In the early 1900s, my great-grandfather worked at the Kimberly paper mill. After a mill explosion threw him into a wall, he lost the use of his arm. The mill graciously gave him a job as a custodian. Unfulfilled, though, he went to work at an insurance company and taught himself to read by reviewing the policies.
As his insurance business grew, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to help start a home design business, a building and supply company, and even a bank. He also started a mink farm.
With all of the different irons he had in the fire, I don’t know how he found time every morning to get up and milk hundreds of mink.
But seriously, mink farming has a rich tradition in America, particularly in Wisconsin. Raising mink for their fur began in the U.S. shortly after the Civil War. Today, mink are the biggest producers of fur in the country in terms of the number of pelts produced and the value of the fur.
According to Fur Commission USA, there are about 275 mink farms in the U.S. in 23 states, that generate more than $200 million a year. American mink farms produce about 4 million pelts annually, led by Wisconsin, which generates well over 1 million. Over 85% of these pelts come from small family-run farms, like my great-grandfather’s.
My dad remembers that the mink were unbelievably well-cared for, because large, healthy mink resulted in the most profitable pelts. So they led a charmed life. Up until the point when they were killed and stripped of their pelts to make clothing.
For this reason, California has become the first state in the country to ban the sale of animal fur products. Last month, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation making it illegal to sell, donate or manufacture new fur products in the state.
The law applies to all new clothing, handbags, shoes and other items made with fur. There are exceptions to the ban, however, including used fur, taxidermy products, leather, cowhide and shearling. In addition, fur lawfully taken with a hunting license is not subject to the ban, nor fur products used for religious purposes or by Native American tribes.
In a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsom said, “California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur.” The fur ban goes into effect on January 1, 2023. Anyone who violates the law will be subject to civil penalties, including fines.
In addition to banning fur, Newsom also signed a number of other bills designed to prevent animal cruelty. One new measure bans the use of animals, such as tigers and elephants, in circuses. Another prohibits hunting, trapping and killing bobcats, while another protects horses from slaughter. Newsom also made it illegal to sell more types of dead animals, adding to an existing list of other wildlife.
On average, it takes at least 50 mink to make a fur coat. Apparently, it takes so many because they aren’t very motivated and have small hands.