Covid-19 has killed more than a million people worldwide, but mankind is not the only victim of the virus. Indeed, millions of minks from the fur industry have been slaughtered because of a risk of Covid transmission.
More than 50 millions mink are bred for their fur every year. Even though China, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands are the biggest fur producers, many countries have fur farms on their territory. Mink fur is one the most common and most used furs in the world. From coats to gloves to accessories, it is also one of the most accessible. However, after people were infected with Covid because of minks, Europe is taking a second look at the mink fur industry after Denmark, France, the Netherlands and other european countries instructed the killing of millions of minks.
Denmark is the biggest fur exporter to China and one of the biggest fur producers in the world, with about 1100 mink farms in the country.
The Danish government decided at the beginning of the month to order the killing of millions of mink to avoid spreading Covid. It was proven that some people in Denmark had been infected through mink and that it could pose a threat to the future vaccine. The mink Covid could be a mutation of Covid-19 and render the vaccine ineffective. This decision created a big controversy in the country as the infected zone was small and that very few people were indeed contaminated.
The government admitted its mistake a couple of weeks after the decision. The government did not have the authority to ask for the killing of minks outside of the contaminated zone, and asked farmers to do so anyway. The damages and loss for the farmer community and the fur industry were so big that Morgens Jensen, the Danish Agriculture minister, resigned.
By killing most of its minks, the country damaged the fur industry on a world scale. The Copenhagen auction house, one of the most important in the world, is planning to close after selling the 5 millions pelt on the market due to the government decree. The mink breeding should be banned in Denmark until the end of 2021.
A direct result of the slaughter of millions of minks is the price of the pelt going up. Many clients and designers are buying bigger quantities of fur, worrying about a possible shortage. The explosion of the mink fur price is pushing other countries to produce more mink fur, making many animal welfare associations worry for the well-being of the animals.
However, besides the minks, the victims of Denmark no-mink policy are the farmers. Mink farming is a tradition deeply rooted in the north of the country. People are breeders, from father to sons. Many see this political decision as the end of the Danish fur production’s quality expertise. Farmers are left with no animals and no means of making ends meet. This difficult situation led some members of the community to take their own lives.
This scandal in Denmark pushed some other European countries to act. The United Kingdom has already banned fur farms. Netherlands decided to act sooner than expected and wants to phase out mink farming by march 2021. France is giving itself more time and plans on banning it by 2025.
The fur industry
In 2020, it is fair to wonder about the fur industry. I don’t know about you, but it is not often that I see anyone wearing any fur. If wearing fur is seen as trendy or a sign of richness in China, Russia, or even Denmark, in most other countries, wearing fur is no longer seen under a positive light.
Thanks to many animal welfare associations, big fashion houses have stopped using fur. This is the case for Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westood and Versace. Brand names such as Macy’s or Farfetch have decided to stop selling fur items as well.
If this is a big step from the fashion industry, I can’t help but wonder why fur has been banned while leather is still being widely used. One can only hope that the development of vegan materials, as well as biodegredable materials, will change the fashion landscape for better and for good. Perhaps less people would buy fur or leather if there was more options available that lasts through time. In terms of ecology, unfortunatelly, it is still better to buy one leather coat that lasts twenty years than fifteen plastic coats that get losts in the ocean.
The future of fur
If this terrible affair has a positive angle, it is the scrutiny brought upon the fur industry. Fur has become an object of conflict between those who believe it should be abolished and those who believe it is a non-issue. The hardest question to answer is whether or not it is okay to breed animals for their fur. If some can argue that breeding for meat is useful, what about fur?
Every year, scandals in different countries arose because of animal slaughter, due to lack of hygienes in breeding farms and animal contagion. If ending breeding might not be the solution, the industry needs to create a solution to the problem. Less animals per farm? Better life conditions for the animals? Researchers have proven that if big cages for minks are not essential, they are happier when paired with other minks, resulting in a better fur quality. If it sounds logical that breeders should have an interest in protecting their animals, keeping them healthy, therefore protecting their income, it is not always economically sound to breed less animals per farm.
Another subject of conflict is the killing of the animals in itself. In Denmark, the rush to kill millions of minks led to some inhumane way of killing, such as putting many minks in a “killing box” and gassing at them. Often, slaughterhouses are pointed at for the way they handle animals before killing them. Many associations demand new policies to make the last minutes of the animals more comfortable. Did you know that when an animal is killed while scared, it can impact the quality and the tenderness of the meat?
I do not believe that a solution will be found soon to bring the two sides of the animal welfare and the animal breeding industry together. Millions of people’s lives depend on animal farming, breeding, killing and selling. For changes to happen, it needs to be economically interesting for all parties. In Europe, many farmers are worried about new policies that could be imposed on breeding. They said that many would stop breeding animals before they would be able to meet Europe’s expectations. Indeed, it takes a lot of money to change an entire industry.
One essential thing that was challenged during this pandemic is the price of life. It was proven by many that human life was worth more than animal life, when many animals were killed over a suspicion of disease only. The ethical implications of such decisions are deep and complicated, and should make us all wonder about mankind’s domination in this world and if we should not be able to do better.
The price of human life is still up for debate. Some countries, like France, decided to take on a “whatever it will cost” strategy, placing human life above the market and economic need. Others, such as the United Kingdom or the United States, decided to keep people working instead of ordering a lockdown, to keep the country running. It will take years to see all the ramifications and consequences of the decisions made in 2020.