"Make fur history" speech of Marianne Thieme in parli­ament of Bosnia and Herzeg­ovina

6 April 2019

On Friday 5th of April, Marianne Thieme, the leader of the Dutch Party to for the Animals, spoke in the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. She was invited by local Bosnian animal welfare and environmental organisations to make a case for a definitive ban on fur farming. Thieme argued that fur farming is a danger to all: animals, nature, humans and the quality of our environment. You can read her full speech below.

Thank you!

I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak here today.

My name is Marianne Thieme. I studied law and am a member of the Dutch parliament for Party for the animals. The party was founded in 2002 and in 2006 we won two seats. For the first time in the world history a party for non-humans won seats in a National parliament. The Dutch House of representatives has 150 seats in total. During the last parliamentary elections of 2017, we more than doubled and won five seats.

Just to give you some impression of the political leverage we now have, our five seats is just as much as the number of seats of the smallest party of the current coalition, which, as you may, is typical for the Dutch proportional democratic system.

Many people in 2002 didn’t give us the slightest of chances. They were proven wrong. Currently, we are present in the senate, in city councils and regional parliaments, councils for water management, and are even present in the European Parliament, where we hope to double our presence in the upcoming elections. In total we have 78 seats. Globally, there are now 20 parties for the animals.

These are clear indications that our movement for animals, nature and the environment is increasingly going global.

It is a great honor to update you here today on the legal ban on fur farming industry in the Netherlands. The political attempt to prohibit the fur farming industry in both the Netherlands and in Bosnia-Herzegovina should in my view be seen as an effect of the growing worries among European citizens about the fate of animals, the effects of our actions on nature, climate chance and the quality of our environment.

When Bosnia announced, as one of the few countries of Europe, that it would ban the fur farming industry, it earned great and justified respect from many citizens in Europe. Decision making in the member states of the European Union, as well in the European Union itself, is often a long drawn out and technocratic process.

It often leads to outcomes that are at odds with the values which national democracies and the European Union are expected to uphold: protecting the vulnerable and caring for nature, the environment and a high quality of life. Bosnia demonstrated with the ban, that it values the protection of the interests of the many, of animals, of the environment and of nature over and above the short-term economic interests of the few. So I was shocked to learn that Bosnia wants to postpone the end of its fur farming industry with another ten years!

Today I want to focus on two issues. First, I will briefly sketch the process that led to the Dutch ban on fur farming, and will concentrate on the way in which the Dutch legislator has dealt with the commercial interests of the Dutch fur farmers. Secondly, I will express my concerns as well as my hopes for the Bosnian ban on fur farming and the deadlock that threatens now that the ban perceives not to be enforced.

Nowadays, it is absolutely clear that the fur industry is unethical and causes a lot of problems: millions of animals suffer and die every year for fashion. Confined in small, wire-mesh cages on factory farms or captured by brutal metal traps in the wild, their fur is turned into frivolous keychain trinkets or trim on coats and hats.

Despite industry greenwashing claims, confining wild animals, or catching them in metal traps, can never be done humanely. It is unethical to kill animals for their fur. It’s cruel and there are so many alternatives for fur that is not acceptable to continue with this industry.

Besides the ethical reasons to end the fur farming industry, there are environmental and social reasons to stop this industry. The production of fur is associated with high environmental costs. Far from being natural, sustainable resources, fur production is an intensely polluting and energy-consumptive process. It takes at least 4 times more energy to produce a real fur coat than to produce a synthetic fur coat.

In the Netherlands, many people near fur farms suffer from bad air quality, flies and other nuisances. They are very, very happy with the fur farming ban. In 2015, the latest poll available, 84 % of the Dutch people was against fur.

In general the fur farming industry often offers very bad working conditions. Extensive evidence is available (documentaries etc) about fur farm workers being ill due to unhygienic working conditions, injuries received from terrified, abused animals and environmental contamination.

Back to the Netherlands. The Dutch bans on fox and chinchilla farming were passed in 1995 and 1997 respectively. The phasing-out of these forms of fur production began in April 1998. By April 2008, all fox and chinchilla farms in the Netherlands finally ceased their operations. At that time, mink farming was still allowed. Every year, six million minks are raised and killed in the Netherlands, by approximately 160 mink farmers. Their yearly turnover amounts to 190 million euros. But, of course, the costs caused by pollution, a lower quality of life for the neighbors, animal suffering etc. are being borne by the tax payer. The Netherlands is the third largest mink fur producer in the world, behind China and Denmark, and the second largest in Europe.

On January 4, 2013 a bill prohibiting fur farming became law and came into full effect, banning new mink fur farms immediately and phasing out existing farms over a ten year period. As of January 1, 2024, fur farming will be completely forbidden in the Netherlands.

Of course, we celebrated this victory, but the story wasn’t over because the state was being challenged on the legitimacy of the ban by the mink farmers in a civil case, based on the right of property in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In 2014, a lower court sentenced that the law was not legitimate (for lack of proper compensation) and had thus to be suspended. What was interesting about the verdict was the fact, that the court didn’t question the ethical basis of the ban. Nevertheless, it was a serious setback in our fight against fur farming and mink farmers immediately started expanding their businesses, with an eye of obtaining higher future compensation, as the court suggested. However, in an appeal the state won the case.

The mink farmers didn’t give up and went to the highest court of justice in the Netherlands and after that to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The key legal questions at stake were: does a government have the legal right to strongly intervene in property rights and ban fur farming on ethical grounds and was a transition phase of ten years sufficient in terms of compensation?

On November 17, 2012 the European court ruled with a loud and resounding yes. It ruled that the state did have this right and that a transition phase was sufficient in terms of compensation. On top of this, the court stated that engaging in socially and morally objectionable economic activities, may sooner or later result in a public backlash and should hence be seen as entrepreneurial risk.

This is clearly the case with fur farming in Europe, which, for a long time now, has been a cause of increasing political controversy, largely driven by the growing public concern in Europe over the moral legitimacy of fur. Moreover, the court ruled that a transition phase suffices in this instance, for individual farmers could continue their business during the transition “with all the good and bad opportunities this entails”.

So, the Dutch ban is now irrevocable and fully in force.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to stress that there is no legal reason at all for the Bosnian parliament to postpone their fur farming ban. If your parliament delays the legal enforcement of a ban on fur farms, it runs the risk of having to face claims from citizens near fur farms who counted upon a specific closure date. This postponement runs against the principle of legal certainty.

Moreover, periods of delay will also invite fur farmers to rapidly expand their businesses, as we have seen in the Netherlands. Figures show that the number of minks held by Dutch farmers exploded with 42% after the first draft of the bill was launched in 2006.
If the same is happening in Bosnia right now, the best way to proceed is to opt for a freezing of business activities of mink farmers, a stand still, or at least to exclude the growth from any compansation scheme considered by the Bosnian parliament. After all, it is the farmers themselves which have intentionally expanded their businesses even though they knew full well that there was no societal support for their activities and that a full ban was imminent.

For me, the extension of bans from country to country is the beginning of a European wide effort to ban the production of fur, the sale of fur and the import of fur. And I am convinced that this is the direction in which we are heading.

So what to do? Finalize your own production ban as soon as possible. If we can do it, you can do it too!