Each year more than 40 million animals are senselessly tortured and killed to satisfy the dictates of fashion. Wild-caught fur is obtained by setting traps or snares to capture fur-bearing animals. Once an animal is caught it may remain in the trap or snare for several days starving or slowly strangling. Farm-raised fur comes from animals kept in tiny, filthy cages, deprived of adequate protection from the elements. As a result, animals develop stereotypical behavior, including pacing, head bobbing, and self-mutilation. The techniques used to kill animals on fur farms include neck snapping or "popping", electrocution with a rod shoved into the anus and gassing or smothering.
The fur ads we see in magazines and commercials portray fur coats as a symbol of elegance. But these ads fail to show how the original owners of these coats met their gruesome deaths. Approximately 3.5 million furbearing animals -- raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, lynxes, opossums, nutria, beavers, muskrats, otters, and others -- are killed each year by trappers in the United States. Another 2.7 million animals are raised on fur "farms."
Some people believe that animals raised in captivity on fur "ranches" do not suffer. This is not the case. Trapping and "ranching" have both similar and disparate cruelties involved, and neither is humane. "Ranched" animals, mostly minks and foxes, spend their entire lives in appalling conditions, only to be killed by painful and primitive methods.
Approximately one half of the fur coats made in the United States and Canada come from captive animals bred, born and raised on fur farms. These operations range from family-owned businesses with 50 animals to large operations with thousands of animals. But regardless of their size or location, "the manner in which minks (and other furbearers) are bred is remarkably uniform over the whole world," according to one study. As with other intensive-confinement animal farms, the methods used on fur farms are designed to maximize profits, always at the expense of the animals' welfare and comfort, and always at the expense of their lives.
In the United States there are approximately 500 fur farms. About 90% of all ranched fur bearers are minks. Foxes, rabbits and chinchillas account for most of the remainder, though fur farmers have recently diversified into lynx, bobcats, wolves, wolverines, coyotes and beavers. All of these animals live only a fraction of their natural lifespans; minks are killed at about five months of age, and foxes are killed when they are about nine months old. Breeding females live somewhat longer. The animals' short lives are filled with fear, stress, disease, parasites and other physical and psychological hardships, all for the sake of an industry that makes huge profits from its $648 million-a-year sales.
Foxes are kept in cages only 2.5 feet square, with one to four animals per cage. Minks and other species are generally kept in cages only one by three feet, again with up to four animals per cage. This extreme crowding and confinement is especially damaging to minks, who are by nature solitary animals. A large portion of ranched minks develop self-mutilating behaviors, including pelt and tail biting, and abnormalities called "stereotypes" such as pacing in ritualized patterns. Foxes kept in close confinement sometimes cannibalize each other.
Minks, foxes and chinchillas are fed meat and fish by-products so vile that they are unfit even for the pet food industry. These animals are also fed minced offal, which endangers their health because of bacterial contamination. Newly weaned kits and pups are especially vulnerable to the food poisoning this diet can cause. Water on fur farms is provided by a nipple system from which the animals can drink at will...except, of course, when the system freezes in the winter.
As with other caged and confined animals, animals on fur farms are much more susceptible to diseases than their free-roaming counterparts. Contagious diseases such as Aleutian disease, viral enteritis and pneumonia are passed from cage to cage, and sometimes kill entire populations. Bladder and urinary ailments (wet belly disease) and nursing sickness (which kills up to 80 percent of all animals it infects, if not treated in time) are common. Animals are often infested with fleas, ticks, lice, and mites, and disease-carrying flies are a particularly severe problem because they are attracted to the piles of excrement that remain under the cages for months.
Fur farm cages are typically kept in open sheds that provide little protection from wind, cold and heat. The animals' fur helps keep them warm in winter, but summer is very hard on minks because they lack the ability to cool their bodies without bathing in water. Free-roaming minks spend 60 to 70 percent of their time in water, and without it their salivation, respiration and body temperature increase greatly. When minks learn to shower themselves by pressing on their drinking water supply nipples, mink farmers have been known to modify the nipples to cut off even this meager water supply.
No humane slaughter law protects animals on fur farms, and killing methods are gruesome. Because the fur farmers care only about preserving the quality of the fur, they use slaughter methods that keep the pelts intact but which result in severe suffering for the animals still quite attached to the pelts. Small animals can be shoved up to 20 at a time into boxes, where they are poisoned with hot, unfiltered engine exhaust pumped in by hose from the fur farmer's truck. Engine exhaust is not always 100 percent lethal, and some animals "wake up" while being skinned. Larger animals, including foxes, often have clamps attached to their lips while rods are inserted into their anuses, and are then very painfully electrocuted. Other animals are poisoned with strychnine, which actually suffocates them by paralyzing their muscles in painful rigid cramps. Gassing, decompression chambers and neck snapping are other common fur farm slaughter methods.
