Lesley Fox: B.C.’s lone chinchilla fur farm is a symbol of broader government failures

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      Despite the concurrent risk of an existing pandemic and worldwide scientific advice that fur farming can contribute to or worsen outbreaks, government documents show numerous potential violations of B.C. policy and uncertainty in enforcement.

      Unlike many provinces, British Columbia has specific regulations pertaining to fur farming. While this may look good on paper, the law is only as good as its enforcement.

      The Fur-Bearers, a nonpartisan charity that advocates on behalf of fur-bearing animals in the wild and confinement, has been actively monitoring the status of fur farms in British Columbia throughout the pandemic. Fur farms are industrial operations where animals are bred and killed solely for the fashion-fur industry.  

      It is well documented that animals suffer on fur farms. The stress of confinement deprives them of their ability to express natural behaviors, including digging, running, climbing, swimming, and foraging. As a result, animals can become stressed, develop repetitive behaviors, self-mutilate, or even cannibalize each other. Euthanasia methods differ, depending on species; however, they include neck-breaking, gassing, or electrocution.

      In addition to animal-welfare concerns, local fur farms pose a serious risk to public health.

      Canadian fur farm, 2014
      We Animals Media

      In May 2020 and again in July 2020, we sounded the alarm to the provincial government about the potential for the novel coronavirus to be spread to farmed mink unless proper measures were put in place. Our call was not heeded. As we now know, biosecurity failures resulted in the transmission of COVID-19 from humans to mink, causing three COVID-19 outbreaks on B.C. mink farms. Hundreds of mink were killed because of the virus.

      Despite these outbreaks and the well-documented public-health risks of mink farming, the B.C. government allowed all mink farms to continue breeding in the 2021 season, including the quarantined farms.

      This month, mink kits will be born and the farmed-mink population will grow to five times its size, amounting to potentially hundreds of thousands of mink confined on industrial fur farms, all located in the Fraser Valley.

      Records we obtained through freedom-of-information requests revealed that in addition to the 10 active mink farms in the province, B.C. has one chinchilla farm, where these friendly, gentle rodents are being bred, killed, and skinned for their fur.

      We requested the health management plan for this chinchilla farm to ensure that these animals are receiving proper care. Under B.C.’s Fur Farm Regulation, the health management plan is a critical document that must be submitted by any fur-farm operator to the Ministry of Agriculture when applying for a fur-farm licence. It contains all the necessary information an operator must have, such as vaccination and treatment protocols, isolation procedures for sick animals, euthanasia protocols, and contact information for veterinarians who advise on the health of animals on the farm.

      Chinchilla farm, 2019
      Andrzej Skowron

      In response to our request for the health management plan, the ministry responded that no records were located. This raises a troubling question: is the ministry issuing fur-farm licences without meeting the legislated requirements, thereby contravening their own regulations?

      This wouldn’t be the first time we have seen the Fur Farm Regulation violated in the past year. We obtained documents where government officials described that they witnessed escaped mink on one of B.C.’s fur farms. This is a violation and offence under the Fur Farm Regulation, and, to our knowledge, no penalty has been imposed for this violation.

      We also received documents that revealed that B.C.’s mink-farm industry operates at a minimum of one staff per 1,000 mink. The Fur Farm Regulation requires that every animal on a fur farm must be observed daily to determine the animal’s health and condition and have each observation recorded. With a 1:1,000 worker-to-animal ratio, this is an onerous task to ensure animals are adequately cared for, to the extent that this regulation is likely not being met, let alone enforced by government officials.

      Our concern for the chinchilla fur farm is that it is operating without any government oversight and the animals may be suffering. We asked the Ministry of Agriculture to provide us with the standards and practices for chinchilla farming in B.C. to determine what standards of care exist for this sector and what practices are being used. Again, no records were located.

      In their standard guidelines, the Ontario Government lists cervical dislocation and electrocution as approved methods to kill chinchillas for their fur. In B.C., it appears there are no standards at all, which suggests that farmed chinchillas are being killed using any method a licenced fur farmer chooses.

      In the absence of a health management plan and any official standards of care for chinchilla farming, it is impossible for us to determine what is happening to these animals. And if the Ministry of Agriculture has neither the health management plan nor any official standards, it lacks even the basic tools and information required to enforce their own regulations. 

      Fur farming is a policy failure. Eighty-five percent of British Columbians are opposed to killing animals for their fur. The fur industry has lost the public’s trust, and the public will lose trust in a government that puts laws on the books but fails to enforce them.

      It is time for the government to act on what British Columbians have been demanding: an end to fur farming. We are calling on the government to act in the best interest of the public and begin the transition process to provide new, sustainable opportunities to the province’s fur-farm owners.

      The public can learn more and take action at TheFurBearers.com.

      Lesley Fox is the executive director for The Fur-Bearers, a registered charity dedicated to protecting fur-bearing animals in the wild and confinement.