ACTAsia study exposes health and ethical crises in Hong Kong fur trade

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25th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong Fur Federation has, for the first time, permitted public access to its annual trade show, a staple event since the 1980s.

The fair, which commenced this Thursday at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, is not just a business hub, but also a stage for the fur industry to present its narrative. “For years, the fur trade has been vilified,” says Eric Lau Pui-kit, the honorary chairman of the federation. “But it’s time we articulate our commitment to sustainability goals.”

Amid the backdrop of the fair, which showcases international vendors and the latest in fur fashion and design, there’s an underlying tension. A recent study highlighted the significant threat fur farming poses to both human and animal health, linking the industry to no less than 18 potentially fatal infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

The industry’s method of animal euthanasia has also been a point of contention. Lau clarifies that the animals are not skinned alive, a rumour that has fuelled much of the activists’ outrage. Instead, they are euthanised using carbon monoxide.

While the fair itself is a demonstration of Hong Kong’s prominent role in the fur trade, it also serves as a reminder of the ongoing debate over animal rights and public health. The city, despite a downturn in exports, remains a leading fur exporter, navigating a complex global landscape where ethical considerations are increasingly shaping consumer habits.

Activists, who staged a protest outside the event, argue that the city is falling behind global standards. Louis Ng Wai-mei, a protest organiser, emphasised that the declining demand for fur worldwide is a clear indication of the growing concern for animal welfare.

The Hong Kong Fur Factory’s assistant manager, William Sun King-chian, defends the industry, describing it as a “legacy business” that has been thriving since the 1950s. Amid European sanctions against Russia, Hong Kong’s visa-free entry for Russians and connections to mainland China and South Korea provide a competitive edge.

Despite the industry’s efforts to modernise and align with sustainability through initiatives like Furmark, the study commissioned by ACTAsia presents a stark contrast, pointing out the environmental damage and the risk of disease associated with fur farming.

ACTAsia CEO Pei Su expressed alarm over the continuation of the fur trade, especially post-COVID-19, and urged for a collective move towards sustainable and fur-free fashion. A study commissioned by ACTAsia, a charitable organisation with UN ECOSOC Special Consultative Status, published in the Frontiers in Animal Science, exposes the fur industry as a hotspot for numerous infectious diseases with dire implications for both human and animal health.

Key Study Findings:

Fur Farming as a Threat to Human and Animal Health:

  • Global Disease Reservoir: Fur farms have been identified as breeding grounds for at least 18 lethal infectious agents, among them COVID-19, botulism, MRSA, rabies, and salmonella.
  • Deadly Outbreaks: In China, an alarming case where 10% of raccoon dogs succumbed to H5N1 influenza was traced back to them being fed infected chicken carcasses.
  • Cycle of Contamination: The practice of feeding ‘recycled’ animal carcasses and offal to live fur farm animals is pinpointed as a disturbing source of botulism and viral infections, perpetuating a cycle of recontamination.

Environmental Damage:

  • Toxic Chemicals: The use of chromium compounds in fur processing presents severe environmental hazards, hampering crop growth and posing health and fertility risks to humans.
  • Eutrophication: Fur farming contributes to the eutrophication of water bodies, causing extensive damage to aquatic ecosystems.
  • Climate Change Impact: A mink coat’s production is reported to have quadruple the climate change impact compared to its faux counterpart.

Impact on Animal Welfare:

  • Massive Scale Cruelty: Annually, the fur industry is responsible for the breeding, rearing, and killing of 85 to 100 million animals for fur.
  • China’s Dominance: As the largest producer and consumer of fur, China is at the epicenter of this global issue.
  • Welfare Concerns: The industry is marked by 16 categories of animal welfare concerns, including deprivation, stress, abnormal behaviors, unsanitary conditions, and high morbidity and mortality rates.

Urgent Call to Action:

ACTAsia’s CEO and Co-Founder Pei Su expresses shock that the fur trade exhibition continues in Hong Kong, especially after a pandemic has inflicted trillions in global economic losses. “It’s shocking that the fur trade exhibition is still carrying on in Hong Kong after the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cost trillions of dollars globally to recover from,” said Pei Su.

Pei Su emphatically urges a shift towards sustainable, fur-free fashion and calls for governments worldwide to phase out fur farming to prevent the industry from endangering the global economy and public health.

A Call for “One Health” Approach:

The study emphasises the need for a “One Health” approach, as recommended by the World Health Organisation, to manage the public health and socio-economic threat posed by fur farming. The collapse of Kopenhagen Fur, once the world’s largest fur auction house, highlights the growing global apprehension towards the fur industry, especially with the risk of vaccine-resistant COVID-19 strains emerging from fur farms.

As the world continues to grapple with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings of the ACTAsia study serve as a critical wake-up call to the inherent risks of the fur farming industry. The Hong Kong fur industry, and the global trade at large, now face the challenge of reconciling their practices with the irrefutable scientific evidence laid out before them.