Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Questions (4)

Paul Murphy


4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if fur farming will be prohibited in view of the concerns of an organisation (details supplied) about the farming of captive wild animals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5952/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

Has the Minister seen and read Veterinary Ireland's Policy Document on Fur Farming 2018? It is extremely significant because it recommends clearly that there be an immediate ban on the farming of mink and similar wild animals for the production of fur. Veterinary Ireland joins a chorus of opposition. I am sure the Minister hears this every Tuesday when there is a protest outside the Department calling for an end to fur farming. According to a poll conducted by RED C Research, those concerned are in line with the 80% of the population in Ireland who believe there should be a ban on fur farming.

My Department has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals under the European Communities (Welfare of Farmed Animals) Regulations 2010 (Statutory Instrument No. 311/2010) and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. In that regard, Irish fur farmers are subject to the same animal welfare legislation as other livestock farmers.

A review of all aspects of fur farming in Ireland was commissioned in November 2011. The terms of reference of the review group were: to review fur farming in Ireland, taking into account existing legislative provisions for the licensing of mink farming; to comment on the economic benefits of the sector; to consider the effectiveness of existing welfare controls; and to make appropriate recommendations. The review group invited submissions from the public and interested parties and considered over 400 submissions. The group concluded that it did not find the arguments in favour of banning the farming of fur animals in Ireland compelling and recommended that instead, fur farming be allowed continue under licence and subject to official control. I accept the findings of the review group and its recommendations. On foot of its deliberations, my Department introduced more rigorous controls on licence-holders in the areas of animal welfare, animal accommodation, security and nutrient management. Licensees are subject to regular inspections, including unannounced inspections by departmental officials. Notwithstanding the position in a number of other European countries, given the recommendations of the review group, there are no plans to introduce a ban on fur farming in Ireland.

My Department has drafted new codes of practice for fur farming, the requirements of which include that each fur farm must have its husbandry plans signed off on by its private veterinary practitioner.

I could have told the Minister that he would say that because, unfortunately, that is what he has said repeatedly, word for word, in response to every question on this issue for a long period. Will he take into account the policy of the expert, Veterinary Ireland? It states it is not possible to farm mink in a way that is not incredibly cruel. It has a very useful table outlining the conditions of mink in the wild: they are solitary animals; have territories ranging between 1 sq. km and 3 sq. km; are semi-aquatic; and stereotypes do not occur in nature. By comparison, farmed mink live in close proximity to other mink and cannot avoid abnormal social contact. They spend their entire lives in wire-mesh battery cages, typically measuring 90 cm by 30 cm by 45 cm, and cannot run, swim, dive or hunt, preventing them from exhibiting basic natural behaviours. Depriving them of swimming water is the equivalent to the stress caused in being deprived of food. There are 200,000 mink at any one time in Ireland. Some 150,000 are killed per year. There is no way this can be done in a way that is not barbaric to produce what is only a luxury product made for profit. Does the Minister accept that he should change the position he has held from 2011 and accept that fur farming should be banned?

I am aware of the report from Veterinary Ireland to which the Deputy alludes. I am aware of the review that took place and the improved regulations the Department has introduced in this area. I am also aware of the employment in the industry, a fact that is rarely commented on. I do not have any imprimatur by virtue of the programme for Government or a mandate from the people to proceed by way of closing down what is a legitimate, highly regulated and inspected industry.

I take account of the points made by the Deputy and the view expressed by Veterinary Ireland and a host of others, but, ultimately, I have to take into account the regulations and rules, including domestic and EU law. I must adjudicate, based on the enhanced regulations we have introduced, on what is, on balance, the most appropriate way to proceed. Neither on the basis of the programme for Government nor the Government's election do we have a mandate to proceed along the lines advocated by the Deputy.

Studies such as the ISPCA's Fur Free Ireland indicate that there is no substantial permanent employment associated with fur farming. If there was to be an impact of a ban on fur farming, I would be in favour of measures to ensure it was counterbalanced and offering opportunities to those affected. While it is not in the programme for Government and the Minister might not want to ban fur farming, he is not going to be able to escape this issue for long. We have a Bill which seeks a ban on fur farming and which is listed as being at First Stage. We will be taking it on Second Stage before the summer recess and there will be significant public campaigning on it. It has been designed to make it absolutely clear that fur farming is illegal. An EU directive states no animal shall be kept for farming purposes, unless it can reasonably be expected that, on the basis of its genotype or phenotype, it will be kept without a detrimental effect on its health or welfare. Under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, mink farming is arguably already illegal. Our legislation will simply aim to clarify the position.

As the Deputy is aware, we are obliged to operate within EU legislation and our own animal welfare legislation of 2013. Since the review was conducted, we have, in fact, strengthened the legal framework within which fur farmers operate. According to figures I have seen, about which I cannot be definitive, there are in excess of 100 people working in the industry in Ireland. That cannot simply be disregarded as an irrelevance in the context of what the Deputy is asking for. Other countries have paid substantial compensation to close down fur farms. Other countries have banned fur farming, although they never had it. Such a measure is used to prove or maintain momentum in this area, but it is not as simple or straightforward as the Deputy suggests.