Despite the fur industry's attempts to downplay the role of trapping in fur "production," it is estimated that more than half of all fur garments come from trapped animals.
An archaic device used for centuries, the steel-jaw leghold trap is the most commonly used trap in the U.S. by commercial and recreational fur trappers today. Triggered by a pan-tension device, the weight of an animal stepping between the jaws of the trap causes the jaws to slam shut on the victim's leg, or other body part, in a vice-like grip. Most animals react to the instant pain by frantically pulling against the trap in a desperate attempt to free themselves, enduring fractures, ripped tendons, edema, blood loss, amputations, tooth and mouth damage (from chewing and biting at the trap), and starvation. Some animals will even chew or twist their limbs off, so common that trappers have termed this occurrence as "wring-off," which for them means the loss of a marketable pelt. To the animal left crippled on three legs, "wring-off" means certain death from starvation, gangrene or attack from other predators.
On land, leghold traps are most frequently set for coyote, bobcat, fox, raccoon, skunk and other furbearing animals. However, leghold traps are inherently indiscriminate and will trap any unsuspecting animal that steps foot into the trap jaws, including companion animals, threatened and endangered species, and even humans. Trappers admit that for every "target" animal trapped, at least two other "non-target" animals, including dogs and cats, are trapped.
Aquatic leghold traps are most often set for muskrat, otter, mink and beaver. Most animals trapped in water will either try to surface to gasp for air or will drag the trap under water in an attempt to reach land. Usually they die a slow, agonizing death by drowning, which can take up to 20 minutes for some species.
Trapping proponents argue that traps used today in the U.S. are humane, touting the "padded" leghold trap as a commonly used humane alternative to the steel jaw version. However, the only distinctive difference between the two traps is that the padded leghold trap has a thin strip of rubber attached to the trap jaws. Not only do these traps cause significant injuries to animals, but research indicates that fewer than 5% of trappers even own padded leghold traps in the U.S. Only a few states require that padded leghold traps be used, and this provision only applies to leghold traps set on land. Numerous studies have shown that padded traps can cause severe injuries to their victims.
Snares are categorized as either body/neck or foot snares. Like leghold traps, they are a primitive device, simple in design and vicious in action. They are generally made of light wire cable looped through a locking device or of small nylon cord tied so that it will tighten as the animal pulls against it. The more a snared animal struggles, the tighter the noose becomes, the tighter the noose, the greater the animal's struggle and suffering. The body snare is used primarily on coyotes and is often set where animals crawl under a fence or some other narrow passageway. The body snare is designed to kill the animal by strangulation or crushing of vital organs. However, snares do not discriminate between victims and will capture any animal around any body part.
While some small animals are thought to become unconscious in about six minutes when neck snared, larger animals can suffer for days on end. Trappers even have a term -- "jellyhead" -- that refers to the thick, bloody lymph fluid which swells the heads and necks of neck-snared canids. Snares frequently have to be replaced after each capture due to twisting and strain on the snare cable that results from animals struggling to free themselves.
Set on land and in water, snares are considered even more indiscriminate than the leghold trap. Because they are cheap and easy to set, trappers will often saturate an area with dozens of snares to catch as many animals as possible. Called "saturation snaring," this practice is common in Alaska where trappers attempt to target entire wolf packs through this reprehensible practice.
The Conibear trap, named after its inventor Frank Conibear, consists of two metal rectangles hinged together midway on the long side to open and close like scissors. One jaw has a trigger that can be baited. The opposite jaw has a catch or "dog" that holds the trap open. Originally intended to be an "instant killing" device, the Conibear trap is designed to snap shut in a scissor-like fashion on an animal's spinal column at the base of the skull. However, because it is impossible to control the size, species and direction of the animal entering the trap, most animals do not die quickly in the Conibear trap...instead enduring prolonged suffering as the clamping force of the trap draws the jaws closer and closer together, crushing the animal's abdomen, head or other body part.
Domestic animals are frequent victims of this indiscriminate trap, especially the size 220 (7") Conibear. Numerous veterinary reports indicate that dogs and cats may be found dead or alive by their owners in these traps after suffering for days. However, because it is extremely difficult to open the trap jaws, most people are not able to free their companions in time.
