factory Farming
A Scientific Review of Animal Welfare
Standards and ‘WelFur’
A report for Respect for Animals
written by Heather Pickett BSc MSc
and Professor Stephen Harris BSc PhD DSc
2015
1
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
2
Contents
Page
Executive Summary 4
1. Introduction 8
2. The fur farming industry in Europe 10
2.1 Scale of the fur farming industry in Europe and the world 11
2.2 The regulatory framework for the welfare of animals reared for fur in Europe 12
3. Animal welfare and its assessment 14
3.1 Animal welfare – concepts and definitions 15
3.2 Assessing animal welfare 15
4. Characteristics of mink and foxes farmed for fur 18
4.1 Biology and natural behaviour of mink and foxes 19
The American mink (Neovison vison) 19
The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) 20
The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) 21
4.2 Breeding and genetics – are mink and foxes on European fur farms domesticated? 21
Domestication and tameness – concepts and definitions 21
Experimental domestication of mink and foxes 22
Are mink and foxes on fur farms domesticated? 24
5. Major welfare issues for mink and foxes farmed
for fur in Europe 26
5.1 Farming systems, handling procedures and killing methods 27
Housing systems 27
Handling 27
Killing 27
5.2 Abnormal behaviourstereotypies, fur chewing and self-injury 28
5.3 Space, environmental enrichment, motivation and preferences 30
Mink 30
Space 30
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
3
Page
Environmental enrichment 30
Nesting and hiding opportunities 30
Platforms, cylinders, ‘activity’ objects, water baths and running wheels 30
Foxes 32
Space 32
Environmental enrichment 32
Nesting and hiding opportunities 32
Platforms and ‘activity’ objects 32
Floor type and opportunities for digging 33
5.4 Social environment, weaning age, reproductive failure, infant mortality and infanticide 34
Mink 34
Foxes 35
5.5 Could alternative systems be developed that could meet the welfare needs
of mink and foxes? 37
Mink 37
Foxes 37
5.6 Overall assessment of welfare – do current farm conditions meet the ‘Five Freedoms
and provide a ‘Life worth Living’? 38
6. Consumer information and views on fur 40
6.1 Labelling of fur products 41
6.2 Public opinion on fur 41
7. Is WelFur able to address the major welfare issues
affecting mink and foxes farmed for fur in Europe? 44
How does WelFur differ from Welfare Quality? 46
Will WelFur ensure a ‘high level of animal welfare’ for farmed mink and foxes? 47
Can WelFur be considered ‘the new scientific reference’ on fur-animal welfare? 48
Could WelFur improve transparency in fur labelling? 49
8. Conclusions and recommendations 50
References 53
4
Executive Summary
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
5
The global fur industry has grown rapidly, with increasing
demand fuelled by growing affluence in developing
economies, particularly China and Russia. Worldwide,
around 95 million mink and foxes were killed for their fur
in 2014. Most fur sold globally is from farmed animals,
with Europe and China being the largest producers.
While fur animals are included in general EU legislation
on animal welfare, transport and slaughter, there is
no detailed species-specific EU legislation setting
welfare standards for animals farmed for fur. Serious
concerns for the welfare of animals farmed for fur
were highlighted in the 1999 Council of Europe
‘Recommendation Concerning Fur Animals’ and the 2001
report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and
Animal Welfare. Recent scientific studies add further
weight to the substantial body of evidence
demonstrating that the needs of mink and foxes
are not being met in current housing systems and
cannot be met in any housing system with the
undomesticated animals used by the fur industry.
Mink and foxes used for fur
production are not domesticated
Domestication is an evolutionary process by which a
population of animals becomes adapted to humans
and captivity. The most important welfare aspect of
domestication is the unique ability of domesticated
species to interact with humans in a positive way.
Although, experimentally, mink and silver foxes
can be domesticated, this has not, and cannot,
occur on fur farms because changes in the coat
that are characteristic of domesticated animals are
incompatible with the fur industry’s demands. On fur
farms, the emphasis is on selection for traits associated
with pelt colour and quality, body size and litter size.
These animals are not adapted to close contact
with humans and cannot be considered in any way
domesticated. Fear of humans in the undomesticated
animals used by the fur industry makes them
fundamentally unsuitable for farming.
The welfare of mink and foxes
farmed for fur in Europe is
extremely poor
Approaches to assessing animal welfare can be broadly
summarised as ‘biological functioning’ (i.e. are the
animals physically and mentally healthy?), ‘affective
(emotional) states’ (i.e. are the animals happy/feeling
good?) and ‘natural/motivated behaviours’ (i.e.do the
animals have what they want?’). Whichever approach
is emphasised, the welfare of mink and foxes farmed
for fur is seriously compromised because:
n
The biological functioning of mink and foxes
farmed for fur is impaired, as indicated by levels
of stereotypic (abnormal repetitive) behaviour,
fur-chewing and tail-biting/self-injury, physical
deformities (bent feet) and high levels of
reproductive failure/infant mortality;
n
There is evidence of negative affective
(emotional) states in farmed fur animals,
including fear (as indicated by avoidance/
aggression towards humans), frustration (as
indicated by stereotypies) and boredom/
under-stimulation (as indicated by fur-chewing
and tail-biting, long periods of inactivity when
awake and heightened response to stimuli);
n
Animals farmed for fur are unable to perform
many natural behaviours that they are
motivated to perform and/or frustrated/
stressed by the inability to perform, such as
interacting with water (for mink), interacting
with a sand/earth floor (for foxes), using multiple
nest sites, and foraging/ranging (as indicated by
stereotypic behaviour).
The ‘Five Freedoms’ are widely used internationally as a
framework for animal welfare assessment, legislation and
assurance standards. Farming systems for mink and
foxes fail to satisfy any of the ‘Five Freedoms’:
n
Freedom from hunger and thirst: Restrictive
feeding of overweight animals in preparation
for breeding results in hunger and increased
stereotypic behaviour.
n
Freedom from discomfort: Mink and foxes
farmed for fur in cages have very little control
over their physical and social environment.
Foxes are mostly kept without access to a nest
box. Handling procedures cause significant
stress and discomfort.
n
Freedom from pain, injury and disease:
Common problems include fur-chewing, injuries
(both self-inflicted and from other animals), high
levels of infant mortality, deformities (bent feet),
difficulty in moving, diarrhoea and inhumane
killing methods.
n
Freedom to express normal behaviour: The
small and largely barren cages used to house
mink and foxes on fur farms do not allow the
animals to swim, climb, run, dig, hunt/forage or
range/disperse. Maternal deprivation and social
stress can result from abrupt early weaning,
isolation in individual housing, aggression in
group housing and the close proximity of
socially dominant animals.
n
Freedom from fear and distress: Fear is a
major welfare problem for animals farmed for
fur because the mink and foxes used on fur
farms are not domesticated.
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
6
The Farm Animal Welfare Council considers that minimum
legal requirements should be such that an animal has a
‘Life worth Living’. Levels of fear, stereotypic behaviour,
fur-chewing/tail-biting, physical deformities (bent feet)
and reproductive failure/infant mortality clearly indicate
that the needs of mink and foxes on fur farms are not
being met. Mink are semi-aquatic and show ‘inelastic
demand’ for water (i.e. they will continue to work for
access to it, despite increasing costs). Mink accustomed
to the provision of water, and foxes accustomed to
having access to a clean dry substrate, may show stress
when they can no longer enjoy these resources. Access
to these resources would clearly be included within the
Farm Animal Welfare Council’s description of a ‘Life
worth Living.
The welfare of mink and foxes farmed for fur is
seriously compromised in current farming systems,
which fail to satisfy all five of the ‘Five Freedoms’
and do not provide a ‘Life worth Living’. Even if
domesticated animals were to be used, current
farming systems could not meet the needs of
mink or foxes.
European citizens are opposed
to fur farming
The fur industry’s ‘Origin Assured’ labelling scheme does
not stipulate any specific production standards and
unenforceable industry codes of practice are sufficient
for a country to be ‘Origin Assured’. The ‘Origin Assured’
label is used on fur produced in small wire cages,
which have inherently low welfare potential and are
opposed by the majority of European citizens. Most
consumers would not consider these conditions to be
consistent with the scheme’s claims of humane treatment.
The majority of European citizens recently polled in
ten countries, including countries with substantial
fur production, is opposed to the farming of animals
for fur in cages. A number of European countries
have already implemented bans and there is
widespread support for a ban at EU level.
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
7
‘WelFur’ cannot address the major
welfare issues for mink and foxes
farmed for fur
The European Fur Breeders’ Association launched the
‘WelFur’ project in 2009 to develop on-farm welfare
assessment protocols for mink and foxes. These:
n have been specifically designed around the
very serious limitations of current housing
systems and generally reward the status quo,
even where this is known to compromise welfare,
rather than encouraging the development of
systems with the potential to provide a higher
level of welfare;
n
do not adequately penalise practices that fail to
meet existing minimum standards set out in
the Council of Europe Recommendations;
n
do not address inhumane handling and killing
methods and the lack of training for all personnel
carrying out killing of fur animals;
n
downplay the importance of serious injuries
that are associated with extreme suffering;
n
will underestimate the true levels of mortality
and stereotypies;
n
use inadequate measures of hunger, human-
animal relationships and positive mental states;
n
use complex scoring systems to combine
different welfare measures into a single category
indicating the overall welfare level, which may
allow high scores on some elements to mask
serious failings on others;
n
will not achieve WelFur’s stated aims of ensuring
‘a high level of animal welfare’ on fur farms and
functioning as ‘the new scientific reference’ for
fur-farmed species;
n
do not take account of societal concerns and
score welfare only up to a ceiling of best
current practice’;
n
would be misleading if used as the basis for
a labelling system.
WelFur is not able to address the major welfare
issues for mink and foxes farmed for fur, the issues
associated with inhumane handling and slaughter
methods, or the serious inadequacies in current
labelling and regulation. The ‘best current practice’
ceiling makes the WelFur scores of limited value
and misleading because ‘best current practice’
still represents what the majority of people would
consider to be an unacceptable level of welfare.
Alternative systems with the potential for higher
levels of welfare do not exist for mink and foxes.
