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The Danish mink farm industry

1925 - 2020

Photograph: iStock

Text: Mariano Anthony Davies

Mink farming was introduced to Denmark close to one hundred years ago and Denmark has become the world’s largest producer of mink skins. Today, more than 45% of the global market is produced or processed in Denmark. This has an annual export value of EUR 1,1 billion.

Due to a mutation in the COVID-19 virus, which has been found to stem from Danish mink farms, and which a few people in Northern Jutland have caught, the Government feared at the time that there was a danger that the vaccines under development would not be able to protect infected people against these mutations.

Consequently, they ordered that all mink in Denmark should be gassed at the beginning of November in order to contain and eradicate the potential danger of a spreading mutation.

There are just over 1.500 mink farms in Denmark, and they produce about 19 million mink skins. The combination of these fur skins and those from foxes, chinchillas and rabbits has developed into a massive industry with “Kopenhagen Fur” - the global leading auction house for these Danish skins as well as many others from abroad. This fur trade is the third largest animal origin export commodity for Denmark – exported mainly to China.

Controversial industry

Throughout the world, particularly over the last thirty years, there has been a growing movement against the fur trade business as the predatory animals on these farms live in very confined spaces, often leading to severe self-mutilation and infected wounds.

Scientific reports (including a recent European Commission Report) show that severe health problems are inherent to fur production and that animals on fur farms have been found to exhibit physical and behavioural abnormalities.

Worldwide, over 100 million animals are bred on farms for their furs and 95% of the coats sold globally come from these fur farms. However, very active animal rights movements have been effective in influencing governments of many countries around the world to take action.

Laws to prohibit the breeding and killing of animals for fur is becoming increasingly widespread in Europe. Over 15 European countries have now introduced legislation to ban or phase out fur farming, including the UK banning fur farming in 2000 in England and Wales and similarly in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2002, Belgium (2019), Serbia (2019), Czech Republic (2019), The Netherlands (2023) and Norway (2025). In these countries, animal welfare concerns have been given priority over the commercial interests of the fur industry.

In many other countries around the world, fur farming has either been banned, or regulation passed that makes this type of farming very strictly controlled, thus reducing significantly any economic incentive to establish fur farms.

Denmark adopted legislation in 2007 to improve the welfare of fur-bearing animals that included several welfare improvements for, particularly foxes on fur farms. Then in 2009, Denmark passed a ban on fox farming, with a phase-out period that lasted until 2017 for a majority of farms and a longer period until 2023 for farms where the primary income comes from fox farming.

Fur farming status

Given the increasing awareness of the controversial breeding conditions of fur farm animals and the active work of the global animal rights movements, Danish journalists are beginning to consider whether the Danish Government decided to close down and gas all mink on mink farms in Denmark signals the beginning of the end of this industry in Denmark.

“I think that the fashion industry can get away with a lot and it is getting away with murder. Fur is the most unnecessary thing in the world.” - Stella McCartney

Despite the reality that this is likely to be a costly decision for Danish Industry Export, particularly because re-establishing the right breeding animals may in itself be a massive challenge for Danish mink farmers, animal activists will undoubtedly use this COVID-19 related health challenge mutation as an opportunity to stop all future investment in animal fur farming in Denmark.

Changing consumer attitudes

Unlike many other designer labels, Stella McCartney’s brand has never used real fur in any of its collections. In 2016, before the influx of fur bans seen across the industry, she was quoted as saying:

“I think that the fashion industry can get away with a lot and it is getting away with murder. Fur is the most unnecessary thing in the world.”

Instead of real fur, the McCartney brand now uses KOBA. Made with plant-based fibres, KOBA is the first-ever recycled and recyclable animal-free fur on the market. Not only is it an ethical alternative, but the material is said to look stylish, luxurious and authentic.

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