Manufactured in three standard sizes, Conibear traps are frequently used in water sets to trap muskrat and beaver. In addition, they are used on land to trap raccoon, pine marten, opossum and other furbearers. Numerous research studies have shown that this trap does not kill instantly.
Sheep raised for wool are subjected to a lifetime of cruel treatment. Lambs' tails are chopped off and males are castrated without anesthetic. In Australia, where 80% of all wool comes from, ranchers perform an operation called "mulesing" where huge strips of skin are carved off the backs of lambs' legs. This procedure is performed to produce scarred skin that won't harbor fly larvae, so that the rancher can spend less time caring for the sheep. The shearing of sheep can be a brutal, as workers are encouraged to shear as quickly as possible. As a result, an estimated one million Australian sheep die every year from exposure. Sheep that are no longer useful for their wool are sent to crowded feedlots and then transported to the slaughterhouse.
Many people believe that shearing sheep helps animals who might otherwise be burdened with too much wool. But without human interference, sheep grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes. The fleece provides effective insulation against both cold and heat. Until shears were invented in 1000 B.C., the only way to obtain wool was to "pluck" sheep during molting seasons. Breeding for continuous growth began after the advent of shears.
With an estimated 148 million sheep, Australia produces eighty percent of all wool used worldwide. Flocks usually consist of thousands of sheep, and individual attention to their needs is virtually impossible.
Just weeks after birth, lambs' ears are punched, their tails are chopped off, and males are castrated without anesthetic. According to Australian Law Reform Chairman, M.D. Kirby, Australian sheep suffer over 50 million operations a year that would constitute cruelty if performed on dogs or cats. Extremely high rates of mortality are considered "normal": 20-40 percent of lambs die at birth or before the age of eight weeks from cold or starvation; eight million mature sheep die every year from disease, lack of shelter, and neglect. One million of these die within 30 days of shearing.
In Australia, the most commonly raised sheep are Merinos, specifically bred to have wrinkly skin (which means more wool per animal). This unnatural overload of wool causes animals to die of heat exhaustion during hot months, and the wrinkles also collect urine and moisture. Attracted to the moisture, flies lay eggs in the folds of skin, and the hatched maggots can literally eat sheep alive. To prevent "flystrike," Australian ranchers perform a barbarous operation--"mulesing"--or carving huge strips of skin off the backs of unanesthetized lambs' legs. This is done to cause smooth, scarred skin that won't harbor fly eggs. Yet the bloody wounds often get flystrike before they heal; and despite the feeling by many that mulesing may kill more sheep than it saves, the mutilation continues.
Aging sheep are subjected to "tooth-grinding," an unanesthetized procedure that sheep farmers claim reduces tooth loss and extends the sheep's productive life. A battery-operated grinder is used to wear down the teeth. Another method involves using the edge of a disc cutter to cut right through the teeth near the level of the gums. This terrifying and painful procedure exposes the sensitive pulp cavities inside and causes the teeth to bleed profusely.
Faced with such vast amounts of death and disease, the rational step would be to reduce the numbers of sheep so as to maintain the existing ones decently. Instead, sheep are forced to bear more lambs by the administration of drugs. Malnourished ewes are taken into laboratories and placed in climate-controlled chambers to determine how much exposure they can withstand before they die.
Like other "commodities," animals can fall victim to fluctuations in the economy. In 1990, 10 million Australian sheep were shot and buried in mass graves when they became practically valueless due to a lingering drought and low wool prices.
Sheep are sheared each spring, after lambing, just before they would naturally shed their winter coats. Timing is critical: shearing too late means loss of wool. In the rush, an estimated one million Australian sheep die every year of exposure after premature shearing. A closely shorn sheep is, in fact, more sensitive to cold than a naked man since a sheep's normal body temperature is about 102 degrees F, much higher than a human's.
When shearing, speed is everything. Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by hour, which encourages working quickly and carelessly. Says one eyewitness: "the shearing shed must be one of the worst places in the world for cruelty to animals. I have seen shearers punch sheep with their shears or fists until the sheep's noses bled. I have seen sheep with half their faces shorn off."
When the sheep age and are no longer effective wool producers, they are transported long distances to slaughterhouses in trucks and trains without food or water. Those who fall are trampled by other frightened animals. On arrival, the dead and dying are piled into heaps. Those with foot rot attempt to drag themselves on their knees.
