China's economy is just speeding and now the country is the world's largest exporter of fur garments; but for these 12 years of rapid progress, a great price is paid by the fur-bearing animals. There are no laws regulating the confinement and slaughter of the raccoon dogs, foxes, minks, rabbits, and even dogs and cats, in a highly profitable business. While conditions of Western fur farms have been highly criticized, what happens in China is far more shocking and brutal. "China's farms number as many as 10,000, where 90% of the skins come from farms with fewer than 50 females", stated China Leather Industry Association.
Most farms are concentrated in China's North East, in Shandong, Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, while Hebei is the center of fur marketing.
35 million fur skins (60 % of China's pelt trade) are traded annually at the Shangcun Market in Hebei province. Here, they secretly produced a 14-minute video in February 2005 by the Swiss Animal Protection (SAP) revealing the alive skinning of raccoon dogs, foxes and other animals. (the film can be seen here).
Officials of the Communist Party Committee said that the live skinning took place seven or eight years ago, but the reporter for the Beijing News confirmed that the skinning alive of most animals at the biggest fur markets in China was still occurring even after the facts have been denounced.
The animals are stunned with repeated blows to the head, or just slammed on the ground. From the video it can be seen that they convulse, tremble or attempt to crawl away and the skinning can start while the animal is conscious or regaining consciousness. "Desperate and writhing in agony, animals conscious during these procedures hopelessly try to defend themselves even to the point where all the skin had been forced off breathing, heart beat and eyelid movements were evident for 5 to 10 minutes," describes the SAP report.
"It is wrong to portray all fur farming as the same in China. Some fur farms are run to western standards. Conditions will improve for animal welfare in China when fur farmers come to realize that the quality of the pelts improve by employing western standards of animal welfare, and that through education, the situation will correct itself," said the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF), whose member is China, too.
The main importers of the fur garments are the U.S., Europe or Japan. New processing techniques, coloring and the mixing with silk, wool, suede and leather, hide the real origin of the material. "Overall, fur was displayed in greater numbers than in previous years, coming in all colors, shapes and sizes," commented a CNN at New York's Fashion Week in February 2005.
In the U.S., 2003 fur sales reached the value of $1.8 billion. "China has become the leading fur garment exporter to the USA, accounting for 40% of total US imports in 2004-the equivalent of $7.9 million. However, exact import statistics are difficult to obtain because fur trimmings are not specifically declared to customs," said the SAP report.
The Anti-Fur Society of Washington, D.C. (member of the International Anti-Fur Coalition) signals also the conditions in which the fur animals are kept in China, cramped wire cages that leave almost no room for the animal to move about. "In these cramped quarters, the animals show signs of extreme anxiety and pathological behaviors," signals Care for the Wild International (CWI), a UK based association.
Skinning of the animals alive, "makes China's fur industry the most barbaric in the world," commented the disturbing and horrifying practice the Anti-Fur Society.
The group also signals the use of domestic dog and cat fur, forbidden in the US, which still enters the US market, as fur items priced at less than US$150 are not checked through Customs. Many unsuspecting customers are buying items with dog and cat fur.
On Nov 20, 2006, the E.U. banned imports of pelts of dogs and cats; however, 5,400 dogs and cats are still killed daily in China. "Chinese suppliers offered us entire sheets made of dozens and dozens of cat skins-all in matching color patterns of tabby, ginger, black and white or tabby and white," said Dr Barbara Maas, CWI's Chief Executive.
On February 2007, Anti-Fur Society of Washington, D.C. and other associations organized in 35 cities worldwide a funeral for the animal victims of the Chinese fur trade in front of the Chinese Embassies. "In their lives and their unspeakable deaths, these animals have been denied the simplest acts of kindness," writes the SAP report.
In 2005, global fur sales reached about $12.8 billion, with 9.1% higher than in 2004. China takes up 22.4% of the total. China is the world's leading exporter of fox and raccoon dog pelts, and the second for mink pelts, after Denmark.