A Different Kind Of Carbon Leakage

Red FoxThe Irish Government recently decided to ban fur farming in Ireland. Their justification for this, presumably, stems from concern for animal rights and the cruelty of the practice.

In fact, this measure may end up harming animals – by pushing fur farming out of jurisdictions with responsible and concerned governments, they are forcing fur farming into more permissive and cruel states.

Let’s ignore, for the time being, the injustice of this decision. Consumers clearly demand fur, or else government intervention wouldn’t be necessary. Is it right for a Green government to impose their view of animal rights on the public? This is the simple imposition of green dogma (murdering animals for their fur is wrong) on the minority of people who enjoy to wear it. Meanwhile, the rest of us are too rightfully disconnected from the debate to care.

Even if you do recognise animal rights and believe the state has a duty to enforce them, this measure may not affect anyone really that much. Consider the kind of person who consumes fur and the price thereof -It’s pretty likely this kind of person will just buy fur farmed in another country.

How many fur-lovers are going to be dissuaded because they can’t buy Irish fur (or even, buy it in Ireland)? Not many. Note firstly that the current Irish plans only mention a prohibition on fun-farming. But even if it was more extensive: They are wealthy, and any added costs of importing it are insignificant in comparison to its total cost.

Where are they likely to import it from? Probably, another nation with a government less concerned over the fate of furry animals. Why is this bad? Because consumers are buying the same amount of fur, but that fur is being farmed in a manner even more harmful to animal rights.

If the Irish government were smart, they wouldn’t eject fur-farming from Ireland completely. Instead, they’d insist on regulation to improve the lives of the animals there. Rather than go into too much detail, there are many ways to make the treatment of these animals more humane. But even if you can only make their lives slightly better (e.g. by forcing farmers to kill them in a more humane manner), that’s still better than allowing them to be murdered in a considerably more cruel manner in another country.

When discussing regulation of industry for environmental reasons, we often lament regulating dirty industries – if you force them to jump through too many hoops, they’ll just leave your country and pollute even more in China. This phenomenon, known as ‘carbon leakage’, is just the same as our argument against the banning of fur-farming.

In the case of carbon leakage, governments express a desire for common regulations on carbon emissions. But there is scarce hope of any common ban on fur-farming. So we know fur-farming is happening, just elsewhere and under worse conditions.

The Irish government just gave up a great opportunity to make the lives of those animals better by regulating it. Soon, it will be completely out of their hands. They have exported fur-farming to another country, because regulation would have seemed morally dubious. The animals will suffer for that idealism.

© The Free Marketeer 2009

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