Labour backs fur farm phaseout

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Norway’s Labour Party, the dominant member of the country’s coalition government, finally seems to have lost patience with the Norwegian fur industry, after repeated cases of animal abuse. The party’s program committee is now formally recommending a “controlled” dissolution of the country’s controversial fur farms.

This photo taken by animal rights advocates shows a caged fox with one of its legs chewed off. It believed that the cramped conditions inside the cages lead to aberrant behaviour  among the animals, which end up injuring themselves and then failing to get any treatment. PHOTO: Nettverk for dyrs frihet/Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge

Pictures like this, of a caged fox in Norway with one of its legs chewed off, have turned public sentiment and now, formally, the Labour Party against fur farmers. PHOTO: Nettverk for dyrs frihet/Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge

Labour has expressed its dissatisfaction with the fur industry on several occasions but never taken concrete action. While one of its coalition partners, the Socialist Left party (SV), has long called for a phaseout of fur farms in Norway, Labour’s other partner, the rural-oriented Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), has opposed an outright ban. Sp wants to keep giving the industry another chance to rid itself of rogue fur farm owners and improve conditions for the caged animals.

A survey published by newspaper Nationen this week showed that 70 percent of Norwegian farmers questioned oppose an outright ban on fur farms. Only 16 percent supported a ban. Since the farmers make up Sp’s arguably most important constituency, Sp also opposes a ban and the fur farm issue has thus been another source of conflict within the government coalition.

The survey, conducted by the rural research institute Norsk senter for bygdeforskning, indicated that farmers in general don’t see a difference between fur farming and other types of farming. “But it doesn’t mean that 70 percent of Norwegian farmers accept animal abuse,” Egil Petter Stræte, director of the institute, told Nationen.

Controversial delays
Labour has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue, especially when it was announced that release of yet another report on the fur industry’s status would be “delayed” until after the national elections this fall. The postponement of action on the issue angered animal rights activists like the organization NOAH and many others, with NOAH members demonstrating outside Parliament last week and demanding that Labour follow through on earlier promises to shut down fur farms.

Now it seems to be doing so, with a majority on its program committee recommending that fur farms be phased out, over the next four years, according to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

There are around 260 fur farms left in Norway, and examples of injured animals and poor caged conditions continue to pop up in the local media. NOAH delivered animal cages filled with flowers to the Office of the Prime Minister, to illustrate alternative lines of business for the fur farmers.

The fur business has been booming, however, and the fur farmers have doubled their revenues just in the last three years. Prices for mink, for example, haven’t been higher since 1987, the marketing director of industry trade association Norges Pelsdyralslag, told newspaper Dagsavisen in December, which explains why the farmers don’t want to see their industry phased out. “Bloody unfair” is how one farmer reacted to Labour’s position, claiming that fur farming is one of the only lucrative areas within farming in Norway in general.

Public disgust
Horrific photos of stressed animals with their tails chewed off, or with open sores, have led to widespread public criticism of fur farmers, however, and a survey conducted by research bureau Norstat for NRK last fall showed that a majority of Norwegians don’t support the industry. Women and those under the age of 30 were the most critical, with 54 percent of women responding that “we shouldn’t have fur farms in Norway.” All told, 47 percent of the population opposes fur farming, while 39 percent supports it and 14 percent were undecided.

Labour’s program committee’s recommendation may push a ban through Parliament, since at least two other parties (SV and, in opposition, Venstre) also support a ban. Helga Pedersen, deputy leader of Labour, told NRK on Tuesday that the industry “has had very many chances” to improve its record. Now it faces the consequences of the failure of too many of its members to do so.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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