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Idaho Fur Farmers Shiver in Economic Cold

December 23, 1991

HEYBURN, Idaho (AP) _ People are screaming for Lee Moyle’s hide.

At his southern Idaho ranch, the 51-year-old fur farmer and his wife, Marta, raise minks that produce thousands of shimmering pelts in shades of gray and black and tan and sapphire.

But animal-rights activists see only red - blood red.

″The animal worshipers never listen,″ Moyle said. ″Not one of them has ever come to the farm to see for themselves how we do business or to find out the truth.″

Groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society and Idaho Voice For Animals insist they already know the truth: fur farms wrong.

″Animal activism is a reaction to the abuse of animals,″ activist Carol Bachelder of Boise said. ″Once people are educated, there’s very little reason to disagree with the motives of the animal-rights movement unless you’re an interest group that has a big investment in maintaining the status quo.″

After record production and profits in 1989, fur industry revenues nationally fell by one-third last year as pelt prices took a dive in worldwide markets. In Idaho, the fifth largest fur-producing state, half the mink farms have gone under in the past five years.

Activists take credit for the industry’s misfortune, saying they’ve kept the issue in the public eye with protests and celebrity supporters.

″Furs have gone from a status symbol to a social liability,″ said Steve Simmons, a PETA spokesman in Washington. Fur wearers ″know they’ll be harassed, they know they may have paint thrown on them.″

The Moyles and others in the industry say the activists claim too much credit. The poor economy is the real culprit, they say. The Moyles’ least- expensive coat costs $2,000.

And Marta Moyle says no one has ever commented on her furs ″except to compliment me,″ although two customers told her they were treated rudely while wearing minks.

″The vast majority of people are not opposed to the fur industry,″ said Marsha Kelly of the Fur Farmers Animal Welfare Coalition in St. Paul, Minn. ″They’re ambivalent, and that’s because they’ve heard conflicting stories.″

Moyle says the activists are misguided. Because mink is renewable, it is environmentally superior to synthetics, he said.

The family business on the outskirts of Heyburn and Burley began in 1931, when Lee Moyle’s father and uncles parlayed 20 mink into what has become an annual harvest of 40,000 pelts considered among the finest in the world.

The mink are born in the spring and grow quickly on a gooey mixture of trout and chicken guts. Seven months later, 40 to 50 animals - about the number used to make a full-length coat - are placed in a steel box filled with cyanide pellets.

Within seconds, the mink are overcome by toxic fumes. In the stench of the pelting shed, a dozen men skin the freshly killed mink and hang the coats to dry.

Steam rises from buckets where the still-warm carcasses are thrown before being hauled off to a rendering plant. They become food for a nearby trout farm.

Moyle said nature is crueler than he could ever be. Wild mink litter mates cannibalize each other for food and the winter cold kills most of the survivors, he said.

″We enhance Mother Nature’s program,″ he said.

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