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Norway’s ban on fur farming comes as surprise in Newfoundland and elsewhere

['Mink farming']
A caged mink is shown at a mink fur farm. — SaltWire file

News out of Norway that its government plans to phase out fur farming in that country by 2025 has caught a lot of people connected to the industry by surprise.

Even when the idea was bandied about in the last year or so, most thought it would never come to fruition in a country long known for its defence of farmed and wild-hunt animal industries.

Merv Wiseman, vice-president of the Fur Breeders Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, admits it’s a big win for animal-rights groups that have been actively campaigning in Europe.

“Norway was the last place on Earth we expected to see that (animal-rights groups) would make those kind of inroads,” Wiseman said. “There was a significant amount of production coming out of Norway when they started to look into phasing this out.”

Fur Europe, a Brussels-based umbrella organization covering the entire chain of the European fur sector, calls the ban a result of “a political horse trade” to include an anti-fur party in Norway’s new government despite an expert committee recommending the sustainable development of fur farming in Norway.

A statement on its website reads, “The political programme of the new Norwegian government formed between the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Progress Party contains the phasing out of fur farming in Norway by 2025. Both Conservatives and the Progress Party have historically supported the fur farming sector, but agreed to shut down the Norwegian fur farming sector as a part of a deal to broaden the two-party minority government by adding the anti-fur Liberal party.”

Fur Europe CEO Mette Lykke Nielsen said it is hard to respect such a decision.

“Norway wants to shut down an entire industry as a part of a political horse-trade while still acknowledging that the animals are kept with respect to good animal welfare,” she said. “Real families are going to suffer from a political deal without any other substance than keeping politicians in power a little while longer.”

Lykke Nielsen noted that the Norwegian parliament has not yet addressed a proposal, and she hopes members of the Conservatives and the Progress Party will object to the proposed ban.

The Telegram requested a comment from the Norwegian government, but had not received a reply as of Friday.

Fur Europe, however, quotes Minister of Agriculture Jon Georg Dal of the Progressive Party as telling international media that he has no choice but to impose the phasing-out period.

“My job is now to carry through with this in a way that makes sure the farmers are given sufficient time and compensation in the phase-out period.”

Norwegian media has reported that the livelihood of about 200 Norwegian families will be affected.

Wiseman said he spent a lot of time in Norway obtaining training for his fox-farming business.

A fox-farming friend in Norway, he said, got out of the business a couple of years ago due to a downturn in the industry and in anticipation that a ban would be coming.

“He farmed fox in a rural community and I’ve been there many times,” Wiseman said. “About two years ago my friend indicated there was a move afoot to ban fur there and he took it to mean fox because the fox industry had whittled down. But this is a ban on fur farming in general.”

Wiseman said the fur-farming industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in Canada, is strong and is supported by governments. He said the industry in this province is not sure how the Norwegian ban will affect it.

“We’ll see what impact it will have on us. I believe it’s a fairly significant event for the animal-rights people, but Canada stands behind its fur industry, so maybe there will be an opportunity for us to pick up the void in the marketplace, because the demand will stay the same,” Wiseman said.

“In Newfoundland and Labrador we’ve been very proactive in trying to neuter the arguments that might come forward from the animal-rights people. We are working diligently with animal care codes, the proper on-farm training and licensing. The conditions of licences are strict. We have proper handling equipment and follow a very strict protocol for animal husbandry, animal health and welfare, feeding regimes, water testing and environmental mitigation that’s required.

“We as fur farmers are keen to follow that to create a public trust that fur farming is being done humanely and is being done properly with proper protocols, especially around animal welfare. I think having done that, we have fortified ourselves and put ourselves in a better position to weather this kind of storm, but who knows.”

The Fur Council of Canada states that about 65,000 Canadians work in the fur trade, contributing $800 million to the Canadian economy, including more than $300 million in exports. That includes all the sectors, from primary producers to finished products — trappers, farmers, auction houses, processors, designers, craftspeople, manufacturers and retail furriers.

The Fur Breeders Association of Newfoundland and Labrador states that mink farming alone in the province — about a dozen farms — accounts for 250 full-time and part-time jobs, had $100 million in exports in the last five years and sells 250,000 pelts annually. In addition, there are four fox farms — including one of the largest in North America — that produce about 2,000 fox pelts annually.

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