Fur farming began in North America in the 19th century, arriving in Europe in the early years of the 20th century. Today, after over 100 years of selective breeding, combined with good nutrition, housing and veterinary care, farmed fur-bearing animals are domesticated and amongst the world best cared for farm animals.
The most common farmed fur-bearing animal is mink, followed by fox. Other species farmed on a smaller scale include nutria, chinchilla, fitch, sable and finnracoon. Most fur farming takes place in Northern Europe (64 per cent) and North America (11 per cent). The remainder occurs in countries as far apart as Argentina, the Baltic States, Ukraine and Russia.
Farmed furs are the mainstay of the fur trade, accounting for some 85 per cent of the industry turnover. Production figures for mink and fox farming vary annually. Most recent figures (2000) show that approximately thirty million pelts were produced in that year (90 per cent mink; 10 per cent fox).
Fur farming provides a livelihood for many thousands of people in Europe and North America. In Europe, there are some 6,000 fur farms, providing full-time employment to 30,000 individuals. The fur sector as a whole provides some 338,000 full and part time jobs in the European Union. In North America there are some 900 mink and fox farms (470 in USA and 430 in Canada). Most farms are small family-run businesses. The fur sector as a whole provides some 270,000 full and part time jobs in North America.
Revenue from fur farming allows many farmers, particularly in Europe, to supplement income from other agricultural activities. Fur farming also allows farming to remain economically viable where climatic conditions limit the options open to farmers in terms of what they can produce and market profitably.
Fur farming provides an efficient use of animal by-products from human food production purchased from fish and poultry processors and other farming sectors. The consumption by fur animals of these by-products, which are not intended for human use, helps to keep down the actual cost of human food production.
Fur farmers have a vested interest in keeping their animals healthy and content. As anyone who owns and cares for fur-bearing animals knows, pet-owners included, the condition of an animal's coat is a key indicator of its well-being. Scientific research into the behaviour and welfare of farmed fur-bearing animals has been ongoing, particularly in The Netherlands, Russia and the Nordic countries, financed by governments and the fur sector.
Fur farming is well regulated and operates within the highest standards of care. In the European Union, Council Directive 98/58 sets down rules covering the welfare of all farmed animals, including fur farmed animals. Directive 93/119 deals with the slaughter and killing of fur and other farmed animals. Additionally, the Council of Europe adopted a Recommendation, revised in 1999, designed to ensure the health and welfare of farmed fur animals. The Recommendation deals comprehensively with matters of animal care, from the farming environment to stockmanship and inspection. Its requirements have been included in the European Fur Breeders Association (EFBA) Code of Practice. In North America, fur farmers also follow strict Codes of Practice and conform to provincial, state or national animal welfare and other regulations.
Regular veterinary checks are carried out in accordance with industry guidelines, provincial, state or national requirements.