Science - June 5, 2014

Government should compensate mink farmers’

Albert Sikkema

A court in The Hague has overturned a new law that would ban the farming of animals for fur in the Netherlands from 2024. Mink farmers will be financially affected by the new law and should have been offered financial compensation, ruled the judge.

‘I am not surprised by the verdict,’ says animal welfare researcher Hans Hopster. ‘You cannot just snatch away someone’s source of income; that goes against my sense of justice, however deeply I care about animal welfare too.’

The mink farmers make a good living. Should they be compensated for damages?

‘That is a strange argument. You don’t say to parliamentarians or ministers after their term that they needn’t expect any redundancy pay because they have had good incomes, do you? With the mink farmers, we are talking about family firms which want to build up a promising enterprise for the children, for instance. Of course you can take the political decision to ban fur farming, but I am happy that the lawyers look beyond those political considerations alone.’

So the political reasons for banning mink farming are not in question?

‘No, the court just thinks the farmers should get compensation. My colleague Willy Baltussen at the LEI (Agricultural Economics Institute) has calculated the amounts concerned. In 2012 the Dutch mink farming sector consisted of about one million mother minks. A ban would mean about 5000 million euros in compensation for lost income, plus tens of millions in compensation for lost capital and demolition costs. The question the government must answer now is: Is it OK for our ethical decision to ban fur farming to cost millions of euros?’

But the ban was motivated by poor animal welfare, wasn’t it?

‘Originally, yes, but that could be questioned now. Long ago the mink farmers agreed with the government on a plan for improving the welfare of the minks, but that improvement has never been evaluated. The ban is based on ethical grounds, or: do you accept intensive farming for the production for fur? I think it’s strange that the welfare of minks no longer seems to play a role in it.’