By STEPHEN McGRATH
SIGHISOARA, Romania (AP) — In a dingy basement, chinchillas bred to provide the fashion industry with their fur bite the wire of cages that are stacked floor-to-ceiling with no natural light, as their babies struggle across the wire-mesh floors.
The scene captured on video is among the findings from an undercover investigation into conditions on Romania’s chinchilla fur farms, carried out last year by the animal welfare charity Humane Society International.
HSI said it uncovered cruel and allegedly illegal practices, and appealed to Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca to completely ban fur farming in the Eastern European country.
On Wednesday, the charity formally submitted a report on its findings — exclusively seen by The Associated Press — to Ciuca, urging him to “stop this atrocious suffering in the name of fashion.”
HSI investigators who looked into 11 chinchilla farms in different parts of Romania said some farmers told them they kill the animals by breaking their necks — a practice that contravenes the killing methods permitted for chinchillas under European Union law.
Chinchillas are a highly sociable species of rodent native to South America, and prized for their soft, silky fur.
“This investigation provides shocking evidence of the deprivation these animals are suffering in Romania for the fur industry,” said Andreea Roseti, Romania’s country director for HSI. “Such cruelty brings shame on Romania and we hope that our investigation marks the beginning of the end for the fur industry here.”
One fur farmer allegedly showed an HSI investigator a homemade gas chamber — a grim method of killing permitted under EU law — which had been constructed “using a pressure cooker.” The group also said female chinchillas are kept in almost permanent pregnancy cycles, during which they are forced to wear a “stiff neck brace or collar” to prevent them escaping during mating.
In response to HSI’s investigation, a group of Romanian lawmakers filed proposed legislation in parliament on Monday calling for a ban on the breeding and killing of animals solely for their fur. It was signed by five lawmakers from the center-right National Liberal Party.
It’s a push for Romania, an EU member since 2007, to “align itself with EU legislation” and join other bloc members that have already introduced such bans, the lawmakers said.
Gheorghe Pecingina, the deputy who initiated the proposal, told The Associated Press it is important that the “cruel” practice ends now because the chinchillas “are killed with barbaric methods” in Romania.
Prime Minister Ciuca’s office and the Association of Romanian Leather and Fur Producers didn’t immediately reply to AP requests for comment.
Last week Latvian lawmakers voted to amend legislation to ban fur farms, making Latvia the fifteenth of the EU’s 27 countries to call time on the industry.
“There is no possibility in which the life of animals or anything connected with these animals should be acceptable in fur farming,” HSI’s Roseti said. “These animals are only bred for their fur which is used for fashion … this is not a reason to keep (them) in those conditions and to kill them.”
Fur Free Europe, a European Citizens’ Initiative supported by dozens of animal welfare organizations and registered by the European Commission in March, is running a petition calling for an EU-wide ban on fur farms and on the trading of fur products on the bloc’s market. It’s raised more than 377,000 signatures so far.
“This is Romania’s chance to be on the right side of history,” Roseti said.