Last week, the Riigikogu voted to ban fur farming in Estonia, making the country the first of the Baltic states to do so.
The issue has been under discussion in Estonia since 2009, and this is the third time that the Riigikogu have voted on it, with the potential ban being defeated in both 2017 and 2019. This time though, the margin was comprehensive, with 56 members of the parliament voting in favour of the ban, and 19 against it.
Just how big an immediate difference this vote actually makes remains to be seen. The industry continues in Latvia and Lithuania, and if the past is anything to go by, then fur farms can simply relocate a few hundred kilometres and continue.
In Lithuania, figures from the Agriculture Ministry show that there 71 mink breeders growing about 1.9 million animals. The reality is that many of those farms, as well as several in Latvia, are actually owned by Dutch and Danish companies. The Netherlands ban on breeding mink came into effect at the end of 2020, and some of the largest companies bought existing farms in or moved their operations to other European countries.
The other thing to bear in mind is that this is not an immediate change. Instead the ban on keeping mink and raccoon dogs will only be prohibited from January 1st 2026 for farms that already have current permits.
The bill of amendments to the Animal Protection Act and Nature Conservation Act passed by the Riigikogu does not threaten breeders of animals like sheep or rabbits, as it only covers the farming of animals where fur production is the only or main purpose.
Annaliisa Post, the head of communications at Estonian animal welfare organization Loomus, hailed the ban as a historic victory.
"We have been working for this for years and we are extremely pleased that Estonia became the first Baltic state to ban fur farms. With this decision, we are setting an example both for neighbouring countries and in the wider world. No animal should suffer for human vanity and we are grateful to the members of the Riigikogu for making an animal-friendly decision."
While many national and international animal welfare organisations have issued statements of support for the ban, the sentiment was not shared by fur breeders in the country, who are planning to bring a court action exceeding €10 million against the state
In addition to the increasing public distaste for fur farming, the industry in Europe has had a tough year, due to fears of cross-species Coronavirus transmission. Authorities in Denmark, the world’s biggest mink exporter, slaughtered an estimated 15-17 million animals in late 2020 after some tested positive for a mutated form of the coronavirus, raising concerns that vaccine-resistant strains could recirculate in humans.
Although Estonia is the first state in the Baltics to make the move, it is far from the first European country to ban fur farms.
The United Kingdom imposed the ban back in 2000, and Austria followed in 2005. Bans have also been adopted by North Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Luxembourg, Serbia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Several others, like Belgium, France, Norway, Slovakia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have voted a ban into effect, but are currently in their own transitional periods.