Zombie mink, infected escapees, and COVID outbreaks: How mink farms became a political flash point

Mink farms are notoriously oppressive, but COVID-19 outbreaks at facilities are putting them in the spotlight

https://www.salon.com/2021/03/03/zombie-mink-infected-escapees-covid-outbreaks-how-mink-farms-became-a-political-flash-point/

By MATTHEW ROZSA
MARCH 3, 2021 10:59PM (UTC)

main article imageMink look out from their cage at the farm of Henrik Nordgaard Hansen and Ann-Mona Kulsoe Larsen as they have to kill off their herd, which consists of 3000 mother mink and their cubs on their farm near Naestved, Denmark, on November 6, 2020 (MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)Facebook56TwitterRedditEmailcomments

Scott Beckstead remembers the mink that died from terror.

She was a beautiful female with a bluish shade to her coat — they’re known as “sapphires” in the mink industry — and he was at a mink farm owned by his grandfather. Beckstead describes his grandfather as a “kind, wonderful, generous man” who “sincerely tried to give his animals the best life he could.” That said, Beckstead recalled sadly, “there are some realities about mink farming that are just unavoidable.”Advertisement:https://fcbb08fbe086f07cd554333b80283d53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

This was one of them.

“The foreman pulled out this sapphire female, and she struggled and she screamed,” Beckstead told Salon, describing an incident occurred in one of the last year that he visited his grandfather’s southern Idaho mink farm. “Then she went limp. She literally died. There is no doubt that she was terrified. She had watched what was happening to the mink next to her. I think, honestly, the only explanation is that she died of sheer terror.”

His grandfather “cursed” when he saw that; “the sapphires are so fragile,” he rued. Beckstead was struck by the fact that his grandfather was genuinely upset at how that mink died. Though she was to be killed for her fur ultimately, he did not want her life to end in the way that it did.Advertisement:

Beckstead is now the director of campaigns for animal wellness action at the Center for a Humane Economy. The organization, a non-profit that tries to change how businesses behave in order to create a humane economic order, is supporting a recently-proposed bill that would ban mink farms in Oregon. There are many reasons to ban mink farms strictly from the perspective of animal rights, but a new reason has incentivize that movement: The COVID-19 pandemic.

For biological reasons, the novel coronavirus is particularly prevalent among mink, as mink and other mustelidae such as ferrets are notorious for unwittingly serving as virus mutation factories. Mink are so prone to developing COVID-19 infections that outbreaks have repeatedly disproportionately cropped up in areas with mink farms. The problem is extremely serious, to the point that last year Denmark ordered thousands of mink to be killed and buried in shallow graves to halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2. This led to the unappealing sight of bloated, decayed mink carcasses literally rising out of their graves as their corpses filled with gas.

Even when diseased minks aren’t threatening humans through zombie-like behavior, mink often put human beings at risk simply because they act like — well, like intelligent, wild animals.Advertisement:https://fcbb08fbe086f07cd554333b80283d53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“When they’re put in confinement, they are in this very unnatural situation,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Salon. Unlike pigs, cows, chickens and other animals that have spent generations being domesticated, mink don’t have that history; they still think and behave like wild animals. This is not to say that factory farms aren’t already vectors for disease and pollution (they are), or that mink won’t already be particularly prone to illness from living in such close quarters (they will).

In any case, minks strongly resist being held captive in small cages. And those wild instincts exacerbate matters.Advertisement:

“They’re extremely stressed in those situations,” Burd explained. “Because that confinement is so unnatural, mink are extraordinarily good escape artists.” There was already one instance where an Oregon farm had a COVID-19 outbreak and, despite being under quarantine, three of the mink managed to escape. Of those mink, two tested positive for COVID-19.

“We don’t have any exact numbers on the percent of mink that escape, but it’s obvious that escapes are common,” Burd explained. “They happen even when the facility is supposed to be under a strict quarantine.”

