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The Swedish Board of Agriculture’s evaluation of mink welfare - English summary

The Swedish Board of Agriculture’s evaluation of mink welfare - English summary
The front page of the report in Swedish. Photo: Svensk Mink

In January 2018 the Swedish Board of Agriculture got assigned by the government to evaluate if the mink industry comply with the new Animal Welfare Act. The new Animal Welfare Act specify that all animals in human care have to be able to express natural behaviour that they are motivated to express, that they have to be kept in an environment where their welfare is promoted and that stereotypies should be prevented.

The Swedish Board of Agriculture (SBA) published their report on mink welfare 14th January 2019. Their conclusion is in short that they could not answer if the minks in the Swedish fur industry live in conditions that are compliable with the Animal Welfare Act, but they have seen positive changes because of small alterations in SBA’s regulations from 2012. Instead of further improvements as suggested in previously made investigations (2003, 2010 and 2011) they suggest more research on minks in conditions according to the current regulations in Sweden. They also suggest that different enrichments should be investigated to see which are most used and needed by minks.

Summary of their conclusions

  1. Requirements for climbing cages, platforms in every cage, nest boxes with bedding material and enrichment that needs to be replaced regularly was implemented in the latest regulations by SBA 2012. The regulations that SBA have is good for mink welfare according to information from the Scientific Council at the Swedish University of Agriculture.
  2. It is not yet possible to evaluate if the current regulations have had effect on mink welfare, because some of them were implemented 2017. SBA’s estimation, based on information they collected during 2018, is nevertheless that mink welfare has been improved in recent years. They suggest that scientific studies are made to evaluate the effect of current regulations.
  3. There is no information on how common stereotypies are in minks kept for fur production in Sweden. They suggest that scientific studies are made to assess mink behaviour in cages during every hour of the day and every season.
  4. The Scientific Council suggest that WelFur should be used for evaluation of the welfare of minks, but SBA’s final report do not have that as a conclusion.
  5. Swimming is not seen as a behavioural need for minks according to the Scientific Council. Other scientists think otherwise and therefore SBA conclude that more research is needed in Swedish conditions. They want to know more about which enrichments should be made mandatory for minks in the regulations.

Critique from Djurens Rätt

Djurens Rätt (Animal Rights Sweden) and other animal welfare organisations have been criticising the report since it came out. This is our main concerns:

  • SBA conclude that minks now have it better than before, but that is only based on their new regulations and isn’t proved to actually be enough according to the Animal Welfare Act. SBA should not evaluate if their own regulation is enough.
  • They debunk that swimming is an essential behavioural need for minks based on information from the Scientific Council. That information is based on studies with minks kept in standard cages and provided with a small tub of water where swimming is impossible. Djurens Rätt and Swedish animal welfare researchers have identified this mistake and sent other scientific studies to SBA. This only led to the insertion of the sentence “Some other researchers do not share this point of view” and that they need to investigate it further.
  • Some of the facts seem to be directly from the Swedish Fur Organization.
  • The report lack references to scientific studies. All the scientific information instead rely on the report from the Scientific Council, written by researchers that focus on mink. Those researchers need to be trusted by the fur industry to keep their position as educators for the legislated fur animal education. That may angle the information to the fur industry’s advantage and we know that they “forgot” to add for example a study on minks in large enclosures with water (Schwarzer et al. 2016).
  • They conclude that the farms´ compliance with the regulations are better now than before. They do not mention that over half of the controlled farms 2017 still didn’t comply with all regulations. Usual shortcomings were lack of the legislated education, too small cages, no climbing cages and no enrichments.
  • Research made 2015 and 2017 in Sweden, during conditions that are reality now, are rejected or not mentioned. The study made 2017 concluded that 20 % of juvenile minks had stereotypies in climbing cages, the same as in standard cages. That is a high number for juvenile minks which could have been used to say that their conditions isn’t optimal. 
  • More scientific studies with good quality cost a lot of money and take several years. That is time and money better used to for example make a controlled dismantling of the fur industry or including demand for better conditions in the legislation (which would lead to an informal dismantling).
  • Eight out of ten people in Sweden want to see a dismantling of the fur industry. Almost all of the Swedish fur is exported to Asia. Swedes do not need or want fur.
  • It is inappropriate to mainly focus on stereotypies and behavioural disorders. A lack of stereotypies is good, but it doesn’t mean a good animal welfare. Many individuals deal with stress by apathy, or simply get bored. Boredom is also a negative emotional state that imply a bad animal welfare.

The full report can be read in Swedish here.

 

Anna Harenius

Anna Harenius | Etolog

18 januari 2019

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