On November 5th, British Columbia’s government leaders announced a phase-out of mink farming, becoming the first state or province in North America to shut down mink factory farms. Coincident with a similar announcement from Ireland, that breakthrough in the anti-fur movement comes a year after the Danish government ordered fur farmers to kill all 17 million captive mink there; SARS-CoV-2 virus had gained a foothold at more than a third of 1140 mink farms in Scandinavia’s southernmost nation. The Netherlands, which had been the fourth-largest mink producer in the world, also ordered the shuttering of its farms after viral outbreaks at its dozens of farms.

A massive worldwide SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in farmed mink has paralleled the human COVID-19 pandemic, with outbreaks on nearly 450 mink farms in 12 countries in Europe and North America. SARS-CoV-2 and government directives claimed one third of the world’s 60 million farmed mink. Yet the epidemic in mink continues, with recent outbreaks in Canada, Latvia, Poland, and Spain. Mink farms in the U.S. have not been immune, with nearly a third of the nation’s 60 mink farms experiencing outbreaks, infecting tens of thousands of the animals, killing a Utah mink farm worker, and, according to CDC, spawning a variant in Michigan. Mink are the only non-human bilateral transmitter of the virus, contracting it from humans and then spilling it back to humans, often in mutated form.

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Congressional, corporate leaders rethink mink

Mink fur farms, euphemistically called “ranches,” overcrowd these wild, anti-social, highly territorial carnivores in small, barren wire cages in warehouses. The merciless factory farming formulation – tightly-confined, untamed, semi-aquatic animals never getting to swim or hunt or roam– causes frustration, stereotypic behaviors, self-mutilation, and even cannibalism among the mink. Their susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 is linked to their inbred genetics and intensive confinement. Inhumane mink farming practices and zoonotic risk cannot be disentangled.

In July, U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Nancy Mace. R-S.C., and other lawmakers even divided by political party introduced H.R. 4310, the Minks in Narrowly Kept Spaces Are Superspreaders (MINKS) Act. This is the first-ever U.S. legislation to address the confinement and killing of fur-farmed wildlife. It comes at a time when consumers and clothing sellers worldwide – including Canada Goose and Neiman Marcus most recently — have signaled that fur is not part of their future retail offerings. Also in July, leading European Union member states called for a permanent ban on fur farming, an effort led by two countries – the Netherlands and Poland – that have long been two of the world’s top five fur-producing nations.

US-produced mink pelts shipped to China, South Korea

Because Americans and Europeans buy virtually no mink, U.S. producers sell pelts to China, meaning that Americans face the threat of viral transmission in the homeland to produce a luxury product for a sliver of Chinese consumers, unaware of the risks their purchasing practices create. 

It was China’s live-wildlife markets that probably launched the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, nearly two decades after these same places gave us the SARS-1 epidemic. We criticized China for reckless animal management practices. Yet in our own country, we tolerate a practice at least as dangerous to public health. 

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Our national herd immunity, vaccination programs, COVID-19 therapies, wildlife health, and enormous economic sacrifices – all could be undone for the sake of a small but biologically radioactive industry. After all that Americans have been through since February 2020, who will argue that mink farming is worth the risk?

Please contact your federal lawmakers here to stop cruelty to mink.  For a comprehensive report, see Mink Farms & SARS-CoV-2.  For Polish fur farm footage, see this investigation.

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Take action by contacting your Members of Congress here and ask them to cosponsor the MINKS Are Superspreaders Act today.

Jim Keen, D.V.M, Ph.D., worked as an infectious disease specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is director of veterinary science for the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action.  Wayne Pacelle is president at Animal Wellness Action and a two-time New York Times best-selling author.

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