Kerry Sheridan asks whether mink farming in Ireland is ethical…

Whilst campaigns against the cruelties of the fur trade have always found a place in the headlines, the last few months have seen the anti-fur campaign grow in Ireland. With public figures such as Imelda May speaking out, certain fur production in Ireland has been spotlighted for animal cruelty.

Despite it being years since the ‘pro-fur’ legislation has come out, interest groups still fight on behalf of the furry inmates found around Ireland. Protesters against fur production in Ireland have stationed themselves outside The Department of Agriculture in an effort to raise awareness of the alleged cruel practices taking place.

The main species of animals that are farmed for fur production in Ireland is mink, but silver fox is also occasionally bred. All Irish mink farms must register for a licence with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This is not necessary for fox farming.

The horrors of breeding for fur begins almost immediately for the animals as minks are kept in cages from the moment of their birth until they are harvested. It is estimated that between 200, 000 – 255,000 minks are harvested each year. The slaughter is usually done with gases such as carbon monoxide against batches of almost 70 animals. The estimated life span of a mink on a fur farm is six months.

There are many reasons why people feel that fur breeding is a controversial issue. Inhospitable farming methods mean that even before these animals are cruelly slaughtered, many have died in the struggle of battery farming. For a purpose that is purely materialistic, many identify the act of wearing fur as utterly shameful.  An opinion poll of Irish people saw that 80% of people feel that fur farming should be banned in Ireland. If that is the case then why isn’t it?

It’s a little more complicated than that. At the end of 2012 fur farms in Ireland were supposed to face closure and be banned in the future. Instead, the Department of Agriculture’s Minister Simon Coveney ordered a report into the issue.

The results of the report stated the economic benefits of the industry to the Irish economy . As it stood at the time 63 people were employed directly in farming. The industry, only dealing in primary sector fur pellets was worth just under 5m euro with no value added. The report went on to further point out that there was room for expansion and development in the industry. A ban would halt this completely.

At the end of 2012, Minister Simon Coveney announced that the ban wasn’t going to happen but that there would be further regulations for the industry. These included a doubling in the number of vet inspections, and the introduction of surprise inspections. Furthermore, the report went onto specify enclosure requirements and living conditions for minks. It also added that the closure or the small industry would cost more in pay-outs and compensation packages to farmers.

The People of Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have publicly spoken out against current mink trade practices, stating that they are cruel and unnecessary in “a modern Ireland.” They ask that Ireland adopts the 2001 policy of Britain and Northern Ireland and ban the practice of fur farming. The group has openly supported Imelda’s decision to become ‘anti-fur’ last October. Other agencies out in force against fur farming are the Irish Society for the Prevention Of Cruelty to Animals and the Dublin based youth group Aliberation.

While most interest groups want mink farming banned for the protection of minks, one group has an entirely different reason. Bird Watch Ireland wants the farms gone due the damage they cause when minks escape. While it is said to be uncommon, some minks escape every year. The problem is that many have never experienced life outside the farm and tend to prey on wild natural birds. The situation is worsened as there is no predator that naturally exists in the Irish eco system to diminish the mink population. Once minks have entered the ecosystem, they will grow and populate, unrivalled. This according to Bird Watch Ireland is affecting the natural order and the consistency of their birds.

So where does that leave the fur debate? The Irish economy needs all the help it can get. Whilst cruelty against animals is not an industry any country wants to contribute to, the realities and benefits of the fur trade as an industry cannot be ignored. Agriculture in Ireland is a faltering industry with many livelihoods at stake. Whilst America promotes the growing of crops to substitute oil, will we see Ireland grab hold of a controversial industry for the good of its agriculture trade?

For protestors against mink farming, their fight won’t end until there is some long term, feasible solution to mink farming. This could be the introduction of fair trade fur policies or maybe a ban altogether. All that can be certain is that protesters outside the Minister for Agriculture’s office will make it pretty hard for him to have a nice glass of Irish produced milk anytime soon.

Kerry Sheridan