The Fur Free Alliance urges governments to close mink farms in all countries
AMSTERDAM – 4 JUNE 2020 – The Dutch government has ordered the culling of thousands of mink on nine fur farms from Friday this week, following advice from a team of veterinary and infectious disease experts that mink fur farms could act as a reservoir for SARS-COV-2, allowing it to remain in circulation for a long time.
Dutch MPs were notified of the cabinet decision in a letter sent last night by the Dutch Agriculture Minister and the Minister for Public Health, Welfare & Sport. The investigation by the Dutch Zoonoses Outbreak Management Team follows the Dutch Agriculture Minister’s statement on 25th May that it was ‘extremely likely’ that two fur farm workers in the Netherlands had contracted COVID-19 from mink infected with SARS-CoV-2.
In response to the Dutch government’s findings, the Fur Free Alliance is calling for the global closure of mink fur farms as potential reservoirs for COVID-19 and other novel infectious zoonotic diseases.
Mink fur farming was banned in the Netherlands in 2013 with a deadline for complete phase out by 2024. The Netherlands farmed around 4.5million mink in 2018. The Fur Free Alliance is supporting calls by Dutch animal organisations for the closure of the approximately 128 fur farms that remain to be fast tracked in light of the COVID-19 risk, and that the infected farms are closed for good.
Joh Vinding, Chair of the Fur Free Alliance, said:
“Fur farms typically contain thousands of mink in rows of cages in unsanitary, crowded and stressful conditions not unlike the wildlife markets at the centre of global concern. In addition to being inherently cruel, the potential for zoonotic disease spread, and for mink fur farms in particular to act as reservoirs for coronaviruses, incubating pathogens transmissible to humans, is an unavoidably compelling reason for the world to call time on fur farming. The Dutch government, and all fur-producing countries like Denmark, Poland, France, Italy, China, Finland, Spain and the United States, should commit to end this inhumane practice and protect public health.”
SARS-CoV-2 was first identified on two mink farms in Netherlands on 26 April, and then subsequently on two more mink farms in Noord Brabant on 9 May. By 15 May SARS-CoV-2 had also been diagnosed in three cats living at a mink farm, and on 19 May Dutch Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten told MPs that mink to human infection was likely. When a second farm worker subsequently contracted COVID-19, the Minister confirmed, on 25 May, that transmission from mink to humans was now “extremely likely”.
The Ministers’ letter to the Dutch Parliament notes that more infections are expected to be detected in the coming weeks, and that as human-human infection rates decline, mink-human infection could increase the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. All fur farms in the Netherlands are now undergoing mandatory screening, and measures have been put in place including a restriction on both farm visitors and the transportation of mink.
Non-infected farms will be required to continue to follow current measures and to submit carcasses of “naturally” deceased animals each week. The Ministers’ letter states that the Dutch cabinet is considering whether and how to support fur farms to voluntarily terminate their businesses before the 2024 deadline.
The Fur Free Alliance and its members organisations are deeply concerned about the welfare of the mink who contract this potentially fatal virus. Research from the farms in the Netherlands has shown that symptoms can cause “digestive and respiratory” issues and can prove fatal for the animals. Mink can also experience the virus without showing symptoms. Therefore, in addition to calling for a complete ban on fur farming, the organisations are also calling on governments around the globe to take immediate steps to investigate the potential spread of the disease on fur farms, including mandatory testing on all mink farms with the publication of the results as soon as possible, plus the introduction of measures already undertaken in the Netherlands, such as a ban on any movement of mink, the restriction of visitors to the farms and the use of PPE for all staff and visitors.
Mink fur farms and COVID-19 timeline
The other main species reared on fur farms – foxes and raccoon dogs – are known to be able to become infected with SARS-CoV-related viruses, with the potential to act as intermediate hosts to pass viruses to humans. Raccoon dogs and foxes in wildlife markets in China were both found to have been infected with SARS-CoV.
Fur farming has been banned across the UK since 2003, and has been prohibited and/or is in the process of being phased-out in the following European countries: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and most recently the government in Ireland has committed to ending fur farming. Bulgaria, Lithuania, Montenegro and Ukraine are also presently considering bans on fur farming. In the United States, California became the first US state to ban fur sales in 2019 following similar bans in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and West Hollywood. In 2020, legislators in Hawaii and Rhode Island introduced fur sales ban proposals, as have cities in Minnesota and Massachusetts.
Fur farming, however, continues in other countries with China, Denmark, Finland and Poland being the biggest producers, and globally an estimated 100 million animals are killed annually for their fur.
Latest available figures show approximately 35 million mink were farmed across twenty-one countries in Europe, including Denmark (17.6m), Poland (5m), Netherlands (4.5m), Finland (1.85m), Greece and Lithuania (both 1.2m), in 2018. Figures for the same period show that mink were farmed for their fur in China (20.7m), the United States (3.1m) and Canada (1.7m), bringing the total to approximately 60.5million mink.