Certification from a farmer’s perspective

Within the fur industry, everyone seems to be in agreement – certification is key to a high-quality product and a transparent production process. As Saga Furs nowadays only sells certified farmed fur, most farms around the world are certified, either by WelFur or similar programs approved by IFF’s brand Furmark®. But what impact has certification had on everyday life at the farm? We meet with a Finnish fur farmer to find out.

A lingering fog sits over the fields as we approach the Torp Frys fur farm on an early October morning.

– It’s very beautiful here in autumn, fur farmer Mikael Mård says as he welcomes us to his family farm, which sits snugly between endless acres of the typical Finnish spruce.

Mikael has been a fur farmer for almost 30 years, or even longer, if you take into consideration that he learned the trade from his father as a young boy. The farm is a part of the family business Torp Frys, which also incorporates a feed production plant and a large greenhouse for producing tomatoes.

The farm currently has approximately 15 000 minks and 11 000 foxes and is known in the area for its high-quality work.

– We’ve even heard that customers from abroad have asked specifically for Torp Frys fur, Mikael says proudly.

The rigorously certified Finnish fur

Just like most farms in Europe, the Torp Frys farm is WelFur certified. The WelFur certification was introduced in 2017 and is, as the name suggests, all about the welfare of fur animals. A farm has to undergo three inspections in a year, one per fur season, to get the certification. After this, a yearly inspection keeps the certification in place. The WelFur certification is based on four principles: good feeding, good housing, good health, and appropriate behaviour. A vast amount of data is collected on everything from water nipples to the emotional states of the animals. Based on this, the farm is given a score that puts them on a scale – somewhere between unacceptable and best current practice.

– Last time we had an inspection, we got 41 pages of feedback, Mikael mentions. The only negative feedback was that we were missing a surveillance camera over the parking lot, he explains, and that was quickly corrected.

With the help of surveillance cameras, the farm can protect itself and the animals from intruders. Surveillance cameras are not a criterion within the WelFur certification, but they are a part of the Saga Certification by Finnish Standards. The WelFur certification was merged with the already excisting certification that covers an even wider array of criteria.

The introduction of WelFur back in 2017 didn’t really have an impact on the everyday workload of the Finnish fur farmers, as they were already used to the rigorous Finnish certification system that had been in place since 2005. The Saga Certification by Finnish Standards, with Welfur inside, covers six main areas in addition to animal welfare: conditions for rearing animals, farm hygiene, breeding, environmental management, feed management, as well as training and preparing for exceptional situations. The inspections are conducted in the same way as Welfur, only with a longer checklist.

The Saga certification was developed by the Finnish Fur Breeders’ Association (FIFUR), in close cooperation with the fur industry, Finnish authorities, the EU, and veterinarians specialising in fur farming. It puts fur farming well ahead of other industries with production animals, in terms of animal welfare standards.

– We’re very eager to be the best here in Finland, Mikael says with a laugh.

Is certification worth the effort?

We walk around the farm for a while and talk about this ambitious attitude in general. Mikael loves running and has completed several marathons. When he does something, he’s all in, and this also shows in his work on the farm. As we discuss certification and whether it’s worth the effort, Mikael comments:

– Even if there wasn’t any certification program in place, we would always do everything we can to make sure the animals are as well cared for as possible. However, through the certification, the customer can trust that the farmers have done their very best.

He points out that the certification programs push the farmers to always do better and that, over the years, there has been a general improvement in fur quality and animal health thanks to the disciplined work.

Everything that happens on the farm has to be documented.

Logged, documented, and monitored

As the scenery changes from foxes to long rows of inquisitive minks, we run into one of the farm’s seasonal workers. She introduces herself as Josefin Juutilainen and explains that she normally works in the greenhouse, but helps out at the farm when needed, mainly in the pelting season.

– It’s a hard job with a lot of heavy lifting, but I really enjoy the variation, she smiles.

– Josefin is a really reliable person, Mikael says with an approving nod and mentions that she’s always the one who does the plasmacytosis tests on the minks, as she’s fast and exact in her work.

We follow her work for a while and continue on the topic of certification. Mikael explains how everything that happens on their farm is logged in a digital system, and Josefin shows what it looks like in practice.

– Every illness, medication, death and even move from one cage to another is logged and monitored, Mikael explains. Everything that happens on the farm has to be documented.

We go inside to sit down for a coffee and Mikael opens his computer to show how the data can be sorted and filtered by date, animal type, gender, age, and beyond.

– This is important data for the certification inspection, and also for us, to be able to get an overview and spot any recurring problems.

With a total amount of 26 000 animals on the farm, the digital overview is a must.

– The person who feeds the animals also has a very big responsibility, Mikael points out. They’re the ones who see every animal every day. If something is out of order, you notice it immediately – the animal hasn’t eaten all the food, it doesn’t come to see what’s happening, or similar.

A mark is made on a list, and someone immediately goes to check on the animal.

A farmer’s resourcefulness

When asked what they feel could be improved on the farm, the team chatting around the coffee table inevitably end up on the topic of economics.

– The economic situation means that we’re forced to repair and restore, rather than renew, at the moment, Mikael explains and mentions his hope for better times – something he of course shares with most fur farmers around the world.

– I’ve been in the industry long enough and have seen the ups and downs, so I think we will get through this as well, he says confidently.

Josefin nods in agreement and adds:

– I have no intention of quitting; I will stay in this business as long as I can!

The topic of conversation veers into what everyone likes about the job, and Josefin mentions Mikael’s obsession with birdhouses.

– We put up birdhouses all around the farm, hoping the birds would keep the flies away, Mikael explains enthusiastically and runs off to fetch a binder.

– I even documented it, see, he says and flips through the pages. It says here we put up 120 birdhouses. A farmer in the neighbouring village had done the same and claims he hasn’t seen a fly since. Well, the birdhouses have been up for three years now, and I swear, there are just as many flies as before. I’m starting to think that farmer was pulling my leg.

The whole break room erupts in laughter at Mikael’s passionate storytelling, and they all agree that a fur farmer will get far with resourcefulness and, of course, a good sense of humour.


Mikael Mård

Age: 48
Family: Wife Sonja, 4 children and 5 grandchildren.
Interests: Anything in the great outdoors – running, hiking, etc.

Josefin Juutilainen

Age: 30
Family: Husband Petri
Interest: Ice hockey and folk racing – a popular Finnish rallycross where you convert old cars into rally cars and compete on special gravel or tarmac tracks.