UPDATED: Norwegian animal protection authorities called for help from police when they raided a fur farm at Klepp in Rogaland on the west coast Tuesday. State broadcaster NRK reported the raid came after the authorities had received information about animals in “terrible” condition. The owner of the mink farm now faces charges of gross negligence and exclusion from the fur industry’s own organization that fights to keep the controversial fur business alive. He later apologized.
“I’m very sorry about this, it shouldn’t have happened,” fur farmer Ingvar Kjell Bjorland told NRK after scores of his animals had to be put to sleep to relieve their suffering. Bjorland admitted he had lost control over his mink farming operation.
Officials at state food and animal safety agency Mattilsynet had confirmed Tuesday afternoon that they were in the process of carrying out an “unannounced inspection” at the fur farm. “During the operation they needed and asked for help from police,” Hege Robberstad of Mattilsynet told NRK, because the extent of violations they found was so large.
‘Illness and injuries’
Ole Aamodt, a section chief at Mattilsynet, said the violations involved “illness and injuries involving a large number of animals.” Mattilsynet reported later that many of the animals at the farm suffered “serious injuries and open sores.” The authorities said Bjorland, who reportedly has as many as 30,000 mink on his property, “didn’t have enough cages” to properly house all the animals that needed medical treatment or to be protected from the other animals.
NRK reported that by Tuesday evening, authorities said the death toll at the fur farm had risen to 74 and was likely to keep rising. Bjorland told NRK that he had kept the sick and injured animals in a separate area. “Instead of killing them we had tried to treat them with disinfection spray or antibiotics, but some of the animals’ sores were too serious and they should have been put down,” he admitted. He denied his failure to do so was economically motivated.
Mattilsynet regularly makes unannounced inspections of fur farms in Norway, and the government recently stepped up efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes against animals. In this case, Aamodt told NRK the inspectors had found “many violations of laws and regulations regarding how animals must be cared for, and we have asked police to help secure documentation and evidence.”
Owner downplayed maltreatment
NRK reported that it got in contact with Bjorland, the owner of the fur farm, while the inspection was underway and he initially downplayed the inspection. He did acknowledge, though, that the authorities had uncovered deficiencies in the treatment of sick animals.
A representative of the fur industry association Norges Pelsdyralslag was dispatched to the farm at Klepp. “We want to find out what’s going on,” said the association’s information chief Guri Wormdahl. She later wrote in a press release that the bad treatment of the animals had been confirmed, and the extent of it forced the organization to conclude that this was a case of gross negligence.
“In such a case, we can’t rule out that our board must evaluate the strongest sanctions (against the farmer), such as revoking the farmer’s production certificate and exclusion from our organization,” Wormdahl wrote. Bjorland told NRK, meanwhile, that he was trying to “clean up” his fur operation, indicating he wanted to remain in business. He had just recently expanded, building two new barns to house the mink.
The case can only be a major blow to the association, which often is on the defensive in Norwegian media after repeated incidents of poor treatment of animals at fur farms in Norway. The association lobbies hard to keep the fur farms in business and claimed Tuesday night that it also gets upset when animals are poorly treated. “It upsets the entire organization,” Wormdahl claimed, citing a need for “good animal welfare.”
Several Members of Parliament want to phase out the industry after promises to improve conditions fail to be fulfilled. Iselin Nybø of the Liberal Party told NRK she and her colleagues were “disappointed that people can treat animals in this manner. We have long been clear that we want to phase out fur farming. We don’t think wild animals should be kept in cages.”
She said the Liberals would put forward a proposal that fur farmers receive state funding to cease fur farming and go into new lines of business.