Conclusion and
recommendation
The current regulatory framework for the
protection of fur animal welfare in the European
Union is inadequate. Enrichment of existing
housing systems is not sufficient to address
the serious welfare problems inherent in cage
systems. The use of undomesticated animals
by the fur industry means that fear of humans
and difficulties in handling and management
would present insurmountable obstacles to the
adoption of more extensive systems. It is therefore
impossible for the needs of mink and foxes to be
met by the fur industry. A ban is the only viable
solution to the serious welfare concerns
highlighted in this report.
The farming of mink and foxes for fur should
be prohibited in accordance with Council
Directive 98/58/EC: “No animal shall be kept
for farming purposes unless it can reasonably
be expected, on the basis of its genotype or
phenotype, that it can be kept without
detrimental effect on its health or welfare”
and the Council of Europe Recommendation
Concerning Fur Animals: “No animal shall be
kept for its fur if: a. the conditions of this
Recommendation cannot be met, or if b. the
animal belongs to a species whose members,
despite these conditions being met, cannot
adapt to captivity without welfare problems.”
8
1: Introduction
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
9
The global fur industry has grown rapidly in recent years,
with increasing demand fuelled by growing affluence
in developing economies, particularly China and Russia.
Worldwide, around 95 million mink and foxes were killed
for their fur in 2014.1
The farming of animals for fur is controversial. Welfare
groups and many welfare scientists are concerned about
high levels of abnormal behaviours in caged mink and
foxes. Opinion polls indicate that the majority of European
citizens are opposed to farming animals exclusively or
primarily for their fur and growing numbers of countries
have taken the decision to restrict or prohibit fur farming.
The fur industry has for many years tried to argue that
conditions in fur farms are satisfactory and lobbies hard
to maintain the status quo. It argues that the public is
not well-informed about rearing conditions and welfare
standards on fur farms. Partly aimed at addressing this
perceived lack of understanding, the European Fur Breeders’
Association (EFBA) launched the ‘WelFur’ project in 2009
to develop on-farm welfare assessment protocols for mink
and foxes. These protocols have now been published and
in 2015 were being trialled on fur farms in ten European
countries, with full implementation of the assessments
planned for 2016.2 The EFBA states that the aim of WelFur
is topromote and ensure good welfare standards on all
fur farms.”3 In this report, we evaluate whether WelFur is
likely to achieve this goal.
Following a brief overview of the fur farming industry in
Europe and its global context, we: introduce key concepts
and approaches to the definition and assessment of
animal welfare; briefly describe the natural behaviour of
mink and red and arctic foxes; and address the question
of whether mink and foxes on European fur farms can be
considered domesticated. We then examine the scientific
evidence to identify the major welfare issues affecting
mink and foxes farmed for fur and ask whether WelFur is
able to address these issues. Consideration of the ethical
issues regarding the acceptability or otherwise of fur
farming is beyond the scope of this report. We will,
however, consider public opinion and the availability
of consumer information on fur production and animal
welfare and ask whether there is a role for a WelFur-based
labelling scheme. We conclude with an assessment of
the welfare contribution of WelFur and whether it is
possible to achieve an acceptable standard of welfare
on fur farms.
2: The fur farming
industry in
Europe
10
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
11
2.1 Scale of the fur farming industry
in Europe and the world
Around 85% of fur sold globally is from farming, with
the remainder from trapping and hunting wild animals.4
Mink (Neovison vison) account for the largest share of
global fur production, followed by foxes. Both red (silver)
foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and arctic (blue) foxes (Vulpes
lagopus) are farmed for their fur. Smaller numbers of
other species are also farmed for fur, including chinchilla
(Chinchilla lanigera), raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides),
sable (Martes zibellina), ferret (Mustela putorius furo) and
coypu (Myocastor coypus). More than a billion rabbits
are also bred for meat or fur each year but, in this report,
we will focus on the welfare of the main species farmed
exclusively for their fur: mink and foxes.
During the 2013-14 fur auction season, 87.2 million
mink pelts (with a total value of 3.7 billion) and
7.78 million fox pelts (with a value of more than
880 million) were produced globally.5 Europe and
China are the largest producers of fur globally and
China’s share of global production is increasing rapidly.
Europe is the largest exporter of fur6 and China is the
largest consumer and importer, reportedly accounting
for more than 50% of global fur consumption.7
In 2014, more than 41 million mink and two million
foxes were reared and killed for fur in Europe (see
Table 2.1). The largest producers in Europe are Denmark,
which produced 17.9 million mink pelts in 2014, followed
by Poland (7.8 million mink) and The Netherlands (5.5
million mink). Finland is the largest European producer
of fox fur (1.8 million) and also a significant producer of
mink pelts (1.9 million).
Data from the International Fur Federation (IFF) indicate
that China accounted for more than 40% of global mink
fur production in 2014 (around 35 million pelts),9 an
increase from around 25% in 2011.10 Some sources
suggest that Chinese production may be even higher
than this.11 China is now the largest producer of fox fur,
with China and Finland together accounting for 91%
of global fox fur production.12 Other significant producers
globally include the USA (3.5 million mink pelts in 2014,13
around 4% of global mink production), Canada (2.8
million mink pelts in 2013, around 3% of global mink
production, and close to 8000 fox pelts)14 and Russia
(1.9 million mink pelts in 2014, around 2% of global
mink production, and 0.7 million pelts of other species,
including foxes).15
Table 2.1. Numbers of farmed mink and foxes killed for fur production in Europe in 2014.8
Mink Foxes
Denmark 17,880,000 6,000
Poland 7,800,000 75,000
The Netherlands 5,500,000 0
Finland 1,900,000 1,800,000
Greece 1,800,000 0
Lithuania 1,500,000 2,050
Sweden 1,000,000 0
Norway 850,000 165,000
Latvia 770,000 6,500
Spain 700,000 0
Romania 200,000 2,000
Belgium 200,000 0
France 200,000 0
Germany 200,000 0
Ireland 200,000 0
Iceland 190,000 0
Italy 180,000 0
Estonia 130,000 14,300
Czech Republic 20,000 500
Slovakia 4,000 0
Total 41,224,000 2,071,350
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
12
2.2 The regulatory framework for
the welfare of animals reared
for fur in Europe
There is currently no detailed species-specific EU legislation
setting welfare standards for animals farmed for fur. They
are covered by the general requirement in the Lisbon
Treaty to “pay full regard to the welfare requirements
of animals” when formulating and implementing EU
policies, in recognition of their status as sentient beings”.
Animals farmed for fur are also covered by the general
provisions of Council Directive 98/58/EC of 20 July 1998
concerning the protection of animals kept for farming
purposes.16 The Annex to this Directive includes the
following requirements:
The freedom of movement of an animal, having
regard to its species and in accordance with
established experience and scientific knowledge,
must not be restricted in such a way as to cause
it unnecessary suffering or injury.
Where an animal is continuously or regularly
tethered or confined, it must be given the space
appropriate to its physiological and ethological
needs in accordance with established experience
and scientific knowledge.
“No animal shall be kept for farming purposes
unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis
of its genotype or phenotype, that it can be kept
without detrimental effect on its health or welfare.”
Under Article 5 of the Directive, the Commission is
required to submit to the Council any proposals which
may be necessary for the uniform application of the
European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept
for Farming Purposes and, on the basis of a scientific
evaluation, any recommendations made under this
Convention and any other appropriate specific rules. A
‘Recommendation Concerning Fur Animals’ was adopted
by the Standing Committee of the European Convention
for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes
in 1999.17 This was followed by the publication of a
scientific report on ‘The Welfare of Animals Kept for Fur
Production’ by the Scientific Committee on Animal
Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) in 2001, which
highlighted significant welfare problems for farmed
fur animals.18 However, a decade and a half later, no
proposals have been forthcoming from the Commission.
The 1999 Recommendation recognises that:
“in contrast to the animals which over thousands of
generations have been kept for farming purposes,
animals kept for the production of fur belong to
species which have only been farmed more recently
and which have had less opportunity to adapt to
farm conditions”
It also recognises that current husbandry systems often
fail to meet the animals’ needs:
“Considering that in the light of established experience
and scientific knowledge about the biological needs
of each of the various species of fur animals, including
those satisfied by showing certain behaviours, systems
of husbandry at present in commercial use often
fail to meet all the needs the fulfilment of which is
essential for the animals’ welfare”
Article 1 (4) of the Recommendation states:
“No animal shall be kept for its fur if:
A. the conditions of this Recommendation cannot
be met, or if
B. the animal belongs to a species whose members,
despite these conditions being met, cannot adapt
to captivity without welfare problems.”
The Recommendation also includes general provisions
for the housing, management and killing of fur animals
and special provisions for certain species, including mink
and foxes.
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
13
Council Regulation (EC) No. 1099/2009 of 24 September
2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing19
applies to animals bred or kept for fur production. The
Regulation stipulates permitted stunning and killing
methods for fur animals and includes an obligation that
the killing of fur animals “be carried out in the presence
and under the direct supervision of a person holding
a certificate of competence”. However, certificates of
competence are not required for all personnel involved.
It also includes general provisions, such as a requirement
that animalsbe spared any avoidable pain, distress or
suffering during their killing and related operations”.
Animals farmed for fur are also covered by the provisions
of Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 of 22 December
2004 on the protection of animals during transport and
related operations.20
Trade in the fur of certain species is prohibited or restricted
in the EU. Regulation (EC) No 1523/2007 of 11 December
200721 prohibits the placing on the market and the
import to, or export from, the EU of cat and dog fur,
and products containing such fur. Regulation (EC)
No 1007/2009 of 16 September 2009,22 as implemented
by Commission Regulation (EU) No 737/2010 of 10 August
2010,23 places restrictions on the trade in commercial
seal products in the EU.
In the absence of action at EU level, several European
countries have introduced legislation prohibiting fur
farming at national level. All fur farming is banned in
Austria, Slovenia, the UK, Croatia (from 2017), Bosnia
and Herzegovina (from 2018), The Netherlands (from
2024)24 and certain regions within Belgium and Germany.
Farming foxes is being phased out in Denmark but
it continues to be the second largest producer of
mink fur globally. Other countries, such as Italy and
Switzerland, have introduced more stringent welfare
requirements for animals farmed for fur, including
ground pens with additional space and enrichment.
Section 2 summary
Most fur sold globally is from farmed animals.
