FURMARK North American

The USA has been certifying its farms with veterinarians since 1988 and is currently updating its standards in response to scientific advances and innovation.

There are two separate programs for fur farming in North America, one in the United States (USA) and one in Canada.

The USA has been certifying its farms with veterinarians since 1988 and is currently updating its standards in response to scientific advances and innovation. Canada has had Codes of Practice for farmed mink and fox in place since 1988. It has recently updated these welfare standards and begun the process of third party farm certification.

Both programs are science-based and founded on the same FURMARK principles of: truthfulness, transparency, sustainability, relevance, accessibility, efficiency, engagement, impartiality, improvement, and rigor.

FCUSA(1) Humane Care Certification Program & CMBA( 2 ) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Mink and Fox

The North American mink industry’s goal for welfare enhancement and program assessment.
(1) Fur Commission USA. (2) Canada Mink Breeders Association.

Background and History
The American and Canadian farm-raised mink sectors have a long history of working together to address their mutual needs in achieving sustainability, while recognizing their distinct autonomy, their extensive geographical areas and respective histories. Both sectors are striving to harmonize their welfare standards for the livestock under their care. By aligning their welfare programs and associated certification assessments, both the USA and Canada aim to support quality welfare practices and animal husbandry systems that will meet the requirements of the livestock, relevant governmental agencies, consumer groups, associated marketing organizations and the general public.

CMBA Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Mink and fox
In association with the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), the Canadian farm-raised mink and fox industry has updated and published the ‘Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Mink and Fox’ (originally developed in 1988). These codes of practice were updated in consultation with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, animal welfare representatives, researchers, government representatives, and producers. A third party auditing of these standards has begun.

The United States farm-raised mink industry, through the Fur Commission USA has established the ´Standard Guidelines for the Operation of Mink Farms in the United States´
Initially developed in 1985, guidelines have been updated every three to five years with original input from animal welfare scientists and veterinarians from the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin and Oregon State University. The assessment program (certification program) in the USA will be based on the Standard Guidelines, which is, once again, being revised and updated to ensure continuity with the Canadian program.

Current standard guidelines in USA/Canadian mink code

Producer Responsibilities
The humane raising of mink is dependent upon a myriad of factors including the skills, training, and integrity of mink farmers. The holistic approach to mink farming in the USA and Canada centers on ensuring that the producer has a thorough knowledge of the natural life cycle of domestic mink; has a solid working knowledge of the nutritional needs of mink; and has adequate facilities and financial resources to supply and maintain proper housing and comfort, veterinary assistance and a reliable source of nutritious food and clean water.

In addition to the Standard Guidelines, there are further requirements for proper biosecurity in the operation of mink farms, including matters relating to disease control, handling, deliveries, visitors and employees.

US Guidelines
There are seven sections to the Standard Guidelines. Each section details the responsibilities of the producer to ensure that certain requirements are fulfilled. Over 90% of production in the USA is currently certified to this standard. The seven sections of the guidelines include requirements in the following areas:

  1. Management of the farm
  2. Accommodation: site accommodation, sheds, housing for the mink
  3. Food and Water: nutritional information, feed preparation, feed distribution, watering systems
  4. Health: farmer and vet relationship, herd health plans, testing for common diseases, immunization
  5. Environmental Quality: sanitation, water quality adherence to local government regulations
  6. Transportation of live mink (if applicable)
  7. Humane Euthanasia

Canadian Code
Like its American counterpart, the Canadian Codes contain seven sections detailing the responsibilities of the producer:

  1. Accommodation and housing: nest boxes, bedding, sheds, site accommodation
  2. Biosecurity: access management, animal management, operational management
  3. Food and Water: quality distribution, preparation, water quality and watering systems
  4. Health and Welfare management: veterinary care, herd health plans, immunization
  5. Animal Husbandry: handling, breeding; whelping and weaning
  6. Humane Euthanasia
  7. Transportation

The commitment of North America and Canada to animal husbandry and welfare through responsible and sustainable business practices.

Developing a comprehensive set of guidelines on animal welfare enhancement and program evaluation relies upon sound scientific principles and economic and cultural factors. These guidelines will ensure farms care for the animals in accordance with all applicable codes and regulations.

Good animal welfare and animal husbandry are directly related to the good health of the animal. Therefore, ensuring the health and wellbeing of farm-raised mink and fox is a key concern. A comprehensive management program must be in place that requires: disease prevention and biosecurity; appropriate and prompt veterinary care; quality shelter; quality management and genetic selection; quality nutrition and clean water; personnel training; humane handling and euthanasia.

