By Pascal Durand MEP (RE, FR), Tilly Metz MEP (Greens/EFA, LU), Anja Hazekamp MEP (The Left, NL), Francisco Guerreiro MEP (Greens/EFA, PT), Maria Noichl MEP (S&D, DE)
There is no denying that these are hopeful times for animal welfare in the European Union. In 2021, we witnessed the unprecedented success of the European Citizens’ Initiative “End the Cage Age”, which prompted the European Commission to start planning the phasing out of cages across livestock farming systems.
We, the European Parliament, will be called upon to give our support to another ECI on animal welfare – this one pertaining to a Fur Free Europe. The purpose of this ECI, launched by Eurogroup for Animals along with 80 organisations and which has already collected more than 500,000 signatures in less than six months, is to accelerate the already ongoing demise of the outdated and inherently cruel European fur industry, with a ban on imports. As MEPs who have made animal welfare central to our work for many years, we wholeheartedly welcome this initiative.
The European Parliament represents the interests of EU citizens, and a large majority of citizens does not approve of fur farming. That is hardly surprising, if we consider that this industry relies on the exploitation of wild animals kept in cages. If this practice does not embody the concept of “unnecessary suffering” we do not know what does.
For those who are not acquainted with the way in which animals reared for the fashion industry are treated, we highly recommend watching SLAY, a global investigation that reveals the hard truth behind animal-derived garments. We had the opportunity to meet the director of the documentary and watch a partial screening during the meeting of the EP Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals of 6 October in Strasbourg and we certainly won’t forget what we saw any time soon.
The use of wire cages to keep wild animals (foxes, mink, raccoon dogs) for fur production represents, in our view, a form of legalised cruelty that can no longer be tolerated, particularly in the light of the success of “End the Cage Age”.
But, even apart from the appalling treatment of animals, this industry has many other negative aspects: far from being sustainable, fur farms emit air and soil pollutants that are a source of concern for the communities living in the proximity of fur farms.
The accidental release into the wild of species initially imported to be bred for fur wreaked havoc on our native wildlife, threatening biodiversity. And, recently, we sadly discovered that mink kept on fur farms are carriers and potential amplifiers of zoonotic infectious diseases, including Sars-CoV-2. This is a worrying aspect that the EP formally recognised in its report on the Biodiversity strategy for 2030, stating that “ [...] fur production, which involves the confinement of thousands of undomesticated animals of a similar genotype in close proximity to one another under chronically stressful conditions, can significantly compromise animal welfare and increases their susceptibility to infectious diseases including zoonoses [...].”
If we apply the principles of the One Health approach, it is unlikely that we would find any reason to keep this industry alive. Particularly as its profits are steadily declining, with many international fashion brands having already turned their backs on the use of fur for their garments.
Is the fur industry worth defending in the face of all this? The answer is, most definitely, no. Many Member States already introduced restrictions or outright bans on rearing animals for fur and more are likely to follow suit. These voices were echoed in the Council last year when twelve Member States supported a full ban on fur farming on the grounds of animal welfare, public health and ethical considerations.
Indeed we firmly believe that a full ban on fur production, which relies exclusively on the use of cages, is the only option for the European Commission, now that preparations are underway to phase out cages from livestock farming.
Of course, the Commission could be even more ambitious: we are keen supporters of the proposal of using mirror clauses in trade agreements to apply European animal welfare standards to imported products. Such an approach would strengthen the case for a ban on the import and sale of farmed fur products on the European market.
A ban on fur production and imports would ripple worldwide and mark the beginning of a true paradigm shift towards a more sustainable, ethical and animal-friendly world. For this reason, we warmly encourage our honourable fellow MEPs to take citizens’ voices seriously and to support this new ECI, as a strong stance for a Fur Free Europe.