Nation’s love affair with fur a matter of heated debate

The Danish fur industry’s animal welfare standards may exceed EU requirements, but animal rights groups maintain that using fur in fashion is fundamentally flawed

For visitors to Denmark, the sight of fur – be it Danish-bred mink or wild Greenlandic seal – may come as a surprise, considering that international resistance to its use has mounted in recent decades. 

But consider that Danish fur farmers are the world’s largest producers of mink skins, and that Danish mink skins have a reputation as the most expensive on the market, and you may have part of your explanation. 

Each year, 2,000 Danish fur farmers – most of whom are members of the Danish Fur Breeders Association – produce 14 million mink pelts along with a small number of fox, chinchilla and rabbit pelts. To get an idea of the importance of the exports, mink pelts represent one third of the total Danish exports to China and Hong Kong, and over 6,000 Danes work in the industry. 

Add to that Denmark’s ties to Greenland, with its cultural links to seal hunting, and you have all the elements for the making of a culture that is less affected by fur’s dwindling international appeal.

Of course, any industry based on raising animals for human exploitation is bound to have its share of detractors. Danish mink farmers and their association Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, say they do everything they can to ensure that the animals are raised in comfortable conditions and killed humanely. Denmark’s rules on mink welfare are established through a co-operative effort between Kopenhagen Fur and the Danish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Danish rules are stricter than European standards require.

All Danish mink farms are subject to annual veterinarian visits to conduct routine inspections to identify any health or welfare problems. If Kopenhagen Fur learns that a farm is acting illegally, they assess whether the farmer is violating the law and report those violations to the relevant authorities. 

Joh Vinding, a spokesperson for the animal welfare group Anima, was unimpressed by the industry’s claims that their animals are treated humanely.

“Minks are wild animals,” he said. “In the wild, they have a ranging area of one to two kilometres. On a fur farm, they live in a one quarter square metre cage.”

Tivoli's fur costumes had activists heated up, but audiences kept their cool over them, according to the amusement park

Vinding pointed out that although a farm may pass inspection under the established guidelines, minks could still be covered with bite marks and other damage brought on by keeping what he called “solitary” animals in crowded conditions.

“The biggest market for Danish minks is China, and the Chinese government regularly blocks websites that show animal cruelty – including ours – so the Chinese may not even be aware of the problem.”

Vinding wants Denmark to join the Netherlands in banning mink farming all together. He pointed to a 2009 survey that revealed that the majority of Danes think that mink production should be halted.

“It speaks to the kind of people we wish to be,” he said. “Do we tolerate suffering for what is essentially a frivolous luxury product?”

Denmark’s Tivoli has another view of the matter. As part of a three-year multi-million kroner deal, the central Copenhagen amusement park partnered with Kopenhagen Fur last year to make it the official partner of the park’s ‘Christmas in Tivoli’ celebration.

Torben Plank, Tivoli’s spokesperson, said the amusement park knew the decision would spark a heated debate but in the end, a Facebook forum debate became so heated that Facebook took down the comments.

In addition, a few hundred demonstrators appeared at the park during the opening of the 2012 Christmas season. 

As for the success of the deal itself, Plank said it was hard to say whether the display had resulted in increased fur sales, but that both vendors and park guests seemed satisfied.

Factfile | A fur giant

Kopenhagen Fur is the world’s largest fur auction houses and the global hub for the fur trade. Along with selling the 14 million Danish mink pelts, it sells around 7 million mink pelts from other countries each year. 

Its five annual auctions attract as many as 500 buyers from around the world, and the bids at the auctions set the world market price for mink.

Kopenhagen Fur, through its in-house design agency Kopenhagen Studio, works with designers in other countries to create fur fashions that can be haute couture, prêt-a-porter and even every day street fashions. 

This article was included as part of our Copenhagen "Fashion" Post style section in our Feb 1, 2013 issue

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