The global fur industry is booming: during the first decade of this millennium sales increased by 70%. Mark Oaten, executive of the International Fur Trade Federation, attributed this increase to “a younger generation…motivated on environmental issues, more than on animal rights issues”. But is real fur environmentally friendly? And are we right to dismiss animal rights issues?

In recent years the fur industry has been reinventing itself as an environmentally friendly option; the British Fur Trade Association claims that farmed fur – which makes up around 80% of the global fur trade, the remaining 20% coming from animals trapped in the wild – uses up one million tonnes of animal by-products in the EU alone, thus recycling products that would otherwise go to waste. However, what they fail to mention is the further waste that fur production creates: energy used to create animal feed, to house them and to kill them; the energy used to prepare the pelts, treat the fur and create the garment; the waste produced by the animal both whilst alive and when dead. A report on the environmental impact of mink fur production by CE Delft, an independent non-profit environmental consultancy organisation based in the Netherlands, published in January 2011 found that the impact on climate change of producing 1kg of mink fur was five times higher than that of the next highest-scoring textile, wool. The textile found to have the lowest impact on climate change was polyester, a man-made fibre used to create faux fur.

Furthermore, the British Fur Trade Association claims that the wild animals used by the fur trade are mostly taken as part of “wild life management programmes”, which help maintain biodiversity and control population. However this fails to take into account the fact that without human interference, wild animals will control their own population levels. In fact, trapping wild animals could result in more disruption to local eco-systems: every species of animal is part of a food chain, and if a link in that chain is broken by, say, a significant number of one particular species being taken away, then it could have a serious detrimental effect on the rest of the species in that eco-system.

In the EU, all fur farmers must follow a series of European and national laws and regulations, which aim to establish standards for the protection of animals at the time of slaughter, and the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. These standards are the same for all animals, whether they are being farmed for food, leather, or fur (there are exceptions for animals which need to be slaughtered in a particular way due for religious reasons). The extent to which you could call these standards ‘humane’ is, of course, subjective. An animal’s movement must not be restricted so much that it is caused “unnecessary suffering or injury”, although it may be kept tethered or confined continuously (Directive 98/58/EC Annex 7). An animal must be stunned before it can be slaughtered although there are a variety of methods of stunning, including using a bolt gun, applying electrodes to the mouth and rectum, or by anoxia from carbon dioxide (Regulation EC 1099/2009 Annex I, Chapter I). These are just the standards for animals farmed in the EU; according to the European Fur Breeder’s Association 2011 report, just under 60% of the total animal skins in the global industry came from European farms. Just fewer than 24% came from Chinese farms, where there is a lack of animal welfare legislation.

Karl Lagerfeld once said: “in a meat-eating world, wearing leather for shoes and clothes and even handbags, the discussion of fur is childish.” PETA, predictably, called the Kaiser childish in response, and said that his statement “means he is being overtaken in the style stakes by an increasing number of designers who believe that cruelty has no place in fashion.” This was almost four years ago. Times have changed since then: in the past few years more and more designers have been sending fur-clad models down the catwalk – big designers, mind you, fashion stalwarts like Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen – and seeing their furry threads spread across the pages of Vogue. The fur industry seems set to thrive whether we like it or not.

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