“We must make sure the fur sector stays viable and can weather the crisis”

Fur Europe is glad to count on the support of MEP Juozas Olekas, who has kindly accepted to Chair the Sustainable Fur Forum (SFF). Mr Olekas became Member of the European Parliament in July 2019. Originally from Lithuania, he has a long-standing experience as former Defence and Health Minister. A surgeon by training, he sits in the European Parliament in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, and he has taken upon himself to promote the interests of the EU farming sector. We asked him some questions about his new engagement as SFF Chair:

Mr Olekas, why did you decide to become involved with the SFF?

For many years, the fur industry has been surrounded by many unanswered questions or stereotypes that are unrealistic. Personally, I feel it is my duty not only to ensure that these questions are answered to our citizens but also to replace stereotypes with reality-based facts. Moreover, one of the main things that attracted me to the SFF was the promotion of the WelFur certification – which is a modern animal welfare standard, based on concrete scientific evidence and assessed by independent parties. A sector so dedicated to this kind of practice deserves our support.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges the fur industry will face in the next five years?

Currently, with the coronavirus sweeping across the world, there is a need to focus on the effects this major health crisis will have on the economy. The fur sector will also, unfortunately, feel the consequences. In essence, natural fur is a very specific product, and the demand for it can drop if the crisis persists and people’s income suffers a considerable decrease. The sector should continue to innovate and offer quality products, while also working on showcasing the environmentally-friendly and sustainable aspect of fur farming. Therefore, we must take all possible measures to ensure that the fur industry can continue to guarantee animal welfare and also high-quality products, which are two inseparable aspects.

In light of the current health and economic crisis caused by the spreading of the coronavirus, what do you think the EU should do to support the European fur sector, considering that many SMEs like farms and manufacturers will be severely hit by the countermeasures adopted across Europe?

The fur sector should be supported just as all the other sectors of the economy will be. It makes up a significant portion of the economy – exports of furs from the EU makeup almost three billion euro – and is an important employer in the rural areas, where jobs, in general, are not too easy to find. A hundred thousand people all over the UE work in the sector – people who usually live in areas where employment is scarce. If the sector is left to collapse, all those jobs will be lost, and a significant number of people will have few other opportunities for gainful employment. Therefore, we must make sure the sector stays viable and robust and can weather the crisis with as little loss as possible. We must bear in mind that the fur industry is mainly based on family businesses, which we Socialists and Democrats aim to secure throughout Europe. It is indisputable that it is these family businesses based on tradition, togetherness and solidarity that should be our priority, in order to protect our citizens and their interests during this crisis. When, if not now, can we provide them with the kind of essential support they currently need so much?

The first event of the Forum will be focused on the new Circular Economy Action Plan recently launched by the European Commission. What role do you think the fur industry can play in making the EU economy more sustainable and circular?

The fur industry can be a very important player in the circular economy – mainly because the sector itself, by its specifics, is very sustainable and an example of circularity. Fur farms use the waste from other agri-food sectors as a feed for the animals, thus using up the waste from food production that would otherwise remain out of the circle of production. The waste of fur farms is also used in other sectors of agriculture – as fertiliser or biofuel. And the product of those same farms – the fur – is inherently long-lasting and biodegradable, as opposed to most synthetic fabrics. We must recognise the benefits provided by the fur sector and make sure its role as an example of a circular economy is noted.