Worldwide, around 95 million mink and foxes
were killed for their fur in 2014. Europe and China
are the largest producers of fur globally and
China’s share of global production is increasing
rapidly. Europe is the largest exporter of fur and
China is the largest consumer and importer of
fur, reportedly accounting for more than 50%
of global consumption.
Fur animals are included in general EU
legislation on animal welfare, transport and
slaughter. However, there is currently no detailed
species-specific EU legislation setting welfare
standards for animals farmed for fur. Serious
concerns for the welfare of animals farmed for
fur are highlighted in the Council of Europe
‘Recommendation Concerning Fur Animals’ and
the report of the Scientific Committee on Animal
Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW). However,
a decade and a half after the publication of
these documents, no proposals for EU legislation
on the welfare of animals farmed for fur have
been forthcoming from the Commission. In the
absence of action at EU level, several European
countries have introduced legislation prohibiting
fur farming at national level.
3: Animal welfare and
its assessment
14
A scientific review of animal welfare standards and ‘WelFur’
15
3.1. Animal welfare – concepts
and definitions
There is no single unified definition of animal welfare.
Different authors give greater or lesser importance to
various aspects of welfare: some emphasise the biological
functioning of the animal in terms of health, growth and
reproduction; some emphasise the affective (emotional)
state of the animal in terms of positive and negative
experiences; and others emphasise the degree to which
the animal is able to behave ‘naturally’.25
In the ‘biological functioning’ approach, welfare is
considered to be compromised when normal biological
functioning is impaired, as reflected by, for example,
increased mortality or morbidity, reduced growth or
reproduction, or behavioural abnormalities such as
stereotypies (repetitive behaviour patterns with no
obvious function) and self-inflicted injuries. An example
of this approach is Broom’s definition:26 “The welfare of
an individual animal is its state as regards its attempts
to cope with its environment”.
While animals may grow, reproduce and appear healthy,
they will have poor welfare if they experience subjective
suffering such as prolonged frustration from having little
space in which to move.27 Negative emotional states, like
frustration, may be reflected in behavioural and/or
physiological changes, indicating that an animal is having
difficulty coping. Some authors argue that this is not
always the case and that the animal’s feelings are what
matter, irrespective of whether biological functioning is
impaired. Duncan argues:28 “Welfare is not simply health,
lack of stress or fitness. There will usually be a close
relationship between welfare and each of these. However,
there will also be enough exceptions to preclude equating
welfare with any of them. Thus, neither health, nor lack
of stress, nor fitness is necessary and/or sufficient to
conclude that an animal has good welfare. Welfare is
dependent on what animals feel.
However, focusing exclusively on feelings may also be
problematic. Things that make animals feel good in the
short term may ultimately compromise their welfare
if, for example, they have a negative impact on health,
and vice versa. Webster combines both the ‘biological
functioning’ and ‘affective state’ approaches into a
succinct definition of animal welfare; he considers that
welfare is good when an animal is “fit and happy” (or “fit
and feeling good” for anyone uncomfortable with the
word ‘happy’).29
Dawkins30 argues that there are really only two questions
that we need to answer about animal welfare: “Are the
animals healthy?” and “Do the animals have what they
want?”
The question then arises of how we know what animals
want? Some authors consider that providing an environment
similar to that in which their wild ancestors lived is
necessary for good welfare and that animal welfare is
likely to be compromised if the conditions in which
animals are kept are substantially different from the
conditions in which they evolved. Rollin31 argues that
animals have a right “to live their lives in accordance
with the physical, behavioural, and psychological
interests that have been programmed into them in
the course of their evolutionary development and that
constitute their telos [i.e. intrinsic nature]” and that “to
be responsible guardians of animals, we must look to
biology and ethology to help us arrive at an understanding
of these needs.
However, ‘naturalness’ is no guarantee of good welfare.
Being chased by a predator may be ‘natural’ but it does
not necessarily follow that it is necessary for good
welfare. Dawkins argues:It is not the ‘naturalness’ of the
behaviour that should be our criterion for whether an
animal suffers but what the animal’s own behaviour has
shown us it finds reinforcing [i.e. the animal will work to
obtain or avoid it] or not.” So scientific methods have
been developed that allow researchers to ‘ask’ animals
which conditions they prefer when given a choice and
how much they are motivated (in terms of how hard
they are willing to work) to obtain or avoid particular
conditions or resources. These methods often apply
economic concepts, such as ‘total expenditure’ (i.e. the
price, e.g. for access to a resource, multiplied by the
quantity, e.g. of access, purchased), ‘reservation price’
(i.e. the highest price paid),consumer surplus’ (i.e. the
difference between the total amount an animal is willing
to pay and the actual price paid) and ‘elasticity of demand
(i.e. the effect of price on demand). According to Dawkins:32
Withholding conditions or commodities for which
an animal shows ‘inelastic demand’ (i.e. for which it
continues to work despite increasing costs) is very
likely to cause suffering.”
3.2 Assessing animal welfare
In 1965, the ‘Brambell Report’ – an enquiry into the
welfare of animals kept under intensive livestock
husbandry systems – stated that farm animals should
have the freedom “to stand up, lie down, turn around,
groom themselves and stretch their limbs. 33 This list
was subsequently developed by the then Farm Animal
Welfare Council (FAWC), the British Government’s advisory
body on farm animal welfare, into the ‘Five Freedoms’:34
n
Freedom from hunger and thirst (by ready
access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full
health and vigour);
n
Freedom from discomfort (by providing an
appropriate environment including shelter and
a comfortable resting area);
n
Freedom from pain, injury and disease
(by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment);
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
16
n
Freedom to express normal behaviour
(by providing sufficient space, proper facilities
and company of the animal’s own kind);
n
Freedom from fear and distress (by ensuring
conditions and treatment which avoid mental
suffering).
The ‘Five Freedoms’ are widely used internationally as a
framework for animal welfare assessment, legislation and
assurance standards. They describe aspects of an animal’s
welfare state (e.g. freedom from discomfort) and the
‘inputs’ (e.g. a comfortable resting area) considered
necessary to achieve this state. More recently, scientists
have started to develop welfare assessment criteria
based on direct measurements of the ‘outcomes’ for
the animals, such as levels of injuries and expression
of various behaviours.
The European Welfare Quality’ project (2004-2009)
designed methods to assess cattle, pig and poultry
welfare, on-farm and at slaughter, using outcome-based
measures as far as possible. The four ‘Welfare Principles
and 12 ‘Welfare Criteria’ defined by Welfare Quality are
as follows:35
n
Good feeding
1. Absence of prolonged hunger
2. Absence of prolonged thirst
n Good housing
3. Comfort around resting
4. Thermal comfort
5. Ease of movement
n Good health
6. Absence of injuries
7. Absence of disease
8. Absence of pain induced by management
procedures
n Appropriate behaviour
9. Expression of social behaviours
10. Expression of other behaviours
11. Good human-animal relationship
12. Positive emotional state
Using outcome measures to assess welfare has a number
of advantages. Measures can often be chosen that
provide evidence of long-term consequences of housing
systems and husbandry practices (e.g. body condition,
chronic injuries), whereas input measures tend to give
a ‘snapshot’ of conditions at a point in time (e.g. during
a welfare inspection visit, which is usually arranged in
advance so conditions could potentially be altered, e.g.
by providing additional bedding or enrichment material).
However, there are also risks associated with relying on
measuring welfare outcomes. Animals with the worst
injuries or health problems may be culled, and so
excluded from measurements, and behavioural problems
may not be evident during the time animals are being
observed, especially if measurements are taken over a
short time frame, as is usually the case with farm
inspection visits.
The use of outcome measures avoids making a priori
judgements regarding the welfare impact of any particular
farming system or practice but this does not mean that
the use of outcome measures removes the need to
stipulate adequate input standards. Rather, the assessment
of appropriate and validated welfare outcome measures
should provide a powerful tool to evaluate farming
systems and practices, and inform decisions as to which
farming systems are able to provide acceptable welfare
standards. Welfare can be poor in any farming system
if management practices and stockmanship are poor.
However, systems vary in their potential to provide good
welfare. Even if stockmanship is good, welfare is likely to
be poor in barren, cramped conditions that severely limit
opportunities to perform highly motivated behaviours.
It is important to consider welfare over the whole life of
the animal. FAWC proposed that the welfare of farmed
animals should be considered in terms of an animal’s
quality of life over its lifetime, including the manner of its
death, and that this quality of life can be classified as:36
n
A Life not worth Living’;
n
A Life worth Living’;
n
A ‘Good Life’.
This approach gives greater emphasis to the importance
of positive experiences to farm animal welfare and reflects
an ongoing shift in animal welfare science towards
attempts to incorporate positive aspects of welfare into
welfare assessment.
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Section 3 summary
Different authors emphasise the importance of different aspects in assessing animal welfare, which can
be broadly summarised as ‘biological functioning’ (i.e. are the animals physically and mentally healthy?),
‘affective (emotional) states’ (i.e. are the animals happy/feeling good?) and ‘natural/motivated behaviours’
(i.e. ‘do the animals have what they want?’).
The Five Freedoms’ are widely used internationally as a framework for animal welfare assessment, legislation
and assurance standards. They describe aspects of an animal’s welfare state and the inputs’ considered
necessary to achieve this state. In recent years, there have been attempts to develop methods of assessing
animal welfare directly using animal-based measures of welfare ‘outcomes. Assessment of appropriate and
validated welfare outcome measures should provide a powerful tool to evaluate farming systems and
practices, and inform decisions as to which farming systems are able to provide acceptable welfare standards.
Welfare can be poor in any farming system if management practices and stockmanship are poor. However,
systems vary in their potential to provide good welfare. Even if stockmanship is good, welfare is likely to
be poor in barren, cramped conditions that severely limit opportunities to perform highly motivated
behaviours.
There is an ongoing shift in animal welfare science towards attempts to incorporate positive aspects of
welfare into welfare assessment. This is reflected in FAWC’s proposal that farmed animals should have a
‘Good Life’, or at least a ‘Life worth Living’, when welfare is considered over the whole life of an animal.
