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BEIJING -- China's fur industry is generally on the right track, despite some defects highlighted by European animal protection groups in February, say industry insiders and officials.

Both vowed yesterday to develop more regulations for the industry, which had an import volume of US$330 million and exports of nearly US$2 billion last year.

In February several groups in Europe publicized video footage showing animals like minks and foxes being skinned alive at a rural fur market in North China's Hebei Province.

The video footage spread through the Internet and attracted public attention both in China and around the world.

It was not fur companies that were responsible, however, but rather individual farmers with small operations. Since the video was filmed - before February - the practice has been stopped, officials said.

They explained that small, individual farmers simply did not have the knowledge base to properly skin animals; and would not take the trouble and expense of killing animals before skinning.

Officials did not find any animals skinned alive when they inspected the market during the Spring Festival early in February, although they did find some in March.

After the release of the video, the local government banned the brutal practice, said vice-head of Suning County Guo Wanyi yesterday in Beijing. Moreover, the government offers, free of charge, slaughter services to individual farmers.

Sources also said that other counties in Hebei are following suit and setting standards for the industry.

According to Guo, an underground trade of live animals appeared at the market in Shangcun last year, though trade of live animals is not allowed there.

Tiny fraction

He said the number of animals killed in such cruel manner, even before the ban, made up a tiny fraction of all the animals used in the fur industry.

The county also plans to strengthen education among local fur farmers, Guo said.

The practice is not only banned but it also makes little economic sense.

"If animals are skinned alive, the fur is of quite poor quality. Then what is the good of such a practice?" asked Zhu Renyong, general manager of the Beijing Linong Fur Auction Co Ltd.

More than 30 million pieces of fur are traded at the Shangcun market each year.

Sander Jacobsen, communication manager of Kopenhagen Fur in Denmark, said what the video shows can hardly be representative of the entire industry.

Zhang Shuhua, deputy chairman of the China Leather Industry Association, told reporters yesterday that China's fur industry has experienced rapid growth in the past few years.

Last year the import and export volume of fur products increased by 54 per cent and 123 per cent respectively.

As the industry develops, it is also adopting more international standards for raising, treating and slaughtering animals, Zhang said.

"Most fur farms in China are well equipped and animals are treated well," she added.

According to Zhang Xiangnong, general manager of the Huachen Fur Company in Suning, all of the foxes and minks of the company are euthanized by injection.

"Fur companies all use this method," he said.

His company is expecting to produce more than 80,000 pieces of fur this year.