Animal rights activists hope public opinion will push lawmakers to approve ban on fur farms

Deputies in the lower house are set to debate a bill that would ban fur farming in the Czech Republic. A petition in favour of such a move has been signed by 50 deputies across the political spectrum, but a seminar preceding the debate revealed that it still has many opponents. I spoke to animal rights activist Lucie Moravcová from the NGO Freedom for Animals in order to find out more about the problem – such as how many farms are currently in operation and in what conditions the animals are bred.

Photo: archive of the NGO Freedom for AnimalsPhoto: archive of the NGO Freedom for Animals “In the Czech Republic we now have nine fur farms, where mostly minks and foxes are bred. If we compare that number to other countries it is relatively low. And only four of the farms have the capacity to breed more than one thousand animals. The others are smaller.”

In what conditions are the animals bred and put down? The agriculture minister says the state veterinary authority has found no evidence of torture. What is your take on this?

“The animals are kept in very small, wired cages, with no solid floor. It is important to say that these animals are basically still wild, they are not domesticated. And in the fur farm they cannot exhibit their natural behavior. Being wild, they also suffer from a fear of humans –and all these conditions lead to welfare and health problems. You can see it in the stereotypical behavior which is a sign of bad welfare – for instance repetitive movements, like when a fox jumps against the wall repetitively. I think many people will have seen such images. And also the way in which the animals are killed is very cruel – minks are usually gassed and foxes are electrocuted.”

So as not to damage the fur?

“Yes, exactly, it’s the easiest way how to kill them and not damage the fur. But it is very cruel.”

A petition supporting the bill has been signed by 50 deputies across the political spectrum including the PM – would you say there is still a lack of political will to push through such a law?

“Well, we will see when it comes to the vote. But as we talk to politicians these days we get the impression that the topic is becoming more and more important to more and more politicians. I think that shift is also connected to public opinion. According to a poll conducted by the CVVM agency last year 70 percent of Czechs are in favour of banning fur farms, and 74 percent do not agree with killing animals for fur. So I think more and more politicians have become aware that their voters care about animals and are interested in this topic.”

“Stereotypical behavior is a sign of bad welfare – for instance repetitive movements, like when a fox jumps against the wall repetitively.”

And is the public active enough in opposing cruelty to animals –are they willing to take to the streets and push for action? Do you feel active support?

“Yes, we do feel active support. When we organize protests people come and support us. Also we have launched a petition to ban fur farming in the Czech Republic – a paper petition I should add, not an electronic one -and we have already gathered 30,000 signatures, which is a significant number I think, and we get emails and calls from the public every day asking what they can do to support the ban, so yes, I think people are very active.”

If we look at some of the counterarguments -some deputies say the matter should be left to run its course and be resolved by consumers – if there is no demand the farms will close. What do you say to that reasoning?

“I think both aspects are important. It is important to ban fur farming by law but it is also important to work with people, to educate them, because most people don’t even realize that fur farming is still taking place. And today it is often difficult to recognize real fur from fake fur. Nowadays fur is mainly used for trimming not whole fur coats as was the case in the past, and the trims are often dyed, so it happens that sometimes people buy real fur without being aware of it. According to the mentioned poll 85 percent of Czechs say they do not buy fur.”

Is fur exported from this country? Or is the production for the home market?

“This is a complicated question. Usually good quality fur is sent to auction houses –the biggest one in Europe is in Copenhagen - and then it is sold to different countries. So it is hard to say if it goes to other states or comes back here.”

Lucie Moravcová, photo: archive of the NGO Freedom for AnimalsLucie Moravcová, photo: archive of the NGO Freedom for Animals Some say that a ban will simple drive fur farms into illegality- is that what has happened elsewhere?

“No, fur farming has been banned or severely restricted in about 12 European countries and we have no indication that this happened anywhere. Also, it would be very difficult to hide a fur farm because you need lots of space, you can hear the animals and smell them, because of the excrements that drop under the cages. So I would say it is almost impossible to hide a farm and breed these animals illegally.”

If this bill wins approval in Parliament, how long would it take to get all the fur farms in the country closed?

“Well, the bill is due to go into its first reading in the lower house and it envisages the closure of fur farms before 2018. So it counts with a year-long phase out and it gives the Agriculture Ministry the possibility to financially compensate breeders for their losses, to a certain extent. I would say it could take two to three years, but the phase out period is set for one year.”

Presumably, you are now lobbying hard in Parliament to win support for this bill. What kind of events have you organized?

“Well, we focus on two areas. The first is lobbying, so we meet with politicians and undertake activities to win them over in support of the bill –for instance now we are organizing an international seminar which is to take place on October 20 in the Chamber of Deputies to which we have invited speakers from Great Britain and the Netherlands, among others, where fur farming is banned –and the aim of the seminar is to give our deputies information about how such a ban works in practice and give them the opportunity to ask anything them might be concerned about.”

“Seventy percent of Czechs are in favour of banning fur farms, and 74 percent do not agree with killing animals for fur.”

“And we also work with the public. That is the petition that I mentioned and various activities and events, for instance on November 25 which is Fur Free Friday marked world-wide. We also work on the Fur-free retailer program, a world- wide program for retailers who decided not to sell fur anymore. So we address Czech retailers and tell them about the chance to join this program –that is also an important part of our work.”

Given everything you have said – what are the chances of the bill winning approval?

“I must say, I think we have never been so close to banning fur farming. I think the chances are considerable, because many politicians have begun to perceive the topic as important and also the public perceives it as important. So I think the chances are big. I hope so.”