Fur industry may win protection

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UPDATED: Two of the three parties making up Norway’s left-center coalition government want to shut down the country’s fur industry after repeated examples of poor living conditions for its animals. But the third party, the small, farmer-friendly Center Party, has promised the fur farmers will be protected, indicating that the Center Party’s coalition colleagues may relent for the sake of government unity. Meanwhile, another case of animal cruelty was discovered at a fur farm in Jæren, western Norway.

Conditions for animals at Norwegian fur farms have been hotly debated. PHOTO: Nettverk for dyrs frihet & Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge

Fur-farming is outside politician Ola Borten Moe’s area of responsibility as Norway’s Oil & Energy Minister, but Moe is also deputy leader of the Center Party and therefore keen on promoting and maintaining economic activity in rural areas. He set off some political waves when he visited a fur farm in Oppland  County last week and said the fur industry would likely not be forced to disband.

“I think I can safely promise that a government proposal for the industry won’t be one that calls for shutting down fur farming in Norway,” said Moe, according to local newspaper Opp.

The future of fur farming has been a tough issue for the government, not least after video aired on national television has shown clearly distressed animals running in circles in their small cages and suffering from gnawed-off tales and open sores. Government minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left party (SV) said late last year that the photos suggested the industry should be shut down immediately, while thousands of people marched in the streets of Oslo against the industry and state health and animal protection officials called conditions at some of the farms “completely unacceptable.”

Ola Borten Moe serves as Norway's Oil & Energy Minister, but took the liberty of commenting on the future of fur farming last week, and that's upset government colleagues. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

The government has since been quarreling over the industry’s fate, with the Center Party continuing to support it. The industry itself has consistently sought to defend itself, claiming it has tried to “clean up” and that its conditions for animals are no worse than those for chickens or salmon that are mass produced for food.

The industry already has declined markedly in recent years, with only around 300 fur farms still in operation in Norway. Revenues, however, have risen, to around NOK 320 million (USD 68 million) last year.

A government proposal for the future of the industry was supposed to be presented to parliament before the summer recess, but was delayed, apparently because of the government coalition’s failure to agree on it. Now it’s due sometime this fall, but it remains unclear whether it will be ready before the end of the year.

Moe visited a fur farm in Oppdal last week and claimed that his inspection “confirmed” that industry players are “seriously working” to improve conditions. He said he thought the debate around fur farming “was influenced too much by feelings” and had been dominated by “small pressure groups.”

More animal suffering emerges
Moe’s remarks came before news broke of yet another case of animal suffering and bad conditions at a fur farm in Hå township at Jæren, in western Rogaland County. Inspectors from the state agency charged with monitoring fur farms, Mattilsynet, found two living minks in a freezer container, stored with other dead minks. They also found 17 injured and sick animals at the farm, and two had to immediately be destroyed to end their suffering. The farm was cited, faces exclusion from the industry trade association and is under police investigation.

Government colleagues in the Labour Party were not pleased by Moe’s public display. “No one can protect anything before the government proposal arrives,” Terje Aasland, head of the parliamentary committee handling business matters, told newspaper Dagsavisen.

“It’s fine if he (Moe) wants to protect the industry, but I think it’s quite special and not very favourable for him to comment on a proposal that hasn’t been put forward,” Alf Holmelid, business spokesman for SV, told Dagsavisen.

Holmelid has called for a seven-year phase-out of the fur industry, with a ban on new fur farms from 2013.

The government minister in charge of agriculture and farming issues who also hails from the Center Party, Lars Peder Brekk, declined comment on his party colleague Moe’s remarks, and on the issue.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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