WelFur: How we ensure fur animals live a good life
The world's most advanced animal welfare programme is being implemented on European mink and fox farms. This means consumer transparency and better welfare for the animals.
Are you looking for a label that guarantees that the fur you buy come from a certified fur farm? Look no further. The WelFur certification is on its way, and with that comes the comfort of one of the world's most advanced animal welfare programmes.
WelFur is recognised by the European Commission in the database on self-regulations, which means the system has been scrutinized for its validity and credibility, and qualifies for legal implementation. WelFur is based on scientific methodology and is developed by independent researchers from seven European universities in accordance with the principles of the European Commission's Welfare Quality programme.
It works like this: European fur farms under the WelFur scheme are certified by independent assessors. It requires three farm assessments to achieve the certificate, while the maintenance of the WelFur certificate requires one assessment per year.
The farm assessment involves more than 20 different measurements, which are all chosen for their reliability and scientific validity. The measurements are carried out on a representative farm sample. In total the assessment takes 6-8 hours, and following the assessment all farms receive a total farm score.
Fur farmers who do not score high enough lose their WelFur certificate. Without the certificate fur farmers are also cut off from selling their furs via the international fur auction houses.
All the you need to know about WelFur
What is the WelFur programme?
WelFur is a Europe-wide programme designed to assess and improve animal welfare on fur farms in order to promote responsible and sustainable fur production. The programme is developed by researchers from independent universities and is based on a purely scientific approach. The WelFur programme includes on-farm assessments, data analysis, certification of individual farms, and education of the individual farmers.
Which farms does it cover?
The WelFur programme covers mink and fox farms across the European countries where these fur farms exist. Protocols are currently under development for the remaining farmed species in Europe, such as finnraccoon and chinchilla.
What is the purpose of the WelFur programme?
The animal welfare assessment system is designed to provide reliable animal welfare assessment, consumer transparency and improvement of animal welfare in the European fur sector. Overall, the WelFur system has three objectives:
- To provide a reliable on-farm animal welfare assessment system based on scientifically proven measures and independent third-party assessments.
- To improve animal welfare on European fur farms through an analysis of the assessment data and education of the farmers.
- To provide consumer transparency on the welfare status of European fur farms by publishing assessment data and extending the farm certification to consumer labels.
What farms are included?
In principle involvement in the WelFur programme is voluntary for fur farmers, but more than 95% of European mink and fox farmers are participating. This adds up to almost 3,500 fur farms. Without a WelFur certificate fur farmers will not be able to sell their pelts through the international fur auction houses, which are the only market places for raw fur pelts.
How does the WelFur system work?
The system works as a farm level certification scheme that incorporates multiple approaches to animal welfare, including farm management, species-specific behaviour, housing and feeding. WelFur is based on the principles of the European Commission’s Welfare Quality project, and as far as animal welfare assessment goes, WelFur is the most comprehensive system in the world to be implemented on a continental scale.
How exactly do you measure the welfare of the animals?
There are 22-25 specific measurements on mink and fox respectively. These are chosen by animal welfare scientists and are described in detail in the protocols, which you can download from this website. Importantly, the preferred style of measurement are the so-called animal indicators. Animal indicators are measured directly on the animals and is an indirect way of asking the animal how they feel seeing as they are not able to tell us. Today, this methodology is widely promoted by experts, albeit in practice, it is not yet very widespread. All measurements are carried out on a representative farm sample of 120 cages in order to gain a general representative view of the individual farm.
What do you mean WelFur is science-based?
It is important to the fur sector that WelFur takes on a scientific approach to assessing animal welfare because generally the animal debate tends to be very emotional. The independence of the scientific work has been secured by contract through the universities' internal integrity codes. Furthermore, the quality of the scientific work and the alignment with the European Commission's Welfare Quality project has been secured by a team of external reviewers. The fur sector has had no influence on scientific decisions, priorities or calculations whatsoever.
Are the on-farm assessments reliable?
The farm assessments have been contracted to professional third-party assessors from international inspection body Baltic Control.
The assessors have been trained by the scientists behind WelFur. Fur Europe has no influence on the farm assessments, and the WelFur certificates are issued by Baltic Control alone.
What are the consequences if fur farmers do not pass?
If fur farmers do not pass the assessment, they will not receive a WelFur certification and therefore will not be able to sell pelts at international auction houses. If fur farmers have raised their standards enough to pass the WelFur assessment, an additional assessment at a later stage is available to fur farmers at their own cost
What is the Industry Standard?
Fur Europe has introduced an industry standard equivalent to the Council of Europe Recommendation on cage size and number of animals per cage. The Industry Standard has to be fulfilled in order to get a Welfur certificate.
How is the WelFur programme funded?
The science behind the WelFur protocols is based on 30 years of scientific literature developed by independent universities, which is typically state funded research. The development of the WelFur protocols has been funded by Fur Europe through individual contracts with the respective universities. These contracts cover project costs including the necessary travel and accommodation. In addition, Fur Europe has fully funded the training of the independent third-party assessors from international inspection body Baltic Control. The training is planned and provided by the universities and specifically the scientists who have developed the WelFur protocols.
Are cage-based housing systems bad for animal welfare?
No, not per definition. Fur farmed species have been domesticated for more than 100 generations. They have easily adapted to the current housing systems which allow for a range of natural behaviours including nest building and social. A closed cage further provides a secure territory which means that, unlike in nature, farmed animals do not have to defend themselves from predators. Fights for dominance and hierarchy result in pain and suffering, such incidents are easily avoided in closed housing systems.
The scientific literature confirms that the current housing systems for fur farmed species does not inflict suffering on the animals. Rather it allows for positive emotions, which leads to to the animals having a positive life experience.
Is access to swimming water essential for mink animal welfare?
Swimming water is an enrichment opportunity which has been scientifically evaluated amongst other enrichment features during the development of WelFur. While access to swimming water does provide a welfare improvement for mink, scientific research has documented that other kinds of enrichment like tubes are even better for animal welfare.