Not surprisingly, Oregon mink farmers are fighting against Senate Bill 832, which would ban mink farms in the state. Burd told Salon that to address this reality, the bill would offer assistance to people who would lose their jobs as a result of the ban. Yet many Oregon officials seem inclined to sweep the issue under the rug.Advertisement:

“They said, you know, ‘Don’t worry about it. We have everything under control,'” Burd recalled when describing how Oregon authorities reacted after her organization contacted them with concerns about mink farming and COVID-19 outbreaks. “That very day, the first outbreak at an Oregon farm was reported.” The Center for Biological Diversity reached out again to express concern that mink could spread the disease to wild animals, which subsequently happened.

Despite their concerns being validated, however, the facility ended its quarantine after testing a “minuscule” percentage of the mink and found them to be negative.

“Workers can come and go freely,” Burd told Salon. “Mink breeding is continuing and we’re very, very concerned because just because a few of the mink tested negative. [That] does not mean it’s not in this facility and COVID-19 in mink is unpredictable in its manifestations.”Advertisement:

Beckstead echoed Burd’s concerns, describing how the mink farming crisis has reached a new level of urgency because the conditions there make them ripe for COVID-19 outbreaks. He also spoke from the heart about how, when one understands the mind of a mink, it is easy to see how the farming practices are inherently cruel.

“This is an animal that has the instinct to be out roaming over vast territory,” Beckstead explained. “The animals are semi-aquatic, so they have a strong instinct to spend a lot of time in the water. To take a wild species and raise it on factory farm conditions is inherently cruel, which I think is why the animal welfare community has long wished that they would eventually become obsolete or extinct.”

He recalled another story from the days on his grandfather’s mink farm, the fact that he was not allowed to visit the mink yard when the females were having their babies because “the slightest disturbance would cause them to cannibalize their litters.”

“Those kinds of stories just speak to me of how unnatural of a setting these mink farms are,” Beckstead explained. “This is not a species that belongs on factory farms. I mean, no species belongs in factory farms, but to factory farm an inherently wild species, I think, adds an additional layer of suffering and misery.”

Utah allegedly didn’t disclose mink fur farm worker’s death due to COVID. Sweden suspends mink farming

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

January 27, 2021 0 Comments

Utah allegedly didn’t disclose mink fur farm worker’s death due to COVID. Sweden suspends mink farming

Mink fur farming poses such a risk that fur farmers in Wisconsin will be eligible for the next round of vaccines in the state, along with educators and essential workers. Above, a mink in the wild. Photo by Wendy Keefover/The HSUS

One more nation, Sweden, announced today that it will suspend all mink fur farming this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and its mutations.

Sweden’s announcement contrasted starkly with a media report in the United States this week that authorities in Utah, one of the nation’s largest fur producing states, allegedly did not disclose the fact that a worker at an infected mink fur farm had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As we have been reporting, the United States has failed to act on concerns about the pandemic risk posed by fur farms even as other nations with infected mink have acted swiftly to curtail it, with some even ending mink fur farming for good.

A Utah Department of Health spokesperson, in an interview with Newsweek, appeared to continue to downplay the risk, saying, “At the time the person became ill, community spread had been increasing rapidly in the surrounding area. No additional deaths associated with mink farms have been reported. Currently, there is no evidence of mink-to-human transmission in the United States.”

Such continuing failure to acknowledge and act on the terrible risk mink fur farming poses to public health is appalling and dangerous. Utah residents—and residents of Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin, the other fur-producing states in the United States where mink have tested positive—deserve more transparency and concern for public health from their authorities. In December, there were reports of a mutation of the virus discovered on a mink fur farm in Utah.

Mink fur farming poses such a risk that fur farmers in Wisconsin will be eligible for the next round of vaccines in the state, along with educators and essential workers.