4: Characteristics of
mink and foxes
farmed for fur
18
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4.1 Biology and natural behaviour
of mink and foxes
Although we cannot assume that the performance of
all species-specific behaviours observed under natural
conditions is essential for an animal’s welfare, an
appreciation of the natural behavioural repertoire of
a species is a vital starting point in identifying which
behaviours are likely to be important. Studying the
preferences and motivation of animals under experimental
conditions can reveal which behaviours are most
important to the animal and which they need to be
able to perform in captivity.
Certain aspects of an animal’s biology are associated
with particular vulnerability to welfare problems in
captivity. For example, carnivores that roam over a large
territory in the wild are more likely to display evidence
of stress and psychological dysfunction in captivity,
including high rates of stereotypical pacing and infant
mortality.37 An understanding of the lifestyle of a species
in the wild is therefore essential to inform decisions
about which species can (and cannot) be kept
successfully in captivity without major welfare
problems.
The American mink
(Neovison vison)
The American mink is a small carnivorous mammal with a
long slender body, short legs and a long tail characteristic
of the mustelid (weasel) family to which it belongs.
Females are around 10% smaller and weigh 50% less
than males.38 The coat is dark brown, although several
colour mutations (albino, tan, blonde) occur occasionally.39
Through selective breeding, farmers have produced
several colour variations not seen in the wild.
The mink is adapted for a semi-aquatic lifestyle. The coat
has three times the density of guard hairs compared
with that of the terrestrial ferret, and the feet have small
but obvious webbing between the digits.40 Mink move
on land with a walking or bounding gait41 and are also
able to climb and jump between trees.42 They can dive to
depths of 5-6m and swim underwater for up to 30-35m.43
The native range of American mink covers most of
North America except the extreme north of Canada and
arid areas of the south-western United States. However,
escapees from fur farms have established populations
in much of northern Europe and Russia. Mink occupy a
wide variety of wetland habitats, including streams, rivers,
lakes, freshwater and saltwater marshes, and coast lines,44
and their territories always run along the edges of water
bodies.45 There may be some territory overlap between
mink of the opposite sex but territories of animals of the
same sex rarely overlap.46 Mean linear home range size
ranges from 1.1 to 7.5km, depending on sex (generally
larger for males than females) and habitat.47
Mink often have half a dozen, and sometimes as many as
two dozen, dens used for sleeping and resting, eating
larger prey items and caching surplus food.48 These
are generally <2m from water and are usually crevices
between tree roots or abandoned burrows of other
species.49 Mink are mostly nocturnal (active at night) or
crepuscular (active at dawn/dusk) but can also show
a significant amount of diurnal (daytime) activity,50
particularly where they are more reliant on aquatic
prey.51 Nightly movements range from zero to 12km52
and mink may spend 80-95% of their time inside dens.53
Mink are strictly carnivorous: their diet varies according
to prey availability, and typically consists mostly of fish,
amphibians, crustaceans and small mammals, and
opportunistically includes birds and their eggs, reptiles,
aquatic insects, earthworms and snails.54 Most foraging
activity is along waterways.55 On land, mink typically
hunt with their nose to the ground, poking into crevices,
under boulders and into burrows.56 Both on land and
in water, prey are caught with short bursts of activity
rather than sustained pursuit.57
Adult mink are generally solitary. Males and females
associate briefly for mating in early spring and on
average four kits (range two to eight) are born in late
spring.58 They are nutritionally independent by eight to
ten weeks of age and typically begin to disperse when
around 12-16 weeks old,59 although young females may
stay with their mother until they are ten or 11 months
old60 and kits of either sex may travel in pairs until late
autumn.61 Juveniles may travel a few kilometres up to
50km in search of their own territory.62
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The red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
The red fox is a relatively small member of the canid
(dog) family with an elongated muzzle, large pointed
ears and a long bushy tail.63 Males are about 1.2 times
heavier than females.64 There are three basic colour
variations:65 the ‘common’ fox is any colour from yellowish
to deep rusty red, with a white, pale grey or sooty grey
belly. The backs of the ears are black, as are the feet, and
there may be a conspicuous white tip to the tail. The
‘silver’ fox is black with variable amounts of silvering,
particularly on the rump, due to the silver tips of the
guard hairs. The cross’ fox is an intermediate form and
is predominantly greyish-brown or blackish-red with a
dark cross down the back and across the shoulders.
The red fox is the most widely distributed land mammal
in the world, found across most of the northern hemisphere
and widely introduced, most notably to Australia.66 It is a
carnivore and opportunistic omnivore, able to survive on
a wide variety of food items and adapt to diverse habitats,
from arctic tundra to semi-arid temperate deserts, forests,
farmland and densely populated urban areas.67,68 The
diet may include small mammals, fish, birds and their
eggs, reptiles, invertebrates, grass and leaves, berries and
fruits, offal and carcases, and human refuse.69,70 Surplus
food is often cached in small holes which may be
disguised with earth, twigs and leaves.71
Foxes are generally nocturnal or crepuscular but will
also forage during the day in winter and when rearing
young.72 They are highly mobile, covering daily distances
usually greater than 5km73 and often in excess of 10km.74
One study of activity patterns in sub-adult male foxes
between 22.00 hours and dawn found that 42-55% of
the time was typically spent foraging, 8-17% moving
and 33-50% resting.75
Home range size varies from less than 20 hectares (0.2km2)
for some urban foxes to more than 1500 hectares (15km2)
in upland areas.76 Males and females share a territory,
and their social behaviour is highly flexible. They may
live in male/female pairs or in family groups of up to ten
adults and young; groups consist of equal numbers of
adult males and females.77 Generally only one vixen in
the group breeds, and subordinate vixens that become
pregnant may abort or desert their cubs, or they may be
killed.78 Sometimes two or more vixens rear cubs, either
in separate dens or together.79 Foxes usually have one
or two preferred denning sites in their territory that they
use to raise cubs, plus a number of smaller dens and
above-ground lying-up sites.80 Foxes dig dens themselves
and also make use of abandoned rabbit burrows and
badger dens.81
The cubs (typically three to six) are born in spring and
start to emerge from the den at four to five weeks of age.82
They establish their hierarchy through fighting in the first
six weeks of life and, once established, play becomes the
major activity.83 By eight weeks of age the cubs will play
several metres from the den and from about ten weeks
onwards, depending on weather conditions, the natal
den is progressively abandoned.84 Weaning starts at
around five weeks of age and is a gradual process, with
the cubs being fully weaned when three months old.85
From the age of four months, the parents ignore the cubs
or become hostile and cubs start to disperse in the autumn,
with peak dispersal towards the end of the year.86 Dispersal
patterns are flexible in response to prevailing circumstances,
and both the proportion of cubs dispersing, and dispersal
distances, are related to population density.87, 88
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The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)
The arctic fox is smaller than the red fox, with shorter
limbs and snout, shorter and more rounded ears, a bushy
tail, thickly furred feet and a dense winter coat, which
changes colour seasonally.89 There are two colour forms:
the ‘white’ fox is white in winter and brown on the back
with white on the underside in summer; the ‘blue’ fox is
grey/blue in winter and dark brown in summer.90 70% of
the arctic fox’s coat is fine underfur, compared with 20%
for the red fox.91 Males are 5-20% heavier than females.92
Arctic foxes live in coastal and inland areas in the arctic
regions of Eurasia, North America, Greenland and
Iceland.93 Their diet includes small mammals such as
lemmings and voles, birds and their eggs, marine
invertebrates, fish, carcasses and placentas of marine
mammals, insects and larvae, berries and seaweed.94,95,96
They remain active year-round and arctic foxes are able
to conserve energy when faced with food shortages
in winter by reducing both activity levels and basal
metabolic rate.97 Food caching is common when
food is abundant.98
They are mostly nocturnal or crepuscular but may
be active during the day.99 Arctic foxes are territorial
during summer, with home ranges typically between
four and 60km2.100 However, they may move over very
large distances, making seasonal and/or periodic
migrations of hundreds or thousands of kilometres,
travelling up to 24km per day.101
Dens are used for cub-rearing and for shelter during
winter.102 These are generally large complex structures,
which often cover an area in excess of 100m2 and typically
possess five to 40, and sometimes more than 100, entrances.103
Arctic foxes are generally solitary outside of the mating
and breeding season but have a flexible social system,
sometimes forming large family groups.104 They are
monogamous and may mate for life.105 A non-breeding
female may help bring food to the cubs.106
Mating takes place in early spring and cubs (typically six
to 12; range three to 25) are born in late spring.107 Cubs
emerge from the den at three to four weeks of age and
by eight weeks they begin spending time away from
the den.108 They engage in play with each other and
occasionally with adults.109 Aggression between cubs
is reported to be uncommon and not to cause serious
injury.110 Cubs generally play (33%) and rest (>50% of the
time) when parents are away from the den.111 Cubs are
weaned at six to seven weeks, are independent by 12-14
weeks,112 and disperse in early autumn, moving from a
few kilometres to more than 1100km.113
4.2 Breeding and genetics – are
mink and foxes on European
fur farms domesticated?
Domestication and tameness –
concepts and definitions
There are several definitions ofdomestication. In the
context of this report, it must relate to how animal
welfare is affected by the domestication process. An
appropriate definition is that utilised in the 2001
SCAHAW report on the Welfare of Animals Kept for Fur
Production:114an evolutionary process by which a
population of animals becomes adapted to man and
to the captive environment by genetic changes
occurring over generations including those
predisposing to environmentally-induced developmental
events recurring in each generation”.
