Annika Lepp: Ban fur farming in Estonia

Will Estonia join progressive countries or become the next hot destination for foreign fur farms, asks animal advocate Annika Lepp.

Fur farming is currently a hot topic in Estonia. The parliament’s rural affairs committee has to decide over a petition that calls Estonia to ban fur farming. The petition was signed by 10,000 Estonian citizens and according to recent survey, more than half (69%) of the population is against fur farming.

The total number of fur animals in Estonia is about 200,000, but the sector employs just 90 people. First discussions over banning fur farms in Estonia emerged about eight years ago, when local animal organisations, the Green Party and the Social Democrats managed to turn the public’s eye on the bitter conditions of animals raised for fur. The first secretly filmed investigations were published five years later in 2013, after which the juridical and political wheels started rolling.

Public interest vs money

In 2014, a national petition to ban fur farms in Estonia gathered more than 10,000 signatures from Estonian citizens. At the end of 2014, animal advocacy organisation Loomus passed the signatures and the corresponding memorandum to the parliament.

After numerous public discussions and analyses, the rural affairs committee that was supposed to decide the fate of fur farms, decided to postpone the decision and ask for an opinion from the government of Estonia that bounced the issue back to the committee. Soon after, the Estonian government and parliament changed, so the rural affairs committee, now under different political leadership, turned to the new government in order to receive their opinion about the possible fur farming ban.

Meanwhile, an international petition to ban fur farms in Estonia has already gathered more than 37,000 signatures. A recent poll by Kantar Emor showed that 69 per cent of the Estonian people do not support fur farming. Based on the socioeconomic analysis by the ministry of rural affairs, only 90 people are employed in Estonia by the fur farming sector. However, since jobs in rural areas are scarce, politicians are not eager to ban a field of agricultural business activity.

Facts vs fiction

Still, political and economic decisions should be made on factual basis. Unfortunately, the government analysis on Estonian fur farming is not impartial enough. Yet it is the document that is now used in making decisions about a possible fur farming ban.

The mere fact that the analysis was conducted by the Estonian University of Life Sciences, where fur farming is taught, leaves the impression that the analysis is biased. In addition, the only expert outside of the University of Life Sciences among the authors of the analysis is the head of the Estonian Fur Breeders’ Association.

Also, animal advocates find the chapters in the analysis about ethics and animal welfare highly questionable. The ethics chapter revolves around the statement that until no other animal breeding systems are banned, there is no reason to ban fur farms either.

It is appropriate to point out that fur farming is already banned in a number of European countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Fur farms are partially banned in Switzerland and Denmark. Germany is about to close down the last operating farms. Recently, the Dutch supreme court supported banning mink farming primarily due to ethical reasons, regardless of the fact that the Netherlands is the fourth largest mink fur producer in the world.

Fur farming bans are discussed in almost all the European member countries. None of them have banned other animal breeding systems.

The welfare chapter reveals that the representatives of the Estonian Veterinary and Food Board wrote only a couple of fines to Estonian fur breeders due to missing nest boxes in 2012 and 2013.

This is the most unexpected part of the analysis, as during this period the video footage about Estonian fur farms was disclosed on the Estonian Public Broadcasting’s documentary series Pealtnägija. The shocking footage showed fur animals living in poor conditions, their injuries, wounds, bitten tails, eye traumas and many other cases where legal requirements were disobeyed. Yet, the Veterinary and Food Board must have ignored this evidence.

Hot potato: to ban or to expand

In August 2016, the animal advocacy organisation Loomus launched an international petition that calls on the parliament to ban fur farming in Estonia. With the international petition, Loomus wants to introduce the local fur farming topic on a global scale and, thereby, give people outside Estonia a chance to speak up and support the cause. The aim is to spread the petition across the world and help Estonia become a modern and ethical state.

Estonia is in a situation where the parliament’s rural affairs committee has taken up the role of being a democratic bottleneck. It is up to the committee to decide whether the memorandum and a local petition could reach a full session of the parliament.

Estonia has the chance to define itself as a member of Europe and a developed Western culture, instead of a post-Soviet country.

It is sad to admit that there is a lack of political will and hard initiative to ban fur farms in Estonia. Although animal rights and protection organisations have done an excellent job in informing the public and there is an overwhelming public support for the ban, local politicians are still hesitant in making a decision that would harm the interests of entrepreneurs. Estonian politicians have yet to discover that animal welfare is one the main topics in the modern society and there is a clear need to prioritise these issues and discuss them on a much wider scale.

Today, Estonia is standing on a crossroad. It can either choose a 21st century-style, humane and progressive, environmentally friendly path that is free from outlived fur farms; or step on a rough road that takes the country further and further away from its unspoiled forests, clean air, versatile wildlife, dynamic outlook and most of all – humanity.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover: A fur animal in Estonia.

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About the author: Annika Lepp

Annika Lepp is the communication manager of the Estonian animal advocacy organisation, Loomus. She has been active in the field of animal rights for nearly seven years.