We are hopeful that the Biden administration will take steps to end the fur farming industry in the United States. Around the world, we have seen nations act swiftly and decisively to temporarily or permanently shut down the mink fur farming industry over fears of pandemic spread. The Netherlands, the first country where such infections were reported, moved swiftly last year to announce a permanent end to its mink fur farming industry, two years ahead of a previously set deadline. By December last year, all mink cages on fur farms in that country stood empty.

While Sweden’s ban is temporary, we are urging it to use this opportunity to shut down this cruel industry altogether. Denmark, which suspended mink fur farming temporarily until 2022, is moving to proactively shut down the industry, by offering fur farmers funding to transition to other industries.

In November, Hungary announced a ban on fur farming for certain species like fox and mink, which are not farmed in the country now, to prevent fur farmers from other parts of Europe moving there. Officials attributed the ban to fears of zoonotic disease spread from fur farming.

France also announced plans to end mink fur production and one of the farms there has already shut its doors following a coronavirus outbreak.

With the pandemic raging through U.S. mink fur farms, we need similar action here. There is already great momentum for ending fur farming in this country, and in 2019, California became the first state to ban fur sales. Lawmakers in Hawaii and Rhode Island introduced similar proposals last year. The town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, passed a fur sales ban last year.

As we’ve also reported, the mink industry in the United States is in free fall, with 2019 being the industry’s worst on record, according to latest data in a U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Fashion designers, retailers and consumers are increasingly turning away from fur.

Millions of animals live and die in extremely inhumane conditions on fur farms each year for this unnecessary commodity, as our investigations have revealed. They are denied the most basic needs, confined in tiny cages, bludgeoned to death, and sometimes skinned alive. The pandemic has given us one more compelling reason why every nation that still allows fur farming needs to stop this cruelty for good.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

B.C. mink farmer decides to destroy 1,000 animals after positive COVID-19 tests

The Canadian PressStaff

ContactPublished Tuesday, January 5, 2021 12:56PM PSTMinks

Denmark has ordered the slaughter of all of the country’s minks, estimated at up to 17 million. (AFP)

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s chief veterinarian says a mink farmer decided to euthanize the remaining 1,000 animals on his Fraser Valley operation after some of the mink tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Rayna Gunvaldsen says the operator was not ordered by the provincial government to euthanize the animals as more tests are underway to determine the extent of the presence of COVID-19.

The first farm where the virus spread to mink also had eight workers who tested positive and Gunvaldsen says both farms remain under quarantine.

She says there are no other reports of COVID-19 at B.C.’s eight other mink farms.

Alan Herscovici, a spokesman for the Canada Mink Breeders Association, says imposing strict quarantine and biosecurity measures at mink farms for about two weeks appears to limit the spread of COVID-19 to other animals.

After COVID-19 was diagnosed on the first farm, the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called for a moratorium on mink farming in the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.

https://bc.ctvnews.ca/b-c-mink-farmer-decides-to-destroy-1-000-animals-after-positive-covid-19-tests-1.5254551

Flying fur prices put fox in focus as mink cull sparks shortage

DECEMBER 13, 20204:24 PMUPDATED 13 DAYS AGO

By Silvia AloisiNikolaj Skydsgaard

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-mink-fur-focus-idINKBN28O00U?fbclid=IwAR2mYNEdjBTTWH5-8KPSwJ39PilaX1WSPUNnuoY0W69C20Q_VtOZuv8xviU

6 MIN READ

MILAN/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s coronavirus-driven mink cull has put the fur business in a spin, with industry officials expecting fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi to snap up fox and chinchilla to fill the gap.kill 17 million farmedhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.432.0_en.html#goog_1953459022 

The global fur trade, worth more than $22 billion a year, is reeling from Denmark’s decision to kill 17 million farmed mink after COVID-19 outbreaks at hundreds of farms led to the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the mammals.

Worries of a sudden shortage of slinky mink pelts, of which Denmark was the top exporter, have lifted prices by as much as 30% in Asia, the International Fur Federation (IFF) says.