Adaptation to captivity is achieved through genetic
changes occurring over generations and environmental
stimulation and experiences during an animal’s lifetime.115
As SCAHAW highlights:116 “From a welfare point of view,
the crucial aim is a well-adapted individual, regardless of
the extent to which this is due to genetic or ontogenetic
[developmental] events.” Important characteristics
of domesticated animals include a capacity to live
under anthropogenic constraints without problems
such as reduced reproductive success or substantial
fearfulness towards humans.117
‘Tameability’ is a unique ability to interact with humans
in a positive way and is a distinctive characteristic
exhibited by domesticated species.118 Tameness is an
important behavioural trait of captive animals, since it
facilitates handling and improves welfare.119 The process
of taming is an experiential (learning) phenomenon
occurring during the lifetime of an individual.120 Contact
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
22
with humans very early in life, during a sensitive period
for socialisation, greatly facilitates the process of taming.121
While genetics can set limits on the degree of tameness
achieved under a given set of circumstances, experience
can determine the extent to which taming actually occurs.122
The changes that occur during domestication affect
more than just the behaviour of the animal and responses
to humans. Comparative studies of domestic stocks
and their wild ancestors across a range of species
indicate that behavioural changes are accompanied
by an array of alterations in other traits, including
colour, size and physiology, giving rise to a typical
‘domestication phenotype’ (the phenotype of an animal
is its observable characteristics, which are determined
by a combination of genetics and environment).123 This
domestication phenotype’ is typically characterised by
the appearance of white or piebald (spotted) coat or
plumage colour, a reduction in the size of the brain
and skull, a shortening of the legs, a shortening and/
or curling of the tail, the appearance of floppy ears and
wavy or curly hair, increased reproductive capabilities,
faster and more flexible development, and being less
fearful, more sociable and more risk-prone towards
predators.124,125 While domestication affects many
aspects of behaviour, there is little evidence that it results
in the loss of behaviours from the species repertoire
or that the basic structure of the motor patterns for
such behaviours has changed.126 Thus, the needs of
domesticated animals are closely related to the
evolutionary history of their ancestors.127
Experimental domestication
of mink and foxes
The Council of Europe Recommendations state:128
“in contrast to the animals which over thousands of
generations have been kept for farming purposes,
animals kept for the production of fur belong to species
which have only been farmed more recently and which
have had less opportunity to adapt to farm conditions”.
The first mink farms were founded in the 1860s in
Upstate New York.129 Farming silver foxes began on
Prince Edward Island in southeastern Canada in the
1890s.130 The first silver fox farm appeared in Europe
in 1914.131 Blue (arctic) foxes were first kept in captivity
in 1885, on small islands off the coast of Alaska, and
have been farmed in Europe since the late 1920s.132
However, the degree of domestication is not necessarily
dictated by the length of time that a population of
animals has been maintained in captivity. If response
to humans is the sole selection criterion, and is strictly
applied (e.g. less than 10% of animals are bred to produce
the next generation), it is possible to produce a
domesticated phenotype in relatively few generations.133
Belyaev and Trut started work on the experimental
domestication of silver foxes at the Institute of Cytology
and Genetics (ICG) of the Russian Academy of Sciences
in Novosibirsk, Russia, in the late 1950s and this study,
known as ‘the farm-fox experiment’, is still ongoing.134
130 foxes that showed the least fearful and aggressive
responses to humans were chosen from several commercial
fox farms across the former Soviet Union and brought
to the ICG to become the founders of the experimental
population.135 Breeding foxes for tameness started with
selection against fear and aggression towards humans,
and continued with selection for contact-seeking
behaviour.136 In parallel, starting in the 1970s, a separate
population of foxes was bred for aggressive behaviour
towards humans.137
The tame foxes at Novosibirsk behave much like
domestic dogs, actively seeking human attention. 138
Seeing a human at a distance, they whine, yelp and
wag their tails in anticipation of contact, when they
try to lick the experimenter’s face and hands.139
This behaviour develops spontaneously, early in the
cub’s development, without any specific contacts with
the experimenter needed to initiate the behaviour.140
The first foxes classified as having ‘elite’ domesticated
behaviour appeared in the 6th generation.141 By the 42nd
generation, over 70% of the animals were classified as
elite’ domesticated animals.142
The tame foxes had altered vocal responses towards
humans, making ‘cackles’ and ‘pants’ but never ‘coughs’
or ‘snorts, whereas aggressive and unselected foxes
produce ‘coughs’ and ‘snorts, but never ‘cackles’ or
‘pants’.143,144 Vocal responses to other foxes were similar
in tame, aggressive and unselected foxes.145 Tame foxes
also display bursts of vocal activity in response to the
approach of an unfamiliar human, believed to be to
attract human attention due to a positive emotional
state arising from interactions with people.146 Tame
foxes are as skilled as dog puppies in understanding
human gestures.147
Domestication results in earlier eye opening and earlier
onset of the first response to sound in fox cubs and
prolongs the sensitive period of socialisation beyond
60-65 days of age (the upper limit is 40-45 days in
unselected foxes).148 Tame foxes have altered brain
chemistry, including higher levels of serotonin149
(a neurotransmitter involved in the suppression of
aggressive behaviour150). Domestication is associated
with changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal
(HPA) axis, which is the main hormone system involved
in the adaptation of animals to captivity.151 For example,
basal and stress-induced blood cortisol levels were,
respectively, three- and five-fold lower in tame foxes
than in farm-bred foxes.152
Physical characteristics typical of thedomestication
phenotype’ emerged in the domesticated foxes, including
retention of the floppy ears of young cubs to a greater
age (three to four weeks instead of two to three weeks, with
ears remaining floppy to three or four months in some
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animals and occasionally throughout life), the appearance
of curly tails, changes in skull shape, localised depigmentation
(piebaldness) and localised yellow-brown mottling in the coat.153
Trut et al. suggest their findings in domesticated foxes,
together with other data from the literature, indicate that
genes affecting pigmentation are located within the
genetic systems involved in the regulation of behaviour
and development.154 The time of moulting in tame
foxes is also longer than in unselected animals.155 The
domesticated foxes reach sexual maturity about a month
earlier than non-domesticated foxes and give birth to
litters that are, on average, one cub larger.156 The mating
season is longer in the domesticated foxes; some females
mate out of season and a few mate twice a year.157
Studies carried out over four years in Finland and Norway
have shown that it is possible to select for more confident
behaviour in blue foxes, albeit with low to moderate
levels of heritability.158 However, to date, there is no
population of domesticated blue foxes.
Work on the experimental domestication of mink has
also been carried out at Novosibirsk. As with silver foxes,
breeding for domesticated behaviour in mink resulted
in the emergence of coat colour changes, such as the
appearance of the ‘black crystal’ colour-type, which has
white spotting on the underside and veil-like white
guard hairs covering the body and particularly the
head.159 Similar changes in HPA-axis function, such
as reduced cortisol levels, were also found in mink
bred for domesticated behaviour.160
A number of tests have been developed to test the
responses of mink to potentially stressful situations. The
‘stick test’ has been used to categorise mink as ‘fearful’,
exploratory/confident’ or ‘aggressive’, depending on their
response to a wooden spatula inserted into the cage.161
In the ‘hand-catch test’ (‘Trapezov’s hand test’), an
experimenter opens the animal’s cage and slowly
reaches for, and tries to catch, the animal with a gloved
hand.162,163 This has a higher sensitivity (i.e. is able to
detect fear in more animals) because it is more
threatening than the ‘stick test’.164
Since 1988, two lines of mink of the ‘scanblack’ type
have been bred forexploratory/confident’ or ‘fearful’
responses at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences
(DIAS).165,166 Originally a third line was bred for ‘aggressive’
responses but this was stopped after three generations
because too few showed this response.167 By the tenth
generation, 5% of animals in the ‘exploratory/confident’
line showed fearful responses in the stick test, compared
with around 95% in thefearful’ line.168
Bothconfident’ and ‘fearful mink show an acute stress
response to handling.169 After first capture, there was no
difference in stress-induced hyperthermia (an increase
in body temperature in response to a stressful situation)
between ‘confident’ and ‘fearful’ mink.170 However, the
stress response of ‘confident’ mink decreased over time
while held in a trap, whereas the response of ‘fearful’ mink
increased.171 Also, when captured a second time,confident’
mink showed a reduced response compared with first
capture, whereas ‘fearful’ mink showed an increased
response.172Confident’ mink can be mated earlier173 and
have higher reproductive success174 than ‘fearful’ mink.
While the DIAS research demonstrates that it is
possible to reduce fearfulness in farmed mink, the
animals in the ‘exploratory/confident’ line are still a
long way from being domesticated. Although more
than 35% of mink from theexploratory/confident’ line
would tolerate a gloved hand in the cage with no physical
contact (score of +1 in the hand-catch test), and more
than 35% would make physical contact with the gloved
hand if it was held still (score of +2), only around 2%
would tolerate the gloved hand being moved to touch
them without showing avoidance or aggression (score
of +3), around 2% explored the hand from the nest box
(score of +4), and no mink could be held without lifting
(score of +5) or be handled and lifted (score of +6) without
avoidance/biting.175 More than 10% took flight (score of -1)
and more than 10% took flight and maintained maximum
distance from the hand (score of -3). By contrast, the mink
selectively bred for tameness at Novosibirsk do not show
any signs of fear or aggression on contact with humans
and can be handled without gloves.176
Are mink and foxes on fur farms
domesticated?
While it is possible to breed mink and silver foxes with
many of the features typical of domesticated animals,
this cannot occur on fur farms. As we have explained
above, the traits associated with selectively breeding
for domestic phenotypes have negative impacts on fur
quality. In contrast to domestication, the emphasis on fur
farms has been to select for traits associated with pelt
colour and quality, body size and litter size, with little
attention paid to behavioural traits.177,178 Individuals
that exhibit particularly problematic behaviour may
be excluded from breeding, resulting in some limited
unconscious selection against the most aggressive
individuals, but traits related to welfare and fearfulness
have not been systematically considered in breeding
programmes.179,180 In 2001, SCAHAW concluded that:181
“Generally, in comparison with other farm animals,
species farmed for their fur have been subjected to
relatively little active selection except with respect
to fur characteristics.”
However, captive breeding has resulted in a number of
physical differences between farmed and wild populations
of mink and foxes. A number of colour varieties of mink
have been produced, including the ‘sapphire’,pearl’,
‘topaz’ and ‘winter blue. These colour varieties are
generally the result of one or more recessive mutations
and are often associated with reduced fertility, litter size
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
24
and vitality.182,183 Farmed mink weigh approximately
twice as much as wild mink184 and have relatively smaller
brains, hearts and spleens.185,186 Breeding for increased
body/pelt size has resulted in animals that tend to
become overweight when fed ad libitum. As a result,
mink are usually fed a restricted diet to reduce their
weight in preparation for breeding, leading to hunger
and an increase in stereotypic behaviour187 (see Section
5.2). Selection has also resulted in increased litter size in
farmed mink,188 which contributes to welfare problems
associated with loss of body condition during lactation.189
As with mink, blue foxes have been bred to be larger
than their wild counterparts to increase pelt size, which
has favoured fast-growing and fat individuals.190 Obesity
in farmed blue foxes is associated with high levels
of bent feet, difficulty in moving and diarrhoea.191
Welfare assessments carried out on ten Finnish fox farms
(71% blue foxes) in 2011 found that 54% of foxes had
slightly bent feet and 23% had severely bent feet; 43%
of foxes had some difficulty in moving, 2.7% had major
difficulties in moving and 1% did not move; and 45% of
foxes had diarrhoea.192
There appears to have been some limited progress
made in reducing fear in mink on commercial farms.
