In May 2021, Defra, along with the Scottish and Welsh governments, launched a consultation on the fur market in Great Britain following the ban on fur farming in 2000. The call for evidence aims to provide an opportunity ‘to consider any further steps it might take in relation to fur’ and to better understand fur sector activity including ‘trade and its impacts both in the UK and overseas’. This week guest writer Steph Bailey will look at whether the ban on fur farming in the UK, which has been in place for over two decades has adequately protected animals from being used for fur.
Fur farming became illegal in the UK under the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000 (‘the Act’). The Act prohibits the keeping of animals solely or primarily for slaughter for the value of their fur. The ‘primary or solely’ wording was originally intended to ensure that animals which, for example, provide leather or wool as a by-product, do not come under the legislation. Therefore, the process of keeping animals primarily for their meat and selling their skins in addition remains within the law.
Whilst the intention behind the wording was not to exclude otherwise legal practices, it can also be employed to legalise what would otherwise be illegal under the Act. This is, perhaps, best demonstrated by looking at those animals who may be slaughtered both for meat and fur.
Recent applications have been submitted to open three intensive rabbit farming facilities in England; where at each, 250 female rabbits will produce upwards of 10,000 rabbits per year. In addition to providing meat, such farming practices also produce rabbit pelts and fur products.
Rabbit fur is said to be the fastest growing section of the fur industry, with very few investigations carried out into the conditions faced by factory farmed rabbits. They are also the third most popular pet; with around 900,000 currently kept in the UK. Like cats and dogs, they crave love, affection and stimulation. They are intelligent and sociable animals who bond for life with their companions, sharing every aspect of their existence. The wellbeing of a rabbit is affected so much by loneliness that there have been calls to follow on from Switzerland’s lead and legislate to make it a requirement that they be sold or re-homed in pairs. Despite this, rabbits are still farmed for their meat here in the UK.
What can be done
Animal welfare and public morality were the main factors in introducing the Act, yet this ‘loophole’ does little to alleviate those concerns. Public response can be seen in the petitions to refuse the applications for the proposed rabbit farms, with two of the three proposals being rejected thus far and the third – still outstanding - being one of the most signed petitions on Change.org.
It cannot be that Parliament had envisaged an Act prohibiting fur farming would, in fact, provide a means for its preservation. Therefore, the government must act to fill the lacunae in the current law.
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