Filthy conditions on fur farms like this, packed full of sick, distressed and horrifically injured animals, are a ticking time bomb for new deadly pandemics, experts have warned.
These grim scenes were filmed at 13 farms in China, the largest fur producing country in the world, over the course of the course of a two month investigation.
Campaigners say the distressing sights of mentally ill animals being kept in small, barren, factory-farm style cages are systemic to the fur industry and can also be seen in farms across Europe and North America.
At one location in China, raccoon dogs were found being so ineptly electrocuted that experts say they will have been rendered paralysed but still conscious, experiencing a slow, agonising death from cardiac arrest.
Rows of foxes were also captured repetitively spinning and pacing in their tiny, barren, wire cages, the classic symptoms of mental decline from environmental deprivation.
On another, a disturbing admission from one farmer revealed that the meat from slaughtered fur animals is being sold to local restaurants for human consumption by unsuspecting diners.
A year on from Covid-19 being declared a global pandemic, these scenes of animals being kept closely together in tiny cages, some littered with blood and flesh fragments from butchered animals, cause great concern.
It is now widely accepted by scientists that the extreme stress of animals being held in captivity also increases the scale of “virus shedding”. This puts us all at risk of further outbreaks of zoonotic diseases – those that spread from animals to humans.
Coronavirus is thought to have jumped from a pangolin infected by bats to humans at a wet market in Wuhan, widely believed to be the source of the outbreak.
Experts say fur farms, alongside wet markets and other extreme situations where wild, distressed animals are kept in close proximity are virus reservoirs and should be shut immediately to protect public safety.
China is home to the largest fur producing industry country in the world, rearing 14 million foxes, 13.5 million raccoon dogs and 11.6 million mink in 2019. In the same period, the latest figures available the UK imported £5.3 million of fur from China alone, and £25.5m between 2015 and 2019.
The Mirror is campaigning alongside Humane Society International/UK, whose investigators captured the footage on 13 farms between November and December, calling for an immediate ban on the sale of fur products in the UK.
Claire Bass, executive director of HSI/UK said: “In the past months, the public has been confronted with the fact that fur farms are not only places of enormous animal suffering, but they can also act as virus factories.
“The living conditions on fur farms, which confine wild species at high densities and in close proximity, fail to satisfy the animals’ most basic welfare needs, leaving them highly stressed, which can lead to their immune systems being compromised.
“Mink, foxes and raccoon dogs are all capable of being infected with coronaviruses, and the outbreaks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on fur farms across Europe and north America have confronted us with the terrifying reality that fur factory farms create ideal conditions for diseases to spread from one animal to another, and for viruses to mutate into forms potentially virulent to humans.
“We don’t need frivolous fur fashion. And we certainly don’t need these unnecessary reservoirs for coronaviruses. More than ever, it is time to make fur history.”
The investigation comes just days after Four Paws, an animal-welfare organisation, wrote to United Nations and World Health Organisation chiefs demanding radical overhauls of how humans treat animals to prevent future pandemics.
The letter warns how risky practices must be “urgently phased out”, with a ban on fur farms, live animal markets, an end to the cat and meat dog trade and a crackdown on wildlife trafficking.
Addressed to the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), it says that to prevent zoonotic pandemics, the world should “stop focusing on interim pharmaceutical solutions while not addressing the actual issues around animal abuse”.
On several of the Chinese fur farms,raccoon dogs were seen being electrocuted using a double-spiked lance attached to a high volt battery.
One-by-one the animals are seen being stabbed in random parts of the body.
Professor Alastair MacMillan, HSI’s veterinary adviser, said: “The animals in this video are being subjected to violent and chaotic electrocution in the body and not in the brain, which means they are highly likely to have experienced several minutes of extreme physical pain and suffering, like heart attack symptoms.
“Instead of instant death, they are likely to have been immobilised by the electric shocks but remain conscious and feel the intense pain of electrocution.”
Despite the investigation taking place during the global pandemic, HSI also says none of the fur farms followed basic biosecurity measures, with Chinese disease control regulations routinely ignored. None of the farms had disinfection stations at entry and exit points,
and visitors were allowed to come and go without any Covid-19 safety precautions.
There have been at least 422 outbreaks of Covid-19 on 289 mink fur farms in 11 different countries in Europe and North America between April and February.
Experts say raccoon dogs and foxes are just as susceptible to contracting coronaviruses.
Almost a year ago, Germany’s leading coronavirus expert Christian Drosten warned: “Raccoon dogs are a massive industry in China, where they are bred on farms and caught in the wild for their fur. If somebody gave me a few hundred thousand bucks and free access to China to find the source of the virus, I would look in places where raccoon dogs are bred.”
Last month, WHO program manager and China mission leader Peter Ben Embarek also told how in looking for the origins of coronavirus they would be “doing more systematic studies on other animal species of interest, in China in particular, that we know are susceptible: minks, raccoon dogs, foxes.”
Annually, more than 100 million animals worldwide are bred and killed for their fur, living their short lives in miserable, painful confinement.
This dreadful suffering is endured simply to provide the fur trim on coats, gloves, hats, hoods, and other fashion accessories.
The UK closed the last fur farm in 2003 on animal cruelty grounds but since then pelts worth more than £800million have been imported from around the world.
“Although this investigation took place in China, similarly distressing scenes of mentally ill animals being kept in small, barren, factory-farm style cages can also be seen in fur farms across Europe and North America,” HSI’S Claire Bass added.
“Every country that still factory farms animals for fur is responsible for appalling suffering and an unacceptable public health risk. The UK Government can’t close fur farms overseas, of course, but we can stop providing a market for fur, so we welcome signs that the government is serious about banning fur sales. Such a ban would send a clear message that we won’t be trading in animal cruelty for the sake of frivolous, outdated and unnecessary fashion accessories.”
HSI has provided a full dossier of its evidence to the Chinese authorities, both in Beijing and in London.
Thomas Pietsch, wild animal and fur expert at Four Paws, added: “On fur farms, animals suffering from injuries and disease is common. These conditions are enough to call for fur farms to be banned from an animal welfare perspective, but in recent months have seen numerous cases of COVID-19 being identified on mink farms around the globe too.
“The response is to cull those animals. But this is a short-term fix, the only way to prevent future zoonotic diseases emerging and spreading, is to stop fur farming all together.
“Otherwise, it is not unrealistic that the next pandemic will come from a fur farm.”
To help, sign the petition at: hsi.org/furfreebritain