The School of Arts & Media’s students learnt the ugly truth behind the supposed glamour of fur in a harrowing but highly informative presentation by Mark Glover and Nicki Brooks of Respect For Animals on 10th March.
Angela Loftus, course tutor for BA (Hons) Fashion Design, who arranged the visit explained, “When Respect For Animals contacted us I was delighted as it is a cause I strongly believe in. I feel a responsibility towards my students to open their eyes to these things. This is an important issue for all creative students but particularly for fashion students who are the designers of the future.”
The Respect For Animals Directors wanted to encourage students to enter the annual poster and animation competition, Design Against Fur, which attracts entries from more than 70 countries around the world, with regional winners in China, Europe, Russia and UK & Ireland going through to an international competition and finalists enjoying fabulous career building exposure. The students were asked to use their creative talents to convey the message that it is wrong to wear fur, but first they were shown the brutal realities of commercial fur trapping and farming.
Mark advised that most fur was factory farmed with mink and fox kept in long sheds housing very small barren cages which were only arm’s length for ease and speed of extraction. He outlined the biological reasons why this caging was especially upsetting for these species: “Mink and fox are clever animals, similar in size and ability to a dog or cat. It is obvious that to keep a pet in these conditions would be cruel, so doing so with mink or foxes, who are very inquisitive and active, is unacceptable. In fact it is worse, as cats and dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years whereas these animals have never been domesticated and have only been bred in captivity for a hundred years. While pigs, sheep and cows are social animals, foxes socialise only within the family group while mink are very solitary, highly territorial animals. These are essentially wild animals cooped up in close proximity in cramped conditions and it is exceptionally stressful for them.” Noting that they routinely exhibited pacing, fur chewing and repetitious behaviour indicative of poor animal welfare, he remarked, “These animals are driven insane by keeping them in these conditions.”
Mark explained that squalid conditions derived from market value. He said, “Mink skin fetches between £20 and £40 at auction and so if the end product is only worth a maximum of £40, these farms only operate economically on massive scale so injured or sick animals have no chance. With 24000 animals kept in one farm with only minimal staff animals are not monitored, looked after and receive only cursory inspection. At killing time imported temporary staff are brought in to kill huge numbers very quickly. They have only a very short time frame after the first winter’s moult when the fur is in best condition, although owners like to claim the glossy coat shows they have been well kept.” He outlined the gassing of mink, which was an incredibly cruel method of killing these semi aquatic animals whose biology was attuned to detecting when they were running shortage of oxygen so they could swim to the surface, and neck-breaking.
Nicki revealed, “Foxes are electrocuted. Electrodes are inserted in mouth and anus then a current applied. The animals are not pre-stunned and die from a heart attack. This practice has been banned in New York State on cruelty grounds but 50m mink and 5m fox a year are slaughtered in this objectionably cruel way around the world.”
Nicki explained that Respect For Animals had also been involved in campaigning to end the Canadian seal hunt. She said “Up to two years ago two hundred and seventy five thousand baby seals were clubbed to death. The pups were skinned and their carcasses left to rot on the ice. Climate change meant that ice was not forming on the east coast of Canada and so most of pups drowned. The Canadian government did not reduce the quota in the light of this but actually increased it to 400 000, although sealers could not find that many. As a result of successful campaigning the European Union banned all seal imports.
Mark declared, “We should be very proud in this country that in 2000, an Act of Parliament was passed banning breeding animals for fur, as the government concluded that this was offensive to public morality. This was an important change for the local area as a notorious mink farm operated in Halifax and we once found a fox farm on a council estate in Bradford. However if it is wrong to breed animals for fur; allowing the import and sale of fur is hypocritical. We are campaigning to end this and there is a Bill is currently in the Knesset in Israel to tackle this.”
The audience then watched a film showing the things they had been hearing about. This was very distressing and only 4½ minutes long but made a lasting impact on everyone. Mark told the shocked viewers, “The fur trade goes to great lengths to stop people seeing this evidence as when they do, they stop wearing fur.”
Mark then showed the audience a trap and demonstrated its ferocious firing mechanism with a stick. The excruciating pain inflicted as it snapped shut on a poor creature’s leg was easily imagined. He advised, “Five million animals are trapped each year in that kind of device. This is a showed a standard steel trap bought in the USA in the last couple of months. This would be attached in the ground, concealed under leaves or snow and baited.”
Moving on to the competition, Mark advised that design talent had played a pivotal role in changing attitudes to fur wearing. He recalled, “Back in the 1980s fur was commonplace. There were 250 retail outlets and every department store had a fur department. The use of clever advertising and consumer campaigning transformed this so that now there are only about 10 outlets selling fur. Thanks to impact made by advertising designers the UK is now largely anti-fur. You have the skill and talent to change the world.”