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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 16:08 GMT


Inside the fur farms

It takes around 40 of these to make a coat

Fur farms have come under attack by animal rights campaigners for years and now they face being banned by the government.

But scrapping fur farming in the UK, as proposed in Wednesday's Queen's speech to Parliament, would barely scratch world production of pelts.

There are 13 fur farms in the UK, turning out around 150,000 of the 28.6m mink pelts produced worldwide a year.

[ image: Cages are tall enough for the mink to stand]
Cages are tall enough for the mink to stand
And no other country in Europe - where 6,000 fur farms produce 85% of the world's furs - shows any signs of following the British lead.

Britain's biggest fur farmer, Mike Cobbledick, who produces 70-80,000 pelts a year, said: "I'm proud to be a mink farmer, but here, I can't blow my own trumpet."

It's no surprise he is bashful about his job, because whichever way you dress it up, mink production does involve pretty little animals who live in small cages and are gassed to death aged about seven months.

And all for the sake of human beings' vanity.

[ image:  ]
But Mr Cobbledick points out that intensive chicken farming, in which the animals are kept in worse conditions than mink, has been left relatively unscathed by campaigners.

He said: "It's a class thing. Animal rights people resent people who wear fur because they think they have more money."

Fur farming in the UK began about 50 years ago when mink were imported from America.

Escape to the wild

Since then many have escaped and mink have become part of the English wildlife scene - equalling the number kept in captivity.

At his Devon farm, Mr Cobbledick's mink live in 1ft by 3ft cages, with up to four mink in each.

All cages have nest boxes and allow the animals to stand on their hind legs, in line with European regulations.

They are born in the spring and culled around November for auction in December.

Pelts fetch around £20-£30 each, giving Mr Cobbledick a turnover of around £2m in an average year.

It takes around 40 pelts to make a coat for the "dumb animals" of the anti-fur ads.

[ image: Furs are still popular in Milan and New York]
Furs are still popular in Milan and New York
Fur farmers maintain there is no cruelty involved - and there has only been one successful prosecution of a farmer.

Mr Cobbledick said: "The way we treat our animals is second to none - there is no argument that stands up against us."

Animal rights campaigners say the gassing of the animals is cruel, because the gas panics the animals.

But Jan Elnif, associate professor of fur animal science at the Danish Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, has said video evidence has shown the mink can't smell the gas.

"Within 20 seconds they lose consciousness and are clinically dead in two to five minutes. Moreover, as you take an animal out of its cage it might scream but that doesn't disturb the others."

Campaigners have also suggested that mink, being semi-aquatic, might like to have swimming facilities in their cages.

But Professor Elnif is doubtful: "It doesn't swim like an otter. It can't see more than 30 centimetres in the water. It sits and watches for prey from the shore and then dives in for perhaps 10 seconds."

The fur industry, while angry at the proposed ban, is not quaking in its boots.

Despite fur's fall from grace in London, where the number of fur salons has plummeted in the last two decades from around 300 to 29, its popularity in fashion capitals such as Milan and New York has remained undimmed.

And while breeding mink for fur may soon be banned in the UK, the trade in furs on the London markets - which accounts for 40% of the worldwide fur trade business - continues unabated.

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