Fur Farming: Bad for Mink, Bad for the Environment
Fur has always been a hot-button issue and, unfortunately, its popularity seems to have made a resurgence in recent years. Clothes for sale with fur trim are becoming ever-more popular, while fur companies are increasingly marketing themselves as a “sustainable” or “eco” alternative to other, non-animal options. Nevertheless, fur production remains “a hotly debated issue in many Western countries” and, even though fur is “being positioned as an environmentally benign, ‘natural’ product,” it is not without its controversy. This study, from an independent research group in Belgium, seeks to better understand the real environmental impact of fur production through an audit of the mink industry in the Netherlands, which is large and well-established (10% of fur produced globally comes from this relative small country).
First, some context around the use of resources to produce fur: “To produce 1 kg of fur requires 11.4 mink pelts, i.e. more than 11 animals. In the course of its lifetime, one mink eats almost 50 kg of feed (including the share of the mother animal), resulting in 563 kg of feed per kg of fur.” This ratio of feed in to fur out is shockingly high, and gives a good sense of how bad fur fares on other environmental measures. According to the report:
Compared with textiles, fur has a higher impact on 17 of the 18 environmental themes, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions. In many cases fur scores markedly worse than textiles, with impacts a factor 2 to 28 higher, even when lower-bound values are taken for various links in the production chain. The exception is water depletion: on this impact cotton scores highest.
The authors also note that emissions of nitrous oxide and ammonia from mink manure are a serious issue, though not explicitly measured in the above comparisons. The report makes clear that “on issues on which there was uncertainty, several scenarios were established and the scenario with the lowest environmental impact taken. […] Two aspects that have not been taken into account in the study will involve environmental benefits. Allocation to mink oil has been set at 0% and all mink manure is assumed to be used as fertilizer, with no consideration being given to the scope for biogas production.” Even keeping these things in mind, they say that with “near certainty,” the underestimates will outweigh the overestimates. One important note for advocates is that “mink feed is the main contributor to 14 of the 18 environmental impacts studied,” and while the use of chemicals in fur treatment “makes only a limited contribution to overall environmental impact it should be noted that emissions could not be modelled and the effects are thus underestimated.”
Overall, the very clear take-home message is that fur production is a destructive endeavor. Though the study focuses on environmental impact, fur farming is obviously most devastating for the many thousands of animals that suffer and are slaughtered every year for their pelts. It’s worth mentioning that this environmental report gestures towards ethics numerous times, mainly mentioning that it is an important aspect of the public debate, and that any adjustments to the industry’s “sustainability” will necessarily have to address animal welfare concerns. Though they note that industry and animal advocates will essentially always be at odds when it comes to spreading their own messages, for animal advocates, this report strengthens an overall ethical approach by placing mink and the environment in the same sphere of impact.