Compensating Irish Fur Farmers


The Sunday Times- Stephen O’Brien

Ireland News: Wiping out fur trade ‘to cost millions’

The government is planning to pay “significant” compensation to five fur farmers before it bans the industry and shuts them down.

The new Programme for Government, agreed 10 days ago by Fianna Fail and the Green party, promises to outlaw fur farming within three years. But officials have indicated that compensation worth “several millions” will first be negotiated with the five operators, who employ about 80 people. “I think they will get a pretty generous package if they are going to be shut down,” said one senior official. “The terms and conditions will have to be thrashed out in negotiations with the Department of Agriculture, but there will definitely be a package for the industry.”

One operator, who claims he has invested €750,000 in seven years in his firm, has threatened to resist any move to put him out of business. Sven Sjöholm, who runs the Tazetta fur farm in Glenties, Co Donegal, said it was wrong to wipe out an export trade worth €5m to Ireland. “I am in limbo. No one has come officially with anything to any of the farmers,” he said. “We don’t know any of the facts, just what has come through the media.

“Our livelihoods are on the line and we will fight for them. I have 20 staff, 14 full-time and six part-time. We have been following all the rules laid down by the Department of Agriculture over the years, and all the European regulations. We have unannounced inspections two or three times a year, and we are licensed by the department.” The Irish Fur Breeders’ Association (IFBA) says its members use 2,000 tonnes of fish offal and 7,000 tonnes of poultry, pork, beef and sheep by-products each year to feed the animals they farm.

Only Britain and Austria within the EU have a specific ban on fur farming, but the trade thrives elsewhere, particularly in northern Europe. The IFBA claims the industry is worth €1.5 billion a year to 6,000 fur farmers in Europe, with 60,000 full-time staff. Dinny McGinley, the Fine Gael TD for Donegal South West, said a ban on fur farming would be a major employment blow to his constituency, and in particular to the communities of Ardara and Glenties, where there were 40 people employed at two fur farms.“What we have in Donegal is very controlled,” he said. “It is humanely done and there is a lot of recycling as well.” This is a reference to offal from local fish and pork farms being used as food for mink.

“Many of the staff in these farms are the main bread-winners for their families. The ban would be a devastating blow for them,” said McGinley, who added that more than 20,000 people — 30% of the workforce in Co Donegal — are jobless, the highest rate in Ireland.

Mary Coughlan, the tanaiste, employment minister and local TD, is to meet the Donegal fur farmers this month to discuss the ban. Donegal-born Sjöholm is a third-generation fur farmer. His grandfather ran a fur farm in his native Finland, and Sune, his father, set up a mink farm in Glenties in 1969. Sjöholm took over running the Glenties operation seven years ago. At peak production time there are 50,000 mink on the farm. Some 37,000 a year are slaughtered using carbon monoxide gas, and their pelts sold at auction mainly in Finland, Denmark and America.

“We can’t afford to lose any businesses in Ireland in this climate,” he said. “We will meet as a group and examine all our legal options.” The Programme for Government pledges to “phase out” fur farming over three years, “end stag hunting” and replace badger culls with more effective and humane methods of control. It commits the government to introducing a new bill updating existing animal health and welfare legislation, and adopting “the five freedoms” set out in the similar Scottish legislation. These are freedom from “hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury or disease; and fear and distress”; and “freedom to express normal behaviour”.


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