Mink Farm Welfare Assessment:
Guiding Principles (Fig.1)

Mink Farm Welfare Assessment: Guiding Principles
Utilizing the internationally recognized OIE Welfare Standards, established by the World Organization for Animal Health, as baseline criteria, the North American and Canadian aligned welfare programs will ensure that farm-raised mink meets the highest practical standards. The programs will establish specific farm management requirements and guidelines, enabling farmed animals to benefit. (Fig. 1)

Certification Programs
The certification program in the USA is being revised and updated. Discussions are underway to assess the farms on approximately 22 specific guidelines in 9 sections, and on 13 requirements that all reflect ‘best practice techniques’.

The individual guidelines in the USA will have a point scoring system assigned to them and specific instructions on how the points are to be allocated. Each farm must meet all requirements. Their accumulated score will determine certification.

Farm certification has begun in Canada. Farms are being assessed based on 10 Critical Care Criteria and 52 Care Criteria. All Critical Care Criteria must be met and there is a minimum score that must be met on the Care Criteria.

Americas Welfare Program & the Roundtable’s Draft Certification Statement

How the American programs meet the criteria in the Draft Certification Statement

1) Commitment to ensuring that there are certification programs relevant to the fur supply chain.

The aligned Americas region welfare assessment programs will guarantee that the products sold by the fur and luxury industries are produced by certified farms assessed by independent and accredited veterinarians.

These programs will also assist marketing organizations by offering products with known levels of animal welfare and best practice in animal husbandry.

2) Recognition that there are different certification programs relevant to different regional geographies.

The areas in which mink farming is undertaken have different needs to one another due to geographical variation and regulatory environments. Both the American and Canadian programs have incorporated a ‘management flexibility’ to address this.

3) Ensure that programs meet recognized principles of certification.

The American program embraces recognized principles of certification, including: truthfulness, transparency, sustainability, efficiency, engagement, impartiality, improvement and comprehensiveness. This is essential to ensure both public support and credibility for the programs.

4) Certification programs must be species-specific and comprehensive.

The United States Humane Care Merit Award Program is being concurrently updated to reflect, and be aligned with, the Canadian Code of Practice Assessment. As part of this process, the program will also receive input from multiple stakeholder groups, including research universities, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the first usage of the acronym) veterinarians, and veterinary medical groups. Both programs have been specifically developed to address the farmed mink industry. They both utilize current scientific research and best practice management techniques.

The Canadian Code of Practice Assessment has been developed through the National Farm Animal Care Council in Canada (NFACC). This organization has been responsible for the development of virtually all farmed animal species in Canada and has achieved this through broad industry representation and with the expertise of stakeholders. NFACC’s program is put together with numerous stakeholder groups, including the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, animal welfare representatives, researchers, government representatives, and producers.

5) Certification programs must be science-based and verified by independent experts.

The Assessment/Certification development committees have reviewed current global research and will incorporate it into the development of assessment criteria. For the Canadian program, a listing of the ‘Review of Scientific Research on Priority Issues’ can be found on the NFACC website (www.nfacc.ca).

Third party verification for the Canadian mink sector is being conducted by an internationally recognized, professional auditing company.

The USA standard guidelines will be verified by an independent animal auditor organization. This will be a group formed of: members of the American Society of Animal Science; representatives from six leading American universities with recognized animal science departments; experts and animal welfare representatives from other livestock industry groups.

Another independent animal auditor group will be retained as the third party auditors.

6) The certification protocols must be available to the general public.

For the United States, the updated Standard Guidelines for the Operation of Mink Farms in the United States and the Humane Merit Award assessment program will be made available on the Fur Commission USA website and the American Mink Council website.

The Canadian Code of Practice Assessment program is made available to the public through the NFACC website and the Canada Mink Breeders Association website.

7) The verification system must be credible and impartial

Both the American and Canadian programs have hired a professional international third party audit company to conduct all the fur farms certification assessments. The expertise in animal health, behavior and farm management of these third party auditors will ensure public and consumer confidence in the assessment process.

All farms in the USA will be inspected over a 14 -18 month period to allow for sequential evaluations during the subsequent production phase. A professional third party audit organization, both in the USA and Canada, will be used to randomly select a percentage of the previously assessed farms for a re-evaluation of the assessment process.

This will further help assure the public of the credibility and impartiality of the assessment process.

8) Audit results of farms must be transparent.

The general farm assessment programs will be available on industry websites. Farm-specific assessments will be dealt with on an individual farm basis.

9) The certification will enable a process of continuous improvement.

The design of both programs will encourage individual farms to continually improve their level of compliance. The programs themselves will be continuously reviewed and updated by scientific committees.