Besides countries, such as Denmark, Sweden and Italy, which have cancelled the mink breeding season in 2021, and the Netherlands, which has moved up its timeline for shutting down the industry from 2024 to 2021, most countries with affected mink fur farms have allowed producers to continue with their intensive mink breeding operations despite serious concerns about public health risks.
Even in Sweden and Italy, where breeding bans have been implemented, the breeding animals remain on the farms, albeit in smaller numbers.
But as we have seen in countries such Greece, Spain, Lithuania, Latvia – and in Italy where a breeding ban is in place – outbreaks have continued to occur over the winter/spring period, in between the pelting season and the breeding season, when only a small number of breeding animals were present on the farms. As the breeding season progresses, mink populations will increase approximately five fold on farms after the pups are born.
The uncontrollable spread of SARS-CoV-2 on mink fur farms in Denmark and the Netherlands, the confirmation of multiple farm infections in countries such as Sweden and the most recent outbreaks on fur farms between the pelting season and the breeding season, when only a small number of breeding animals have been present on farms (in countries such as Greece, Spain, Lithuania and Latvia) demonstrates that current measures including monitoring and biosecurity are insufficient to control virus infections and transmission.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has called on all countries “to protect animal health and welfare, and consequently public health”:
The risk of susceptible animals, such as mink, becoming a SARS-CoV-2 reservoir generates worldwide concern, as it could pose a continued public health risk and lead to future spillover events to humans.
The risks posed by the spread of infection on fur farms requires urgent action. Unnecessary reservoirs of the SARS-CoV-2 virus must be eliminated to protect human and animal health. Urgent legislative action is required to permanently end all fur farming in the countries where it is still legally permitted.