The proportion of adult female mink on a sample of
Danish farms classified as ‘exploratory/confident’ in the
stick test was higher in 1999 (62%)193,194 than in 1987
(45%).195 However, even mink classified as ‘exploratory/
confident’ in the stick test generally cannot be handled
without showing fear/avoidance/aggression196 and
therefore remain unsuitable for farming.
In the hand-catch test, which is more representative of
the level of human contact mink are subjected to on
commercial farms, the vast majority of mink respond
with fear and/or aggression. In a study in Russia, 81%
of ‘standard’ (brown) mink responded fearfully in the
hand-catch test, trying to avoid the hand, running
about the cage in panic and shrieking; 16.2% responded
aggressively, while 2.8% showed a calmer, more
exploratory reaction.197 The proportion of less fearful
individuals appears to be greater in some colour varieties,
but is still very small. In ‘sapphires’, 75.3% responded
fearfully, 19.1% aggressively, and 5.6% with an exploratory
reaction. Only 0.03% of ‘standard mink and 0.2% of
‘sapphires’ would allow themselves to be handled
without showing signs of fear or aggression.
Domesticated ferrets, like the domesticated mink and
silver foxes at Novosibirsk, are easy to handle without
restraint devices or protective gloves.198 Mink and foxes
on fur farms cannot be handled without protective
gloves (for mink) or restraint devices (for foxes) to reduce
the risk of injury to the handler (see Section 5.1). So the
animals are not adapted to close contact with humans
and cannot be considered in any way domesticated. The
use of these handling methods may have contributed
to the lack of attention to behavioural traits in breeding
programmes. SCAHAW states:199 The use of neck-tongs
and snout-clips to avoid scratches and injuries from
bites when handling the foxes may have retarded
the conscious selection providing genetic progress
related to tameness.”
The foxes at Novosibirsk are the only population of
domesticated foxes in the world.200 Although reared
in captivity, the red fox had not been domesticated
previously.201 Commercially-reared foxes under standard
farm conditions normally exhibit distinct patterns of
aggressive and fear-aggressive behaviour towards
Breeding for increased
pelt size has led to
welfare problems
associated with obesity
in farmed foxes
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25
humans.202 In Finland, the offspring of foxes from the
domesticated population bred at Novosibirsk were
housed under standard farm conditions, without any
additional handling, and compared with normal Finnish
farm foxes.203 The domesticated foxes had higher
domestication indexes and lower fearfulness scores than
Finnish farm foxes. Almost all domesticated foxes started
eating in the presence of a human and accepted a titbit
from an unfamiliar person, whereas only a few Finnish
foxes did so. The domesticated foxes had lower serum
cortisol (stress hormone) levels both before and after
stressful stimulation and showed lower stress-induced
hyperthermia compared with Finnish foxes. Hybrids
between the two fox populations showed intermediate
results. The authors concluded that the welfare of the
domesticated foxes was improved relative to the Finnish
farm foxes and recommended that selection for less
fearful foxes should be a major breeding goal on
commercial farms.204 However, the unstimulating cage
environment would still be a major welfare problem
(see Section 5) and the changes in the coat characteristic
of domestic animals would be incompatible with the
fur industry’s demands. The authors suggested that the
domesticated foxes might also be frustrated by a lack of
regular petting from humans.205
It is possible to reduce long-term stress and fear reactions
through intense early handling of silver206,207,208 and blue
foxes.209 Both gentle/positive and neutral handling can
be beneficial.210,211 High levels of fear responses and
enlarged adrenal glands indicate that non-handled
animals suffer long-term stress.212 However, farmers
are not generally able to dedicate the amount of time
needed to implement intense handling of all young
animals.213 SCAHAW concluded:214Fearfulness of humans
is a common feature of foxes on commercial farms.
Genetic selection has been used experimentally to
produce much less fearful foxes and experience of
gentle human handling can substantially reduce fear.
However, the less fearful genetic strains are not being
used commercially, and farmers are not necessarily
devoting the substantial amount of time which is needed
for handling of all their foxes. As a consequence, fear
of humans is a major and very widespread welfare
problem on fox farms.”
Fear of humans in the undomesticated animals
used by the fur industry makes them fundamentally
unsuitable for farming. The farming of mink and foxes
for fur is therefore in contravention of Council Directive
98/58/EC: “No animal shall be kept for farming purposes
unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of
its genotype or phenotype, that it can be kept without
detrimental effect on its health or welfare” and the
Council of Europe ‘Recommendation Concerning Fur
Animals’: “No animal shall be kept for its fur if: a. the
conditions of this Recommendation cannot be met, or
if b. the animal belongs to a species whose members,
despite these conditions being met, cannot adapt to
captivity without welfare problems.”
Section 4 summary
Appreciation of the natural behavioural repertoire of a species is a vital starting point in identifying which
behaviours are likely to be important for welfare. Carnivores that roam over a large territory in the wild are
more likely to display evidence of stress and psychological dysfunction in captivity, including high rates of
stereotypical pacing and infant mortality.
‘Domestication’ is an evolutionary process by which a population of animals becomes adapted to humans
and to the captive environment by genetic changes occurring over generations, including those predisposing
to environmentally-induced developmental events recurring in each generation. Domestication does not
result in the loss of behaviours from the species repertoire. Therefore the needs of domesticated animals
remain closely related to the evolutionary history of their ancestors. The most important aspect of domestication
from a welfare perspective is the unique ability of domesticated species to interact with humans in a positive
way.
If response to humans is the sole selection criterion, and is strictly applied, it is possible to breed domesticated
silver foxes within relatively few generations, which actively seek human attention and are easy to handle.
Domestication of mink is also possible and preliminary research suggests that it may be possible to breed
domesticated blue foxes, but this has not been pursued to any great extent.
However, domesticated animals are not used on fur farms because changes in the coat characteristic of
domesticated animals are incompatible with the fur industry’s demands. On fur farms the focus is on
breeding for pelt colour, size and quality, and fear of humans in the undomesticated animals currently
used by the fur industry mak es them fundamentally unsuitable for farming. Farming mink and foxes for fur is
therefore in contravention of Council Directive 98/58/EC and the Council of Europe Recommendation
Concerning Fur Animals’.
5: Major welfare
issues for mink
and foxes farmed
for fur in Europe
26
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5.1 Farming systems, handling
procedures and killing
methods
Housing systems
Farmed mink are generally housed in wire mesh cages,
elevated above ground level and typically arranged in
two, but in some cases up to ten, rows under a long
(50-100m) roof, often without side walls.215,216 The cages
are usually largely barren except for the inclusion of a
nest box. In some cases a wire cylinder and/or a platform
may be provided.
Farmed foxes are housed in closed or open-sided sheds,
commonly holding two, but in some cases up to eight,
rows of wire mesh cages raised 60-100cm above the
ground.217 The cages are generally bare except for the
temporary inclusion of a nest box for a vixen with young
and, often, the provision of an elevated resting platform
(commonly made of wire mesh) and an object (such as
a wooden block) for gnawing. Large numbers of small
cages are used to maximise the number of animals that
can be reared in a given space.
Handling
Handling and restraint methods for mink and foxes
are designed to protect the handler from injuries and
increase the efficiency of handling procedures. Mink are
generally handled with heavy gloves and are sometimes
caught in a metal trap placed in the cage, or grasped
with metal body-tongs.218 These have a pair of flattened
jaws that are used to grip the mink just behind the front
legs.219 For fur grading and live exhibitions, a special
trap is used where the floor can be pushed upwards,
completely immobilising the mink.220 Mink show an
acute stress response to capture and immobilisation.221
SCAHAW states:Immobilisation causes welfare problems
especially when prolonged” and advises:Mink should
not be kept in a carrying cage or in a trap for more than
one hour”.
The most frequent method of handling adult and sub-adult
foxes is to grasp the neck with a pair of metal tongs
and then grab them by the tail.222 Neck-tongs are made
of steel, around 50cm long, with a handle to open and
close the rounded jaws, which typically have a diameter
of 7.5cm for females and 8.5cm for males.223 Handling
and restraint are acutely stressful for both silver224,225 and
blue226 foxes. Dental injuries can occur when animals bite
the tongs.227 Neck-tongs continue to be used routinely
on fur farms despite a clear statement in the Council
of Europe Recommendations prohibiting this:228
The routine use of neck tongs for catching foxes
shall be avoided.” A metal snout clip may also be used
to immobilise the fox’s jaws when foxes are exhibited
at shows.229 SCAHAW recommends:230 “The use of neck
tongs and snout clips in foxes should be avoided as
much as possible. Bare metal tongs should not be used.”
Mink and foxes are usually killed on the farm so fur
animals are not routinely transported.231 Ho we ver,
animals may be transported to exhibitions and also
between farms when breeding stock are bought and
sold.
Killing
Mink are usually killed by gassing with carbon dioxide
(CO2) or carbon monoxide (CO).232 Both of these are
commercially available in compressed form in a cylinder
and the latter can also be supplied by the exhaust gases
(which also include some CO2 and other toxic gases)
from a petrol-driven engine. It is a legal requirement in
the EU for exhaust gases to be filtered and cooled before
being used to kill mink.233 However, in practice this is not
always the case. A survey of more than 100 mink farms
in Finland in 2010 found that exhaust gases were not
filtered on 8% of farms.234 Exhaust gases were not cooled
on 43% of farms, and 86% of farms did not check the
temperature of the killing chamber.235 Cylinder CO is
usually used in the Netherlands, whereas filtered exhaust
CO or cylinder CO2 are generally used in Finland.236
Typically, a mobile gassing unit is moved along the shed
and animals selected for killing are removed from their
cage and placed into the killing box one after another.
