THE ENVIRONMENTAL COST OF FUR: the key points
The fur industry tries to portray an image of fur as a natural, sustainable and environmentally responsible product. A new report from Respect for Animals has examined the environmental impacts of the fur industry, including the credibility of ‘Furmark’. The report establishes the devastating environmental impact of fur and finds the fur industry guilty of the Seven Sins Of Greenwashing.
The Truth About ‘Sustainable’ Fur
The fur industry tries to portray an image of fur as a natural, sustainable and environmentally responsible product. A new report from Respect for Animals examines the environmental impacts of the fur industry, including the credibility of ‘Furmark’. The report establishes the devastating environmental impact of fur and finds the fur industry guilty of the Seven Sins Of Greenwashing.
IMPACT OF THE FUR INDUSTRY ON BIODIVERSITY
The fur industry has historically had a devastating effect on biodiversity, being responsible for the extinction of some species and the over-exploitation of many others. Some species that were over-exploited in the past have never fully recovered and are still threatened today. Some species have recovered substantially, but have low genetic diversity that makes them more vulnerable to catastrophic events, environmental changes, and infectious disease.
In poorly regulated societies, the trade in legal furs makes the trade in illegal furs easier, which continues to threaten species survival. Even in countries where hunting and trapping may not pose an immediate threat to the survival of the targeted species, traps inevitably kill non-target species, including threatened species.
Invasion by alien species is recognised as one of the main threats to biodiversity globally.
Of the 18 ‘worst’ alien mammal species in Europe, one third have been deliberately and/or accidentally introduced by the fur industry: muskrat, coypu, American mink, raccoon, American beaver, and raccoon dog.
The fur industry makes a commitment to “protect biodiversity” in its sustainability strategy, yet it lobbies in the EU to keep fur-farmed species off the List of Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern. Fur industry lobbying has so far been successful in excluding American mink from the Union list, thus hampering control efforts. This lobbying, together with multiple other past and present actions of the fur industry, is directly contributing to the high risk of imminent extinction of the critically endangered European mink.
The fur industry makes a commitment to “protect biodiversity” in its sustainability strategy, yet it lobbies to keep fur-farmed species off the List of Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern.
ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION & RESOURCE USE
Pollution from fur factory farms often has a devastating effect on local waterbodies, groundwater, soil and air quality.
Ammonia emission per animal from mink houses is at least double that for broiler chickens.
Emissions from fur farms can have serious negative effects on the health and quality of life of local residents, who frequently report problems with flies and foul odours.
The dressing and dyeing of fur involves the use of many toxic chemicals. Toxic metals pose a particularly serious problem because they are nonbiodegradable and bioaccumulate in the body.
In terms of land pollution by toxic metals, fur dressing and dyeing is ranked in the top five highest pollution-intensity industries.
Potentially dangerous levels of several hazardous chemicals have been found in fur products (including clothing for children) sold in both Europe and China.
Fur has a substantially greater environmental impact (on a large number of measures including climate impact and various measures of pollution and resource use) than other common textiles.
Measured over the life cycle of the product (from production of the raw material to disposal) the environmental impact of a mink fur coat is many times higher than that of a faux fur coat. The fur industry claims that a fur coat compensates for the difference with a longer lifespan but available evidence indicates that the actual lifespan of fur garments is, on average, no more than 5-10 years and nowhere near long enough to compensate for the difference in environmental impact.
ECDC: “large mink farms with high animal density provide ideal conditions for SARS-CoV-2 replication and transmission.”
The production of fur conflicts with efforts to achieve several UN Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 2 (zero hunger), Goal 3 (good health and well-being), Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), Goal 12 (responsible consumption and production), Goal 13 (climate action), Goal 14 (life below water), and Goal 15 (life on land).
WILL THE FUR INDUSTRY’S FURMARK® ADDRESS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF FUR TRADE?
The International Fur Federation claims that “Furmark® is the comprehensive global certification and traceability system for natural fur that guarantees animal welfare and environmental standards.” Key features of Furmark were assessed in the report using 12 criteria covering basic requirements that any credible scheme would be expected to meet.
Furmark scored only 1.5 out of a possible 12
For comparison, two established industry schemes (one for wool and one for leather / textiles) were assessed using the same criteria and both scored 12 out of 12 points.
The standards included in Furmark are generally not set at a level that adds value to existing national and international minimum requirements and normal industry practice. Therefore it would not be expected to result in significant positive sustainability impacts.
Furmark does not include any published standards or targets for emissions, impacts on air, soil or water quality, biodiversity impact, energy use, or any other environmental performance measures; nor does it include any published standards for social responsibility.
There does not appear to be any public consultation process on draft standards for inclusion in Furmark and the views of environmental NGOs or other independent stakeholders specifically representing environmental / sustainability interests are not taken into account in standards development. There is a fundamental conflict of interest at the heart of Furmark, because the fur industry itself is responsible for oversight of the scheme with no non-economic sector participants involved in the top-level governance of Furmark.
There is a lack of transparency regarding both the standards and the certified entities included in Furmark.
No proper standards documents or comprehensive list of certified entities are publicly available.
It is not clear whether proper assurance standards have even been developed, nor is there any comprehensive set of standards for the Furmark scheme as a whole. A search of the Furmark website, WelFur protocols and SafeFur standard did not find any requirement for unannounced visits or spot checks, or any clear procedures for addressing non-conformity, or any information regarding whether Furmark ‘certified’ fur auctions, dressers and dyers, manufacturers or retailers are permitted to also use or sell non-certified fur, or any limits for the proportion of certified content required in a product for it to carry the Furmark label.
Neither the Furmark website nor the International Fur Federation’s sustainability strategy sets out clear and specific sustainability objectives. It is not clear how Furmark could reduce any of the many very serious environmental impacts of the fur industry because it fails even to adequately define what it is trying to change.
Furmark lacks credibility and the scheme’s purpose appears to be more of a public relations exercise to try to convince consumers that fur is already ‘sustainable’, rather than any genuine attempt to identify, define and reduce its impacts.
The Furmark website, Furmark executive summaries, IFF’s sustainability strategy and various fur industry websites make multiple inaccurate and misleading claims regarding the content, impact and transparency of Furmark.
ARE THE FUR TRADE’S ENVIRONMENTAL CLAIMS GREENWASHING?
The fur industry claims a commitment to sustainability while actively lobbying to avoid regulation that would, for example, allow more effective action to combat the threat to biodiversity of invasive alien species or improve consumer protection against residues of hazardous chemicals in clothing.
The fur industry uses every greenwashing tactic available, committing all seven of the ‘Sins of Greenwashing’ as defined by TerraChoice: ‘hidden trade-off’, ‘no proof’, ‘vagueness’, ‘irrelevance’, ‘lesser of two evils’, ‘fibbing’, ‘worshipping false labels’.
The fur industry makes many vague, absolute and unsubstantiated claims that fur is ‘natural’, ‘biodegradable’, ‘sustainable’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘responsible’ and ‘ethical’. Independent advertising standards authorities in several countries have judged these claims to be misleading.
The evidence demonstrates the considerable environmental damage caused by the fur industry and adds to the overwhelming case – on ethical, animal welfare, human and animal health, as well as environmental grounds – for a ban on fur farming and the sale of fur. Now is the time for the United Kingdom, European Union, China, and all other countries that have not already done so, to take decisive action to end the farming of animals for their fur and the sale of fur products.