California’s ban of fur production and sales is going to impact producers in Wisconsin… but how much?

Whatever one thinks of the fur industry — and there are strongly held opinions on all sides — political decisions in individual states can have enormous ramifications half a country away.

California recently became the first state to ban the production and sale of furs state-wide. Cities had approved their own bans previously, but this is the first time a state has taken this legislative step. California Legislative Assembly Bill No. 44 will take effect on January 1, 2023. (Other states may follow. A proposal to ban the manufacture and sale of animal pelts was introduced in New York’s state legislature in  March 2019, and in Hawaii in January 2019.)

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, California’s move has prompted mixed reactions.

Animal rights activists

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) supporters by the thousands had written to their state representatives supporting the ban, and PETA actively advocated for the passage of the legislation. Unsurprisingly, it celebrated California’s legislation as “a big victory for animals.” PETA supports fur bans based on what they describe as extremely violent and cruel treatment of farm animals.

The fur industry advocates

The Fur Information Council of America (FICA), also based in California, had a decidedly different reaction. FICA announced its intention to strike down California’s ban through the courts. Keith Kaplan, a spokesperson for FICA, said: “Two things are for certain: This law will do nothing for animal welfare and nothing to stop out-of-state sales of fur into California.

But what about Wisconsin?

Wisconsin is the largest producer of mink pelts in the United States. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, Wisconsin produced 971,600 pelts in 2018. That was down 14 percent from 2017 but still accounted for 31 percent of pelt production in the United States. The second-largest producer of pelts in the United States in 2018 was Utah, with 707,600 pelts. Wisconsin is also the leader for female minks bred to produce kits — mink young are called kits. Female mink bred in 2018 to produce kits in 2019 totaled 217,500, representing 33 percent of total females bred in the United States. (Again, Utah placed second with 159,120 mink bred to produce kits in 2019.)

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Wisconsinites’ reaction to California’s fur ban

Brad Wiebensohn, who owns Sandy Bay Mink Ranch in Mishicot, Wisconsin, says that activists’ concerns about animal welfare are misplaced. After all, health problems would show up in the quality of the animal’s pelts. About the California ban, Wiebensohn says: “I think it’s devastating for our industry.” Third-generation rancher Adam Dirkmann agrees, saying: “In our industry, the care for the mink is everything to us. We put all of our time, money — every resource we have into raising that mink. We don’t have an industry if we don’t do that.”

How big an impact?

There are mixed views on the impact of California’s ban on Wisconsin’s industry. The Fur Commission USA, who represents United States mink farmers, is not panicking over California’s actions. From their perspective, the loss of one market — even California’s — will not affect Wisconsin’s standing as the nation’s largest producer of pelts. Neither will it impact the global demand for Wisconsin mink.

But producers are watching the trends. If fur bans are enacted in more and more states and countries, the impact on producers and production-dependent economies will be inevitable.

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