Between 30 and over 100 mink may be placed in the
unit at any one time.237,238,239 Unless loss of consciousness
is instantaneous, there is likely to be stress due to confinement
with so many other animals, and animals may pile up
and be killed in part by suffocation.240 Both the mink
being killed and mink remaining in their cages often
vocalise, suggesting that the process causes stress for
both handled and non-handled mink.241
Mink find CO2 highly aversive, responding with coughing,
sneezing and rapid recoil from a chamber containing the
gas.242 The 2006 report of the ‘International Consensus
Meeting on Carbon Dioxide Euthanasia of Laboratory
Animals’ concluded:243 “If animals are placed into a
chamber containing a high concentration of CO2 (above
50%), they will experience at least 10-15 seconds of pain
in the mucosa of the upper airways before the loss of
consciousness. This is a serious welfare problem. EU
legislation permits the use of CO2 with a minimum
concentration of 80% for killing mink.244 This
concentration kills mink within an average of four to five
minutes,245 whereas a concentration of 70% CO2 does
not kill mink within seven to 15 minutes.246,247
A number of reviews have concluded that the use of
CO2 is not an acceptable method of killing mink. The
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
28
2001 SCAHAW report recommends:248 “Killing mink
with CO2 should be avoided, and humane methods
developed.” A 2008 report from the working-group to
the Scientific Advisory Committee on Animal Health
and Welfare (SACAHW) in Ireland concluded:249 “There
is strong evidence, therefore, that carbon dioxide is an
unsuitable method for killing mink and that its use
results in significant welfare compromise […] The use
of carbon dioxide for killing mink is not acceptable
and should not be permitted”.
CO is thought to induce unconsciousness and death
through deprivation of oxygen,250 although other
mechanisms may be involved.251 Being semi-aquatic,
mink have specific adaptations for swimming and diving,
including the ability to detect and respond to the effects
of hypoxia (low oxygen levels).252 This raises questions
regarding the welfare consequences of exposing mink
to CO.253
EU legislation currently permits the use of a gas mixture
containing more than 4% CO from a pure source or
more than 1% CO associated with other toxic gases from
filtered exhaust gases.254 In practice, the concentration
of CO in the killing chamber is often not measured.255 A
concentration of up to 3% CO in filtered exhaust gases
is ineffective, with mink taking more than 7-15 minutes
to die or not dying at all.256 SCAHAW states:257 “filtered
exhaust gases [...] induce unconsciousness slower than
pure CO, and it is preceded by excitation and convulsions.”
The 2008 SACAHW report concluded:258 The use of
carbon monoxide, from exhaust gasses, for killing
mink is not acceptable and should not be permitted.”
Foxes are usually killed by electrocution while restrained
with neck-tongs.259,260 EU legislation stipulates that
electrodes be applied to the mouth and rectum with
a minimum current of 0.3 amperes and a minimum
voltage of 110 volts for at least three seconds.261 When
tested with sedated foxes, this method brought about an
immediate and irreversible state of unconsciousness.262
However, animals are not sedated on fur farms, and there
is potential for poor welfare if cardiac fibrillation occurs
prior to loss of consciousness due to incorrect application
of the electrodes.263 The 2008 SACAHW report states:264
“international recommendations suggest that intravenous
injection of barbiturate is the method of choice for killing
foxes. This should be performed by a veterinary surgeon.
However, the prolonged restraint necessary for administration
of a lethal injection is likely to cause additional stress and
may not be considered practical for large numbers of
animals.
Unlike other farmed species, EU legislation does not
currently require certificates of competence for all
personnel carrying out stunning and killing of fur
animals, although killing must be supervised by a person
holding a certificate of competence.265 This represents
an additional risk to the welfare of fur animals if these
procedures are carried out by inadequately trained
personnel, given the importance for welfare of correct
application, and assessment of the effectiveness, of
stunning and killing methods. The 2008 SACAHW report
recommends:266 “A requirement for formal training of
all those involved in on-farm killing of fur animals
should be introduced. Such training should be
documented and subject to inspection by the
competent authority”.
Because they are not domesticated, mink and foxes on
fur farms cannot be handled without protective gloves
(for mink) or restraint devices (for foxes) to reduce the
risk of injury to the handler. Metal neck-tongs continue
to be used routinely to handle foxes on fur farms,
despite being in contravention of Council of Europe
Recommendations. Reviews of the scientific evidence
have condemned some commonly used killing
methods as inhumane. There is currently no requirement
for training or certificates of competence for all
personnel carrying out killing of fur animals.
5.2 Abnormal behaviour –
stereotypies, fur-chewing
and self-injury
Farmed mink perform locomotor stereotypies which
typically involve pacing along the cage wall, vertical
rearing in a cage corner, repetitive circling or nodding
of the head/front half of the body, and/or repeatedly
entering and leaving the nest-box.267 Of the various
forms of mink stereotypy, pacing (sometimes called
‘pendling’) is the most common.268 Mink stereotypies
are not seen in the wild, nor in much-enriched
enclosures in zoos.269
The extent to which mink engage in stereotypic
behaviour varies between farms and seasons. In a
survey of Dutch mink farms, the proportion of time spent
stereotyping ranged from 10.9% in summer to 32.0% in
winter on a farm with standard housing conditions, and
from 0.8% in summer to 4.1% in winter on a farm that
had made the most modifications aimed at enriching
the environment and improving welfare.270 On a survey
of Swedish mink farms, on average 20% of mink
performed stereotypies prior to feeding.271
Stereotypy also occurs in farmed foxes. Welfare assessments
carried out on five Norwegian fox farms (with mostly
silver foxes) in 2012 recorded between 7% and 13% of
active foxes behaving stereotypically. Lower levels were
recorded on ten Finnish farms (with mostly blue foxes)
where between 0% and 5% of active foxes were behaving
stereotypically.272 Animals may stop stereotyping in
response to the presence of an observer273 so the true
levels of stereotypy may be significantly higher.
Another abnormal behaviour is fur-chewing and
tail-biting, where animals repeatedly suck or bite at
themselves, usually on the tail but sometimes also on
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the back or limbs. On every farm there are mink with
patches of shortened or missing fur, especially on the
tail, and some mink have substantially shortened tails
from chewing and, more rarely, chewed limbs.274 The
incidence of such severe self-mutilation is difficult to
ascertain as seriously affected individuals are likely to
be culled. However, a significant proportion of tail-biters
or pelt-biters may eventually progress to major tissue
damage and infection.275 Tail-biting also occurs in
farmed foxes.276
The proportion of animals that engage in fur-chewing
varies between farms and seasons, ranging from less
than 5% to more than 60% in a survey of Dutch mink
farms,277 and from less than 20% to more than 60% in
a survey of Swedish mink farms.278
Locomotor stereotypies and fur-chewing appear to
be elicited by different factors. Locomotor stereotypies
may be related to frustrated foraging279 or ranging
behaviour,280 whereas fur-chewing may be related to
under-stimulation.281 There is a positive correlation
between locomotor stereotypies in captive carnivores
and their minimum home range size in the wild.282
Stereotypies peak in speed, frequency and prevalence
just before feeding time, and are increased by hunger283
and restrictive feeding to prepare animals for breeding.284
The porridge-like consistency of the feed given to
farmed fur animals provides only marginal oral
manipulation,285 which may contribute to the
development of oral stereotypies in foxes.
Stereotypies have been defined as “repetitive, invariant
behaviour patterns with no obvious goal or function”. 286
Proximate causes of stereotypic behaviour involve the
frustration of specific highly-motivated behaviour
patterns,287 along with perseveration (tendencies to
repeat actions inappropriately) which may be associated
with central nervous system (CNS) malfunction.288
Reflecting this growing understanding of the causes
of stereotypy, a new definition has been proposed by
Mason based on the causal mechanisms of repetition:289
“stereotypic behaviours are repetitive behaviours
induced by frustration, repeated attempts to cope,
and/or CNS dysfunction.”
Where data exist, most situations that cause/increase
stereotypies also decrease welfare.290 Stereotypy-eliciting
situations are thus likely to be poor for welfare.291 However,
there is some evidence that at least some stereotypies
may be an attempt to cope better with adverse
conditions.292 If this is the case, in a housing system
that elicits stereotypic behaviour in some individuals,
we should be just as concerned about the welfare of
the least stereotypic animals.293 Therefore, conditions
that cause stereotypic behaviour in some animals are
likely to cause suffering for all animals housed in those
conditions.
It is possible to reduce stereotypic behaviour294 and
fur-chewing295 through selective breeding. However, if
stereotypies are used by animals as a method of coping
with adverse conditions, selection against stereotypic
behaviour may result in animals that are more inactive
and more fearful.296 Mason and Latham advise that
stereotypies should not be reduced by means other
than tackling their underlying motivations”.297 The
Council of Europe Recommendations stress that “the
environment and management have to fulfil the animal’s
biological needs rather than trying to “adapt” the animals
to the environment”.298 The Recommendations also
state:299 “Where there is a significant level of stereotypy
or self-mutilation in mink on a farm, the system
of housing or management shall be changed
appropriately so that the welfare of the animals
is improved. If these measures are not sufficient
production should be suspended.”
The cramped and unstimulating cage environment
on fur farms leads to the development of stereotypies,
fur chewing and self-injury in mink and foxes.
Stereotypies are caused by frustration of highly-
motivated ranging and foraging behaviours, repeated
attempts to cope with adverse conditions and/or
abnormal brain development in the highly restrictive
cage environment. These abnormal behaviours are
indicators of poor welfare in animals farmed for fur
and conditions that cause these behaviours in some
animals are likely to cause suffering for all animals
housed in those conditions.
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
30
5.3 Space, environmental
enrichment, motivation
and preferences
Mink
Space
For mink, the Council of Europe Recommendations
stipulate a minimum cage height of 45cm and a minimum
floor area of 2550cm2 for a single adult, a single adult
with kits, or a pair of juveniles after weaning (with an
additional 850cm2 for each additional animal above
two).300 The required area for a standard cage is therefore
approximately the same area as an A2 sheet of paper (i.e.
four sheets of standard A4 typing paper). A typical cage
in Europe measures 70-90cm x 30cm.301,302 Stride length
in the mink is around 20-40cm303 so the animal can take
no more than four paces in any direction before reaching
the edge of the cage.
