Cannibalism, tiny cages, squalid conditions: international investigation reveals Finland’s fur farm cruelty

Farming wild animals for their pelts is banned in many EU countries but it's a thriving business in Finland impacting four million animals each year.

Obese Arctic fox at fur farm in Ostrobothnia / Credit: Kristo Muurimaa, Oikeutta Elaimille

An undercover investigation by an international animal welfare organisation has again revealed the shocking conditions in some of Finland’s fur farms, where an estimated four million animals are bred to be slaughtered for their pelts.

The Humane Society UK teamed up with Finnish animal rights organisation Oikeutta Elaimille and a star of British scripted reality TV show The Only Way is Essex Pete Wicks to covertly film at two farms on Finland’s Ostrobothnia coast in April and October.

“I wanted to see for myself the cruelty involved in the fur trade” says Wicks as he hikes to one of the farms in the video he made.

“I thought I was semi-prepared for this, but it’s far worse than I imagined” he says.

One dead animal in a cage with another / Credit: Kristo Muurimaa, Oikeutta Elaimille

Wicks found thousands of animals including mink, foxes, Arctic foxes and raccoon dogs living in small wire cages which brings poor welfare, psychological problems and even cannibalism when an animal is sick or injured, and eaten alive by the other animals in the cage.

Some of the animals are grossly obese because they cannot exercise and are kept fat as larger pelts mean more profit for the farmers.

“We saw dead animals left to rot in the cages, as well as foxes with infected eyes swollen shut. We saw a mink with a huge flesh wound in its head, being cannibalized by cage mates while still alive” says Kristo Muurimaa from Oikeutta Elaimille.

Two young animals in a cage on a fur farm in Ostrobothnia / Credit: Kristo Muurimaa, Oikeutta Elaimille

Finnish attitudes towards fur farming 

Many countries in the EU have banned fur farming, with fox farming banned in all the Nordic countries. Denmark allows mink farming, but Finland and Poland are highlighted as two of the biggest farmers of wild animals for pelts.

In fact, Finland is the biggest producer of fox fur in Europe, rearing and electrocuting around 2.5 million foxes every year for the global fur trade; only China farms more foxes globally.

“Most people in Finland are against it. A recent survey published this month said that 80% of the population is against keeping animals in tiny cages” explains Mikko Muurimaa.

“Unfortunately the minister who is in charge of developing animal welfare in Finland belongs to the Centre Party and he is a strong supporter of factory farming” Muurimaa tells News Now Finland.

Politics has been the main reason that fur farming, and the dreadful conditions the animals are kept, persists in Finland.

The Greens and Left Alliance tried to raise the issue to the government’s agenda during talks in early summer but in the end the Centre Party – with its strong support in many agrarian areas – wouldn’t budge on the issue.

“[Agriculture Minister Jari Leppä] just looks at these things from the viewpoint of economical profit of the farmers and producers, and doesn’t really care about animal welfare as such” Muurimaa adds.

Mink with a head injury which had been eaten by cage mate / Credit: Credit: Kristo Muurimaa, Oikeutta Elaimille

Who is responsible for animal welfare? 

In Finland, the welfare of these animals in fur farms is the responsibility of the Finnish Food Authority Ruokavirasto, even though the animals won’t enter the food chain.

Last year spot checks of fur farms found 37% in breach of regulations, but there’s little motivation for the farmers to improve living conditions for the animals as there’s very few punitive measures to deter them.

“Farmers don’t seem to care about the laws that exist, and I don’t know why nothing happens. It seems the Food Safety Authority is powerless. They can give recommendations but can’t give big fines to fur farms that break the laws” says Muurimaa.

Most of the wild animal pelts from Finland end op in Asia or southern Europe. Although more than €800 million have been exported to the UK since that country banned fur farming back in 2000.

The Humane Society is calling for action to hit the producers economically.

“It’s important for consumers, designers and politicians to see that awful reality laid bare, that despite what the fur trade tries to portray on catwalks there is nothing glamorous about fur” says Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International.