By Heini-Sofia Alavuo
Earlier this summer Greek Reporter told how Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sports had turned down the domestic fur industry’s proposal to join an international cultural heritage list. The approach was dismissed unanimously, since fur farming is not in line with UNESCO’s sustainable development goals.
So, what does the future hold for the Greek fur industry? As UNESCO’s policies point out, objections to fur farming are a worldwide phenomenon. This decade, many countries in Europe have decided to ban fur farming due to concerns about animal welfare and ethics.
According to the Fur Free Alliance, the first countries to ban the practice were the U.K. (2000) and Austria (2004). The Netherlands, once the EU’s second-largest mink producer, has decided on a fur-farming ban with plans to stop production completely by 2024.
It seems to be a growing trend for the public to find fur farming problematic. Animal welfare organizations around the world have been fighting against the industry for a long time and people have started to take action in different forms – for example, in 2010 over 50,000 minks were let loose in northern Greece, where most of the country’s fur farms are located.
Animal welfare has been set as an important European value in Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU. In most cases, the animals farmed, such as minks, cannot fulfil their natural behavioral patterns; thousands of individuals are forced to live very close to each other. This causes problems such as fur chewing and self-mutilation.
For the public, causing suffering and killing animals for fashion and other non-essential reasons seems immoral. Opinion polls all around the EU seem to show that most people disapprove of fur farming. The shift in public opinion is surely one reason for the increasing bans around Europe.
However, the fur industry says that it offers jobs to Greeks – a factor that seems even more important at the times of financial crisis striking the whole country. The biggest regions for the industry are Kastoria and Kozani; according to figures for 2015 from the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food, there are 123 fur farms in Greece in total. The main export countries for fur products from Greece are Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
However, despite numerous attempts, Greek Reporter was unable to secure an interview with anyone from the fur industry.
Greek Reporter talked to Elena T. from Greek charity Vegaia, formerly known as citizen initiative Fur Abolition. She shared data from Hellenic Statistical Authority showing that for the first quarter of 2018 the unemployment rates in Greece are actually the highest — 28.1 percent — in West Macedonia, where Kastoria is located.
She also says that the factories don’t always work at full capacity – sometimes there is work and sometimes not. Fur is very often also imported from elsewhere, manufactured in Greece and then ready-made jackets and accessories are sold abroad. “The government supports the fur industry – otherwise they wouldn’t survive,” Elena claims.
Due to its hot climate, Greeks themselves don’t care too much about fur – the sales come mostly from tourists, especially those from Russia. “There is even a travel agency that brings Russian tourists to Greece to buy fur, then get commission from the sales,” Elena says. Fur industries also export fur to Russia, but according to Elena these numbers have been decreasing lately.
Elena points out that instead of continuing the “unethical and cruel” fur business there would be many alternatives for sustainable growth in the area. Greece’s economy is largely based on tourism, but in this area tourism is the country’s lowest. “The region of Western Macedonia is a place for unique beauty with a rich natural habitat. Kastoria and the nearby regional units present potential for further touristic development, such as heritage tourism, ecotourism, agrotourism and so on,” she claims.
It seems that there are options for fur. Time will tell whether Greece will follow the fur-free trend, as many countries, fashion designers and consumers have already done.