Images Of The Norwegian Fur Industry Foster Reforms
Images published by the media can have a significant effect on societal change. Images of factory farming and other animal farming practices have been key to raising awareness and understanding of animals’ plight, and indeed, have been instrumental in helping to make change to policy as well.
This master’s thesis examines images taken of the Norwegian fur industry by animal welfare advocates as a case study. The author conducted interviews and literature reviews of reports and analyzed the media, and found that activists’ images of animal mistreatment sparked outrage about Norway’s fur farms. Indeed, the powerful images distributed by mass media helped spur the government to adopt new policies. “Eventually, the majority of the Norwegian public across the political spectrum favoured a ban,” according to the author.
The study followed activists’ distribution of images for four years, from 2008-2012. Before adopting the use of imagery, advocates were not achieving their main goal, namely, persuading politicians and the general public to their cause. Through investigative work, advocates found violations of Norway’s Animal Welfare Act and submitted their documentary images to various types of media, which determine the most pressing stories for their readers and viewers.
Why images? “Imagery can be used to stir emotions, inform, raise awareness about suffering, and convey ideas about problematic issues in society, all with the objective of moving people to action,” the author argues. A key question of the study was how important it was to distribute images along with advocacy messages.
The author found a marked difference in citizens’ attitudes toward fur farms before and during the study period. “In a 2010 survey, 62% of respondents said that they were against keeping foxes and mink in cages to produce fur. Only 15% were in favor of fur farming,” according to the Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge (DN) and Nettverk for Dyrs Frihet (NDF), two Norwegian animal rights organizations (2020).
The author also did qualitative interviews with advocates affiliated with these groups. The five informants were involved with inspecting fur farms, and disseminating the materials in mass communications. Two questions posed to each advocate were “How did you work to raise awareness about the fur industry before you started using imagery?” and “How do you think these images and videos changed perspective [sic.] in the public?”
Prior to 2008, advocates often wrote letters to the editor, leafletted and talked with people on the street about the fur industry, and demonstrated with mock fox cages. These efforts were not well coordinated. Starting in 2008, DN and NDF visited more than 200 fur farms in Norway and recorded animal welfare violations with images and videos. These images were used in the news, in documentaries, and in debate shows. The welfare of fur animals started to gain traction in the media and among political parties in the 1990s and early 2000s, but the author credits the use of images for helping to spur a total ban. In June 2019, the Storting (Norwegian legislature) passed a law outlawing fur farms with compensation for the farmers.
It’s worth noting that as this was happening fur farming was already in financial trouble. According to DN, 80% of Norwegian fur farms were shuttered in the twenty years between 1999 to 2019, from 1,287 to 145 farms. Advocates had published a report titled “Skinnet bedrar” (“Appearance Deceives”) that featured findings from 10,000 photographs, many hours of video footage, and written documentation from 100 fur farms. The report details a number of violations of the Animal Welfare Act: animals sitting in their own excrement in cramped or damaged cages, as well as “eye inflammation, gum injuries, chewed-off body parts, and large open wounds.” Advocates pointed out how unnatural it is to put mink and foxes in cages, since they have a naturally wide range of many kilometers in the wild. Most of the cages contained animals exhibiting “compulsive behaviour – which is a sign of severe stress.” Future studies confirmed these findings.
Advocates found that media reports featuring injured animals most affected the public’s views of fur farming. Subsequently, viewers were more receptive to understanding other problems, like how small cages cause psychological stress. The advocates devised a media strategy to develop a series of stories about different farms and focus on debunking the animal welfare claims of industry leaders. They highlighted evidence about the largest mink breeder in Norway, with nearly 20 employees from Poland living in conditions that broke labor laws. This also brought more attention to the breeder’s animals. Additionally, advocates provided evidence refuting a report by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority showing no animal welfare issues on the farms studied.
These media campaigns significantly changed public attitudes toward fur as demonstrated by polling, and the popularity of targeted demonstrations and letters to the editor. The fact that other European nations had banned fur farming likewise helped the cause. Finally, Norwegians’ attitudes shifted, and they began to see fur as an unnecessary luxury item that they didn’t want to wear. The author concludes that the case study about the value of images in the Norwegian media to bring about prohibition may not apply to other nations, which place less “value upon equality and equal rights,” while in the case of Norway, it was highly effective.