Oslo Fashion Week bans fur from catwalk

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2011:

-Oslo Fashion Week founder Pål Vasbotten on January 8,  2011 confirmed to ANIMAL PEOPLE that the only Norwegian fashion event of global note has banned fur from the catwalks. Oslo Fashion Week, held twice a year since 2004,  will next be celebrated from February 15 through February 21,  2011.

Unconfirmed reports quoting Vasbotten with a variety of different attributions circulated for more than two weeks before the Oslo Fashion Week web site first mentioned the ban by including a third-hand account by Katherine Sweet of the fashion publication Radar. Sweet reported that Vasbotten told The Huffington Post that banning fur from the catwalk “has been a very natural choice for us because we do not want [Oslo Fashion Week] to appear as an arena in which to promote products based on the treatment of animals [as] prohibited by animal welfare concerns in several countries.”

But the Huffington Post item was actually a link to an on-line petition posted on December 14,  2010 by Change.org blogger Annie Hartnett, in response to anonymous and substantially identical news items including the same quote that appeared in European animal rights and vegetarian web media beginning about 24 hours earlier.

The widely distributed web report stated that “The change was sparked by anti-fur effort Mote Mot Pels (Fashion Against Fur),  which gathered more than 220 of the Norwegian fashion elite together to rally against using animal pelts on the catwalk.” “Ethical values are a very complex issue in most industries,  and also in the industry that we are promoting,”  Vasbotten told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “That’s why we started the Nordic Initiative for Clean & Ethical Fashion (NICE) three years ago,”  which promotes Norwegian woolen goods,  but has not directly addressed fur.
“Most of the issues in the textile fashion industry,  aside from those concerning the consumers,  need to be addressed outside our country,” Vasbotten continued.  In Norway,  however,  “when it comes to fur,  we have a small fur farming industry. They are subsidized by the government to the tune of approximately 50 million kroner every year, and the resulting export-turnover is around 350 million kroner.  It is very painful to see those animals in their miniscule cages,  locked up for life,  sometimes with open wounds.  We have seen these pictures for many years and it seems that neither the fur industry nor the government cares.  We have some power to make the government rethink their subsidy policy, and hopefully once the industry is no longer profitable it will cease to exist.

“For this reason,”  Vasbotten said,  “we are banning fur from Oslo Fashion Week. We do not need an industry where animals are raised in conditions where they suffer.  We have chosen not to be more specific,  because we are aware of so many other extreme conditions and tragic actions that are part of the supply chain in the fashion business.  It’s natural for us to start to clean up in our small industry here in Norway,”  Vasbotten finished,   “and hopefully we can inspire others to do the same in their country, no matter what problems they may be facing.” While Norway is no longer among the world leaders in ranched fur production,  for decades it was.  The ranched fur industry became established in Scandinavia through the economic success of the first Oslo fur auction in 1932.

Oslo Fur Auctions Inc.,  marketing fur globally with Swedish and Finn producers through the Saga consortium,  is still regarded as the global data-keeper for the industry. About 1,800 Norwegian fur farms pelted 720,000 foxes and more than 300,000 mink per year in the late 1980s. Norwegian fox production dropped to 585,000 by 1995,  when a botulism outbreak killed about 150,000 foxes,  but this was still nearly 20% of the world total.  Since then,  the Norwegian fox industry has crashed, with only about 500 to 700 fur farmers remaining in business,  but Norwegian mink production soared to 680,000 as recently as 2007,  tapering to 600,000 in 2009.  In both 2007 and 2009 this was about 1.3% of the global total. Neighboring Denmark,  producing about 12 million mink pelts per year,  still accounts for about a third of world ranched mink,  rivaled only by China.  China was briefly first, but in recent years has cut back from output of about 18 million mink pelts per year at peak to about nine million now.

“We believe that fur is a central part of fashion and we have no plans to ban fur,” Copenhagen Fashion Week chief executive Eva Kruse told the “green fashion” web site Ecouterre. World Society for the Protection of Animals investigator Victor Watkins produced perhaps the first major exposé of conditions on Scandinavian fur farms in August 1983,  including reports from Norway,  but anti-fur activism in Norway was slow to kindle.  It finally did in 2006,  after The Independent newspaper,  of London,  published findings from Norwegian fur farms gathered by a four-member investigative team led by former WSPA publicist Jonathan Owen.

“The conditions in which the animals lived before they were gassed,  strangled or electrocuted were not pleasant,”  Owen wrote. “Their cages were tiny–about 18 by 40 inches–and did not have any bedding material, just an open mesh bottom.  Some of them had up to four animals in each one,  maddening for animals such as mink,  who are highly territorial.  Mink in the wild like to roam along waterways, something they are unable to do within the confines of a cage.  The floor below each row of cages was piled with excrement,  up to half a yard deep in places.  Cages were covered in old food and fur and the corrugated iron roof was rusting and full of holes.

“The smell inside was nothing like a normal farm smell,  bad enough to induce gagging. All around was the sound of mink biting on the bars of their cages,  the same cages shaking. Other animals jumped around, repeating the same movements over and over again,”  Owen wrote. The Norwegian organization Net-work For Animal Freedom in 2008 “inspected more than 100 randomly chosen fur farms in every county where such farms exist, covering over 20 percent of the fur farms in Norway,”  the activists reported. “We found violations and indefensible conditions on all of the farms.  The hygienic conditions were miserableŠDead animals in the cages and carcasses dumped right outside of the farms were not unusual.  The animals showed clear signs of stress,  and at times an extreme fear of human beings.  Too small cages,  broken cage mesh,  and lack of protection against weather and wind were usual sights.  In addition,  almost every farm we visited was violating fire safety regulations and environmental regulations,”  the Network for Animal Freedom found.

“The Network For Animal Freedom has filed police reports against each of the inspected farms,”  the organization said.  “We demand that the Norwegian Food Safety Authority investigate the entire industry.  Our inspections show that fur farming is animal abuse,  whether or not regulations are met,”   the Network for Animal Freedom concluded. The Network For Animal Freedom findings were aired on Norwegian and Finn television.

Norwegian Minister of Food and Agriculture Lars Peder Brekk warned the industry that it risked losing political support. The absence of fur from display at Oslo Fashion Week in February 2011 signifies that fur may already have lost considerable mainstream Norwegian cultural support. –Merritt Clifton

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