Now, all eyes are on Finland, where one million mink and 250,000 fox pelts will soon be up for grabs for buyers in Korea, China, the United States and elsewhere next week. Auction house Saga Furs plans to hold the international sale, the first since the Danish cull, via livestream from Dec. 15.

A sales programme offers mink fur from both Europe and North America, such as “Pearl Velvet” and “Silverblue Velvet” mink, in addition to “Silver Fox”, “White Finnraccoon” and Russian sable.

Saga Furs, which last year took over its North American rival NAFA, expects to sell all the pelts, compared with a 55% take-up so far in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

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“The market will strengthen, an increase in prices will help our business in general,” Saga Furs CEO Magnus Ljung said of the industry, which has seen years of falling prices.

“We’ve already had more requests about foxes, if people see that there is a lack of mink, they could consider using something else,” Ljung told Reuters.

LVMH’s head of sustainability Helene Valade said this week that the French luxury group obtains fur from Finland. The owner of Louis Vuitton, Dior and Fendi, which relies on brokers to bid, says it is using only 100% certified mink, fox and finnraccoon.

Fur demand has been falling since the 1950s, except for a rise between 2000 and 2013 when it was popular on fashion runways and Chinese appetite for luxury pelts boomed, Lise Skov, an academic who researched the Danish fur industry, said.

A typical mink pelt sold for more than $90 at auction in 2013, while last year skins fetched around $30. This was despite a fall in global production to just under 60 million pelts last year, from more than 80 million in 2014.Slideshow ( 5 images )

Euromonitor predicts the value of fur and fur products, both real and faux, will fall by 2.6% this year.

IS FUR FINISHED?

A Danish breeder-owned cooperative that sold 25 million mink hides last year, or 40% of the global total, is considering selling its brand and other assets after announcing that it would gradually shut down operations over the next 2-3 years.

Kopenhagen Fur CEO Jesper Lauge Christensen told Reuters he had received expressions of interest from Chinese customers to take over the auction house’s brand, which he said could be valued at up to 1 billion Danish crowns ($163 million).

It still plans to sell some 25 million pelts over the next two years, from Danish farms not infected by the virus, frozen stocks and foreign animals.

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Animal activists hope the Danish debacle, which has had political repercussions in the country, will finish off the fur industry and demand for items such as $1,700 fur trinkets, $16,000 fur vests and $60,000 fur coats will disappear.

Countries and states which have already banned fur farms or fur products includes Britain, Austria, the Netherlands, France, Norway, Israel and California.

PJ Smith, director of fashion policy at Humane Society International, says that brands still using real fur will ditch it soon, following Gucci, Prada, Armani and others.

But for now, Kopenhagen Fur’s Christensen said fashion brands in Europe had expressed concern they will not be able to find a similar quality to the Danish mink furs.

“One of the biggest challenges from the brand perspective is that the unique Danish qualities will be disappearing from the collection and you cannot source that product elsewhere.”Slideshow ( 5 images )

He said he was looking at selling warehouse facilities and equipment such as automated vision machinery to grade the skins.

China, followed by Russia, is the biggest buyer of Danish fur as its own mink are considered of lower quality than those raised in Europe, where breeding standards are generally higher.

“We wouldn’t choose Chinese-made fur due to its poor quality,” Zhang Changping, owner of China’s Fangtai Fur, told Reuters, adding that it had already bought enough fur at least for the first half of 2021.

Fangtai would shift to auctions in Finland if Denmark failed to supply enough mink in the future, he said.

Niccolò Ricci, chief executive of Italian luxury designer label Stefano Ricci which has many clients in Russia and eastern Europe, said he expected mink prices to increase by up to 50% but that high-end labels like his would continue to seek top quality pelts, mainly from U.S. suppliers.

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“The real shortage could come from 2022, but by then we are hoping mink farmers in Canada, Poland, America and Greece will increase production to replace Danish output,” said IFF head Mark Oaten. Russia and China are also expected to hike output.

