Fur-bearing animals have been hunted throughout history. Since the 1800s, fur animals have also been raised on farms in North America. Now, fur farming makes up the majority of the fur trade. The two most commonly raised animals are the mink and the fox. European fur farms produce more than half of all mink and foxes for the world’s fur trade. North American fur farms bred the first black mink, the most popular kind. U.S. fur farms are generally family businesses, and are mostly in Wisconsin. However, the U.S. has been decreasing its share of fur farms, while China has been increasing its share. China can be an attractive place for fur farming because of its low cost for labor and lack of laws concerning fur farming.
In the wild, animals such as beavers and foxes are hunted for their fur, as are harp seals and polar bears. Wild fur comes mostly from Canada, Russia, and the U.S. Additionally, dogs and cats are killed for their fur in Asia. People in the fur industry say that fur farming practices are humane, and that hunting and trapping is good for conservation. However, animal rights organizations say that the killing methods by hunters and fur farmers are very cruel.
Fur trim (such as on a coat) has become a very successful market. Additionally, there is a fake fur industry, which can serve as an alternative for people who like the look of fur, but do not want to wear it. Many people argue whether the production of fake fur or real fur is better for the environment.
Very little U.S. federal law exists regulating the treatment of fur animals. The Animal Welfare Act, which works to ensure humane treatment of animals, specifically exempts fur animals that are raised for their pelts. There are some on-point federal laws that protect wild fur-bearing animals, such as the Lacey Act, which prohibits the illegal wildlife trade; the Fur Seal Act, which prohibits taking North Pacific fur seals; the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which protects marine mammals; and the Endangered Species Act, which works to protect endangered and threatened species. However, none of these laws protect animals raised on fur farms. There are also three bills pending in Congress that call for an increased ability to take polar bears from Canada which were obtained from sports hunts.
Additionally, the U.S. contains the Fur Products Labeling Act, which requires proper labeling on products containing fur. However, the law currently allows fur products under $150 to remain unlabeled. There is a pending bill which would close this loophole. Further, the Dog and Cat Fur Protection Act prohibits the import, export and sale of dog and cat fur in the U.S. However, animal protection organizations allege that because of the current loophole in the federal law, dog and cat fur is able to enter the U.S. and remain undetected on garments.
There are some on-point state laws concerning trapping and fur farming, but they generally do not relate to the actual treatment of the fur-bearing animal. For example, there are many trapping laws concerning state licensing requirements and designating the appropriate seasons as to when a hunt can be conducted. Some states prohibit use of a leg-hold trap, but many states do not restrict the types of traps that can be used. Similarly, some states have laws designating licensing requirements for fur farms, defining the farms as "agricultural pursuits," and deeming the fur-bearing animals to be treated as livestock or domestic animals. Many states define their anti-cruelty laws to encompass the treatment of all animals, but then exempt animals that are hunted in the wild or raised on fur farms. Additionally, a few states have labeling laws that are stricter than the federal law, and a handful of states prohibit trade in dog and cat fur.
International laws regarding fur-bearing animals are also very diverse. China has virtually no laws protecting fur animals, while parts of the EU and New Zealand have strictly regulated or outlawed fur farming. Many countries have banned the leg-hold trap and the seal product trade. Some countries have banned the dog and cat fur trade, and have labeling laws. Additionally, Israel has a bill pending which would outlaw the sale of fur within country lines.
Even though most fur in the world is obtained from fur farms, there is a prominent illegal wildlife trade. Specifically, tigers and leopards, both endangered species, are illegally hunted for their fur in Asia. While there have been coordinated international efforts to decrease poaching and increase law enforcement, there have been some setbacks. For example, China legalized tiger farming in 2007. However, CITES, which is an international agreement between 175 countries that identifies endangered and threatened species, regulates the trade of such species and helps to protect such species.
Fur farming will likely continue to be the main source of pelts for the fur industry, since farming the animals makes it possible to standardize their reproduction and coat quality. The U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world in regulating the treatment of these animals. Some countries have banned or strictly regulated fur farming, Israel has introduced a possible ban on the production and sale of fur within its country, the EU has recently banned the sale of seal products, and some Asian countries have increased law enforcement and communication to help curb the illegal wildlife trade. However, China’s increasing role in the industry and its lack of regulations are the areas that need the most improvement in order to create significant change for the treatment of fur animals. Whether China will create these laws remains to be seen, as the fur industry has recently seen growth, in part from increased demand in Asia.