The ultimate cruelty is the live export of seven million sheep every year from Australia to the Middle East, which the Wool Council of Australia supports as "an important component of the wool and sheep industry." These sheep travel vast distances until they reach the feedlots where they are held before being loaded onto ships. Many sheep, ill or wounded from the journey, faced with intensive crowding, disease, and strange food, die in the holding pens. Eighteen percent of sheep die during the 3-6 week transport process; in just one Australian feedlot, 15,000 sheep died from cold in 1983.
The surviving sheep--7 million a year--are herded onto huge 14-tier-high ships resembling the old slave-trade ships. Up to 125,000 sheep are packed tightly into each ship, each allocated an area hardly bigger than themselves, so that not all can lie down at once, or reach the feed troughs. Mired in their own waste for three weeks or more, the sheep suffer from sea-sickness, temperature extremes, disease, and injuries. Younger animals or babies born en route are often trampled to death. Shipboard mortality ranges up to 10 percent, and for every sheep who dies, many others become ill and are injured.
When the three-week trip to the Middle East is over, the surviving sheep are killed in ritual slaughter (Halal). Since Moslem religious law does not require that the knife be sharpened between kills, sheep often have their throats sawed open with dull knives. According to one witness in the Sitra abbatoir in Bahrain, men would begin slaughtering as soon as a pen was full. The sheep would "wave their heads in obvious confusion, trying to stand up and call out as the blood gushed from their throats." Other sheep are loaded into the trunk of a car for later slaughtering at the buyer's home.
Sheep aren't the only animals who suffer as a result of the wool industry. The Australian government permits the slaughter of approximately 5 million kangaroos a year because it views them as "pests" who eat grass ranchers want for their sheep and cows. Ninety percent of kangaroo killers are "weekend" hunters, killing by the most expedient methods available: running kangaroos down in trucks, poisoning their water, beating them to death, even impaling them on stakes and meat hooks and skinning them alive. The standard kangaroo hunting technique, as recounted by Paul and Anne Erlich in their book Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species, is to "spotlight" them from cars at night. "The kangaroos would freeze in the light and were shot with rifles. Some were killed immediately, but some hunters purposely just wounded them--sometimes leaving them to suffer for hours or days so that their meat would remain fresh until they could be collected." According to Dr. Susan Lieberman of the Humane Society of the U.S., joeys, or young kangaroos "are not considered to be worth the cost of a bullet...and are often killed by being thrown against a tree or car bumper or kicked in the head."
In the U.S., coyotes, vilified for allegedly preying on sheep and other livestock, are poisoned, shot and burned alive by the hundreds of thousands every year by ranchers and the U.S. government.
By-products of the beef industry are defined by the parts of the cow that are not consumed by humans. These include hooves, some organs, bones, and skin. Skin (leather) accounts for about half of the by-product of the beef industry. Like meat, leather is a product made from animals that experienced the horrors of factory farming, transport and slaughter. The leather industry uses some of the most dangerous substances to prepare leather, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, various oils and some cyanide-based dyes.
Purchasing leather ensures the continuity of a massive industry based on animal suffering. The leather industry makes a huge profit each year, mainly from cattle and calf skins.
About 41.8 million beef cattle are slaughtered annually in the United States. For identification purposes, cattle are either branded with hot irons or "wattled," a process in which a chunk of flesh from under the cow's neck is cut out. Raised on the range or in feed lots, cattle when large enough are crammed into metal trucks and taken to slaughter. On the way to slaughter, these cattle may travel for hours in sweltering temperatures with no access to water. Animals unable to stand due to broken legs or illness are called "downers" by the meat industry. Downers are electrically prodded or dragged with chains to the slaughterhouse, or left outside, without food or water, to die.
About half of the 10 million milking cows in the U.S. are kept in confinement on factory farms. Dairy cows are forced to produce 10-20 times the amount of milk they would naturally need for their calves. This intensive production of milk is extremely stressful, and as a result many dairy cattle "burn out" at a much younger age than their normal life expectancy, and up to 33% suffer painful udder infections. To continue milk production, a cow must bear a calf each year. Although calves elsewhere stay with their mothers for a year or more, on the dairy factory farm they are immediately removed from their mothers so that milk can be sold for human consumption. Calves are sold to the beef or veal industry or become replacements for "burned out" dairy cows.
What You Can Do
The easiest and most effective way to reduce the cruelty inflicted on farm animals is to become vegan.
Refrain from purchasing animal products.
Educate others and encourage them to boycott the industry. Write a Letter to the Editor. Share information with friends and family.