The Norwegian government has backed away from calls to phase out the country’s highly controversial fur industry. Despite repeated cases of animals found badly injured and traumatized, the state agriculture ministry is opting to give fur farmers yet another chance, albeit under stricter rules.
Protests were already streaming in, after newspaper Dagbladet reported that the fur farms would not be shut down in advance of Friday’s announcement. Animal rights group NOAH called it “scandalous” while industry advocates were upset by the prospect of fewer animals in each cage, claiming that would effectively force the shut-down of many allegedly well-run fur farms.
No one was happy after Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale announced a compromise of sorts. Mink, for example, will not be allowed to be caged in groups and there will be new, stricter documentation demands regarding the breeding, monitoring and care of animals raised so they can be skinned for their fur.
“The government recommends that it still be possible to raise animals for their fur in Norway,” Dale said, “but we are warning there will be a string of tighter new rules for how animals are held. This is on the assumption that animal welfare becomes considerably better. The proposal in the report to the Parliament addresses that.”
There will be a prohibition, for example, against holding two or more animals of the same sex in the same cage, to prevent them from attacking each other. The new rules also sharpen requirements for breeding, feeding and better stimulus for the caged animals, and continue to make state inspections of fur farms a priority.
Addressing the ‘challenges’
Dale’s announcement followed up on a report commissioned to determine the future of Norway’s fur industry. At stake was whether it could be subject to sustainable development or a managed phase-out. A majority of commission members advised sustainable development but under stricter regulation aimed at addressing “the challenges tied to animal welfare.”
The industry has been running a promotional campaign recently aimed at warding off a shut-down, featuring full-page ads in Norwegian newspapers showing fur farmers holding healthy-looking animals outside tidy buildings with cages. State inspectors, however, have reported multiple cases of severe animal neglect and horrific injuries among animals, many of them self-inflicted or caused by caged animals attacking each other.
Dale himself described the latest reports, accompanied by graphic photos of animals with ears and tails chewed off, as “gruesome.” He also was handed a petition from NOAH containing no less than 143,000 signatures of people opposed to the fur industry. Several Members of Parliament, also from government parties, have come out in favour of closing down fur farms.
Turning to Parliament for a ban
Siri Martinsen, a veterinarian who leads NOAH, called the government proposal to continue allowing fur farms “scandalous” and claimed it defied professional advice. Her group is organizing more demonstrations against fur farming to be held on November 12 in 26 locations around the country.
The animal rights activists and the fur industry will now lobby Parliament to try to swing a final vote on the matter their way. “It’s the Parliament that will now have responsibility for making sure Norwegian animal welfare laws are followed,” Martinsen said, adding they won’t be if any animals are still allowed to be held in cages.
One of the government’s own support parties, the Liberals, has called for phasing out the industry and will likely vote against the ministry’s new proposal. Its lack of support, however, can be replaced by the farmer-friendly and rural-oriented Center Party. It normally criticizes the conservative government coalition but will likely welcome its position in this case regarding an industry that generates a livelihood for people living in outlying districts. The Christian Democrats, the government’s other support party, also voted against the Liberals’ proposal to phase out the industry, along with the government coalition’s own Conservative and Progress parties.