By Aaron Hofman
Half measures lead to half results: the safety of people and animals are still at risk by allowing fur farming to continue in British Columbia.
After numerous COVID-19 outbreaks on mink farms and mounting public pressure, British Columbia announced in November 2021 that it would phase out mink farming. This was a historic move and a national first: B.C. became the first province in Canada to introduce a prohibition on mink farming.
At the end of 2021, there were nine mink farms operating in the province. The government introduced an immediate ban on breeding mink, and by 2025, all remaining mink farms must cease operations. Hundreds of thousands of small wire cages that held mink captive for their fur will soon be empty. Or will they?
Recent amendments to the Fur Farm Regulation that prohibit mink farming don’t extend to the five other species of animals that can be legally farmed for their fur in B.C.: chinchillas, martens, fishers, nutrias, and foxes.
There is one chinchilla fur farm operating in the province, and anyone interested in opening a new fur farm for these five species of fur-bearing animals is allowed to do so, including existing mink-farming companies with their existing infrastructure. This is a problem from both a public-health perspective and from an animal-welfare standpoint.
From a public-health perspective, the rationale provided by the province to close mink farms should extend to the fur farming of other wild animals, particularly in the Mustelidae (mink, martens, and fishers) and Canidae (foxes) families due to their susceptibility to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The World Health Organization published a fur-farming risk assessment in 2021, recommending that countries “apply and enforce strict sanitary biosecurity measures against SARS-CoV-2 on fur farms holding species of families Mustelidae, Leporidae and Canidae...”
A precautionary approach consistent with the province’s messaging about the dangers of mink farming would suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture would disallow any new fur-farm applications, specifically for species that may be susceptible to the virus and pose a public health risk. This has not happened.
In addition to the ever-present public-health risks of intensively farming wild animals, there are serious animal welfare concerns that cannot be ignored. For guidelines on the treatment of farmed mink and foxes, the BC government defers in part to the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), a national nongovernmental organization that sets standards of care for animal husbandry in Canada.
In 2019, the province adopted NFACC standards into law, creating the Animal Care Codes of Practice Regulation, which provides a framework for “reasonable and generally acceptable of animal management”.
But the practices in these codes are a far departure from what any British Columbian would consider reasonable or acceptable. For example, when farmed foxes are slaughtered for their fur, NFACC’s requirement is to kill them through anal electrocution. The guidelines write: “For electrocution to be humane, the commercially available equipment specifically designed for euthanizing foxes must: have two electrodes that must be applied (a bite bar to the mouth and a probe into the rectum).”
Are British Columbians expected to believe that the anal electrocution of foxes is reasonable, acceptable, or humane? By adopting NFACC’s Codes of Practice for farmed foxes and leaving the door open for fox farming in the province, the BC government has given its tacit approval to this atrocious practice commonly used on Canadian fur farms.
Other than mink and foxes, the remaining species of animals that are allowed to be farmed for their fur in British Columbia don’t have respective standards of care at all, neither provincially nor nationally. We know that chinchillas are killed for their fur either by electrocution or cervical dislocation.
But beyond that—in the absence of any standards—the treatment of these fur-bearing animals would be determined by the industry that profits off them. If practices in the NFACC standards are considered “reasonable”, then we shudder to think what the absence of standards would look like.
The B.C. government needs to permanently close the door on fur farming—for all species. As a society, we’ve moved on from the fur era, it’s time for the province’s laws to catch up.