Doubling the standard cage size, without any additional
enrichment, has no effect on stereotypies, fur-chewing
and physiology linked to welfare in pair-housed juvenile
mink.304 With larger cages (i.e. around nine times the floor
area and 1.5 times the height of a standard mink cage)
stereotypies may be reduced, but not eliminated.305
Moderate increases in space, of a magnitude that
might be possible on commercial fur farms, do not
eliminate stereotypies or fur-chewing in farmed mink.
Environmental enrichment
Nesting and hiding opportunities
Farmed mink are usually provided with a nest box
throughout the year, which is used for sleeping and
hiding as well as breeding.306 The nest box is usually
as wide as the cage with a depth of between 15 and
30cm.307 For mink, the Council of Europe Recommendations
state:308 A nest box of thermoinsulating material, which
is not hazardous to the health of the animals, with a
sufficient floor area shall be available. The design of the
opening of the nest box shall allow new born animals
to be retained while providing easy access for other
animals. Suitable bedding and occupational material such
as straw shall be regularly provided, and its adequacy
must be checked, especially during the period of giving
birth and in the cold season.”
Litter size and kit mortality are both relatively high in
farmed mink (compared with most farmed species) and
the majority of kit deaths occur during the first day post
partum.309 A 2007 study found that eight kits were born
alive per litter, on average, and 6.5 were alive one day
after birth (18.75% mortality during the first day).310
Problems during birth are important contributors to
suboptimal maternal behaviour and increased early kit
mortality.311 Longer duration of parturition and high
variation in inter-birth intervals are related to increased
kit mortality.312 Mothers that have litters with low
mortality spend more time in kit-directed behaviour.313
Several different types of nesting material are currently
supplied to mink on commercial farms,314 although they
differ substantially in their suitability for nest building.315
Access to straw for nest-building reduces variation in
inter-birth intervals, whereas an artificial nest alone has
no such effect.316 Mothers with access to straw in
combination with an artificial nest are more attentive
and quicker to retrieve a kit placed away from the nest.317
A nest box with wood-shavings only, as is often used on
commercial mink farms, is associated with higher kit
mortality, reduced kit growth and higher basal cortisol
level (an indicator of stress) in the mother and is
insufficient as a nesting environment.318
Female mink are typically transferred to another housing
environment prior to delivery.319 Early transfer of females
(after mating) reduces stress and increases maternal
care, compared with the usual commercial practice of
transfer later during pregnancy.320 Mated females build
and maintain a nest at least one month prior to delivery
when transferred to an environment with free access to
nest-building material.321 Mink value the opportunity to
use more than one nest site and will work for access to
an alternative nest box.322
Inadequate nesting material type, and inadequate
duration of access to nesting material, as often occurs
on commercial farms, limits nesting behaviour in
mink and contributes to problems during parturition,
reduced maternal care and increased kit mortality.
Mink are motivated to use more than one nest site,
reflecting their use of multiple dens in the wild.
Platforms, cylinders, ‘activity ’
objects, water baths and running wheels
Adding various combinations of simple enrichments
(such as plastic or wire mesh cylinders or platforms, balls
and pieces of rope or lengths of hose) to standard or
enlarged (e.g. double) mink cages may reduce, but does
not eliminate, tail-biting323,324 and stereotypies.325 In many
cases, levels of stereotypy are unaffected by provision of
simple enrichments.326,327
A number of early studies, mostly using adult mink, found
little effect of access to a water bath on stereotypies in
caged mink.328 However, recent studies found that access
to a water bath may reduce the occurrence,329 and slow
down the development,330 of stereotypic behaviour in
individually-housed juvenile mink. Thus long-term access
to a water bath may reduce, but does not eliminate,
frustration in farmed mink.331 Access to water for swimming
(in addition to a cylinder and platform) increased play
behaviour in juvenile mink, compared with access to a
cylinder and a platform without swimming water.332
The opportunity to perform play behaviour may enhance
an animal’s coping capacity in later life.333
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31
Mason et al. devised the most comprehensive analysis to
date to determine whether mink suffer due to deprivation in
the small barren cages used on fur farms and to identify
which activities are most important for their welfare.334
Mink, individually-housed in standard cages, were
each given access to seven cages containing different
resources:
n
a water pool measuring 1.5m x 0.5m and filled
with 0.2m of water;
n
a raised platform, reached by a 2m vertical wire
tunnel;
n
novel objects such as traffic cones and packaging,
which were changed daily;
n an alternative nest site (a box of hay);
n
toys for manipulation and chewing (e.g. tennis
balls);
n a plastic tunnel;
n
an empty compartment to control for the
importance of additional space.
Costs to ‘pay’ to reach the facilities were imposed by
weighted entrance doors. Four different measures of
value were used. The water bath was found to be the
most valuable resource on all measures: it attracted
the greatest total expenditure and had the highest
reservation price, the greatest consumer surplus, and
the most inelastic demand (see Section 3.1 for
definitions of these measures).
Next, the reactions of the mink to having their access
blocked for 24 hours were recorded for resources with
high (water bath), intermediate (alternative nest site) and
low (empty compartment) value and compared with
their reaction to deprivation of an essential physiological
resource: food. When denied access to the water bath,
the mink experienced a high level of stress, evidenced
by an increase in cortisol production that was
indistinguishable from that caused by food deprivation.
Cortisol excretion was not increased by blocking access
to the other two resources. The authors concluded that
mink are highly motivated to swim and that caging
mink on fur farms causes frustration by denying them
the opportunity to do so.335
Mink will work for access to a running wheel, with a
similar elasticity of demand to that for access to a water
bath, suggesting that mink value these two types of
enrichment equally highly.336,337 Simultaneous access to
both resources did not affect the elasticity of demand
for either resource, and when one resource was free the
mink did not increase their use of the free resource as
the price of the other resource increased, indicating that
these two resources are valued independently and one
is not able to substitute for the other.338 This suggests
different underlying motivations for using the water bath
and the running wheel. Motivation to use a water bath
may be related to foraging behaviour, both on land
(running, exploring sides) and in the water (exploring,
head dipping, swimming).339 Motivation to use a running
wheel may be related to ranging behaviour. A small study
found that the distance travelled in the wild was
correlated with the distance run in a wheel in wild-caught
caged carnivores.340
The value of a resource to an animal is not necessarily
related to the amount of time it chooses to spend
interacting with it. Swimming and running in a wheel
appear to be equally highly valued by mink but the
amount of time spent using the wheel is greater than
the amount of time spent in water.341 This may be because
a relatively short period of time in the water is sufficient
to satisfy the mink’s motivation to swim.342 Indeed, mink
may show some hesitation when obliged to swim to
reach food343 but this does not detract from the fact that
they are highly motivated to access water for swimming
and show a stress response when that opportunity is
taken away.344
Mink housed in standard cages and provided with
access to a running wheel will use the wheel instead of
performing stereotypies.345 Mink with access to a wheel
used the wheel for the same amount of time and with
the same daily activity pattern as the control animals
(housed without a wheel) performed stereotypies. Mink
selected for high levels of stereotypies used the wheel
more than mink selected for low levels of stereotypies.
There was no difference in plasma cortisol levels between
mink with and without access to a running wheel.
Therefore, access to a running wheel does not necessarily
improve welfare because use of the wheel is simply an
alternative form of abnormal behaviour that reflects the
same frustrated motivation. Both stereotypy and wheel
running can be defined as repetitive, unvarying and
functionless and may be considered abnormal behaviour.346
Boredom, apathy and depression are often hypothesised
to occur in animals housed in impoverished environments,347
and the behavioural responses of mink housed in
standard barren cages were consistent with a state of
boredom, indicated by heightened investigation when
presented with diverse stimuli and much time spent
lying still but awake.348 Impoverished environments
also make male mink less successful as mates because
neurophysiological changes underlying stereotypy may
make males behave abnormally when interacting with
females.349
The unstimulating cage environments used on fur
farms lead to boredom, mental dysfunction and
abnormal behaviour in mink. The addition of a variety
of enrichments to mink cages does not eliminate
tail-biting and stereotypies. As would be expected for
a semi-aquatic species that always lives in association
with water in the wild, mink are highly motivated to
swim and are frustrated when denied the opportunity
to do so and stressed when that opportunity is taken
away. Mink are also highly motivated to access a
THE CASE AGAINST FUR FACTORY FARMING
32
running wheel. However, running in a wheel is still an
abnormal repetitive behaviour and does not reduce
stress in caged mink and so is not an adequate
substitute for the ability to engage in genuine
ranging behaviour.
Foxes
Space
For foxes, the Council of Europe Recommendations
stipulate a minimum cage height of 70cm and a
minimum floor area of 0.8m2 for a single adult, 2.0m2 for
a single adult with cubs, and 1.2m2 for a pair of juveniles
after weaning, with an additional 0.5m2 for each additional
juvenile above two.350 Fox cages typically have a floor
area of 0.6-1.2m2 and a height of 60-75cm.351 The upper
end of this range for floor area is roughly equivalent to
the area of a typical office desk.
Doubling the height or the width of standard cages
had no effect on stereotypic behaviour, and increased
the time taken for capture, in pair-housed juvenile blue
foxes.352 Housing pairs of juvenile blue foxes in larger
wire-floored pens (5m x 3m with a height of 1.8m)
reduced, but did not eliminate, tail-biting, and reduced
inactivity but increased stereotypies compared with
standard cages.353
As with mink, moderate increases in space, of a
magnitude that might be feasible on commercial
farms, are not sufficient to make substantial
improvements to the welfare of farmed foxes.
Environmental enrichment
Nesting and hiding opportunities
The Council of Europe Recommendations state:354 “Foxes
must be able to conceal themselves from people and
from animals in other cages or enclosures.” All weaned
animals must have access to “a secluded area” and, for
silver foxes, the secluded area must have solid walls.
The Recommendations also require access to a nest
box for pregnant vixens and vixens with cubs.
Nest boxes are not usually provided for farmed foxes
other than pregnant vixens and vixens with cubs.
Continuous access to a nest box, shelter or opaque
screen would provide an opportunity for foxes to retreat
and hide when frightened. When provided with access
to a top box, floor box and platform, silver foxes spent
most time on the platform, while blue foxes spent most
time in the top box.355 Blue foxes were observed in the
shelters twice as frequently as silver foxes.356 When
dis