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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
The fur is flying
Just as the government bans fur farming the fashionistas declare that fur is 'in'. So who's going to produce it? The Money Programme talks to top designers, furriers and the anti-fur lobby.

The Government banned fur production in the UK last year. But just as the last fur farms in the country closed in time for the 1 January deadline, British furriers reported a huge surge in sales.

Fur, it seems, is back in fashion and everyone from the catwalk to the high street is wearing it again. But British fur farmers won't be benefiting as they've all been put out of business. Those who want to remain in fur farming are having to move and they're emigrating en masse.

West Country farmer Mike Cobbledick owned a small farm in the hills above the North Devon coast. It used to be a thriving business employing up to 40 people. It's now shut and all the workers have lost their jobs.

Britain's loss, Denmark's gain

The anti-fur lobby might see that as a good result. But fur supplies haven't dried up. As consumers start wearing fur again, the demand is being met by overseas suppliers. Fur is Denmark's third largest agricultural export, after bacon and cheese. It's a 345m a year industry.

Cobbledick's new operation, also now in Denmark, turns over 2m a year. But despite his success he'd rather be at home. And, for now, he still feels like a scapegoat:

"You don't ban sheep farming because you have one bad farmer. Why should I be penalised for the odd farmer that's had a problem? We obviously earn money from the skins of the animal and if we do a bad job on the animal the first thing to suffer is its coat. If you give it a really bad diet it has a terrible coat."

Humane farming

Cobbledick's claims won't satisfy the anti-fur lobby, who claim that mink are wild animals which can never be humanely farmed.

Government scientists advised that mink could be farmed humanely if standards were improved. But the Government banned the trade anyway on grounds of "public morality", helped by video footage of some fur farms where conditions were seen to be appalling.

Although British fur farms have been banned, British fur brokers continue to do a roaring trade. In fact, they now buy and sell the world's fur. It's a 500m a year business.

Just as the British Government planned the destruction of the UK fur production industry, Scandinavian farmers were working on a plan for a huge expansion in theirs. Key to their success was preaching their message to the young people who shape the future of fashion - the industry devised a strategy that encouraged designers to use smaller pieces of fur for accessories such as scarves, trims and bags.

High fashion

British designer Tristan Webber made up his mind to work with fur after visiting Denmark to see inside a farm:

"I made a decision that I could only really work with fur if I was content as to the way the animals were reared and produced. I think that people are seeing fur in smaller amounts, in shoes and accessories, which I think raises fewer moral questions and makes people feel more comfortable about buying those particular pieces."

But the anti-fur lobby isn't taking the setback lying down. Campaign group PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has organised the disruption of catwalk shows. The group's London-based director Dawn Carr helps orchestrate the campaigns:

"The fur industry is a violent industry, the way that they're treating animals is like little more than boxes in a warehouse. We have no hesitation whatsoever of getting up on those runways and sending a loud and clear message back that that is not acceptable. If they don't put the fur up there, we won't put the activist up there."

This programme was first transmitted on Wednesday 12 March 2003.




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