“People will also be looking at other types of fur. Fox has been very popular for trimmings, in parkas for example. Wild fur is also becoming more popular, as is chinchilla,” Oaten added.

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen and Silvia Aloisi in Milan; additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom and Sarah White in Paris; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell and Alexander Smith

The Mink Pandemic Is No Joke

Nine countries have now reported outbreaks on mink farms.ZOË SCHLANGERDECEMBER 23, 2020

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/12/minks-pandemic/617476/

A mink hand touches a blue bar
MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN / GETTY

Since early this summer, Keith Poulsen, the director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, was worried about mink. Poulsen’s lab is part of a national network of veterinary labs that work on animal diseases, and they had “been watching COVID-19 very carefully,” Poulsen told me. In Europe, mink on fur farms were catching COVID-19. And they seemed to be able to pass it back to people. The Netherlands had an outbreak in April; Danish mink farms quickly followed in June. By October, the situation was gruesome: Hundreds of mink farms in Denmark and the Netherlands had COVID-19 cases, and two farms in Utah had reported the first U.S. cases in mink.

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Since then, the global mink situation has significantly worsened. To date, COVID-19 has been found on mink farms in a total of nine countries, including Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Sweden, Greece, and—just two weeks ago—Canada.

For nearly a year, the coronavirus has spread with little check through the places where humans live and work, but the growth of the pandemic among mink poses additional threats. It gives the virus a chance to pass from an environment humans ostensibly control to one that they don’t. And as it spreads among mink, and between minks and humans, and between humans and humans, it can mutate; it already has. One mink-associated variant bears the same mutation as the coronavirus variant now spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom; each time such changes happen, there is a risk the virus changes in a way that could make it more dangerous and prolong the pandemic.https://db071f7191afacff422e7694d2e06c53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

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Around 11 a.m. on a Friday in October, Poulsen got the call he’d been expecting for months. Mink in Medford were sick, and it looked a lot like COVID-19.

Medford, a city of just more than 4,000 people in north-central Wisconsin, used to call itself the mink capital of the world. There, a person can live in the neighborhood of “Mink Capital Terrace” or on a road called “Mink Drive.” A generation ago, a Medford girl could have aspired to be crowned Mink Princess U.S.A. at the annual Medford Mink Festival.

Though the United States mink industry has shrunk along with Americans’ waning appetites for fur coats and the festival is no more, Wisconsin is still the country’s biggest producer of mink pelts. And Medford is still a mink town; there are 12 mink ranches in the area, within five miles of one another—and the coronavirus has now reached two of them.


Once the coronavirus finds mink, it works fast. When Poulsen picked up the phone, the veterinarian for the Medford-area mink ranches told him that several hundred mink had already died. Plus, some people on the ranch had COVID-like symptoms. “I think we need them tested,” the vet said. By 11:30 a.m., Poulsen was driving a van 250 miles upstate; by the time he arrived at the ranch, at 3:30 p.m., several hundred more mink had died.

Mink are extremely vulnerable to respiratory disease. Like people, they get seasonal respiratory issues. They’re also prone to pneumonia. Respiratory viruses replicate so readily in minks and their mustelid relatives (ferrets, most notably) that the animals are often used to study human illnesses.

So mink can get the coronavirus, and they can get it from people; as cases in humans rose precipitously in Wisconsin this fall, Poulsen and his staff figured it was just a matter of time before someone on a mink farm sneezed it into the mink population. So did the local veterinarians. “We were just waiting,” says Dr. John Easley, a mink specialist who serves as a veterinarian for mink ranches in southern Wisconsin. Both mink and human cells have specific receptors that allow the virus to attach to them, which made mink a greater concern than other farmed animals, including Wisconsin’s immense dairy-cow population, he says. “Cows don’t allow the virus to enter their cells quite as easy. They do get infected, but the virus just doesn’t replicate very well in their system.”

Empty mink cages
OLE JENSEN/GETTY

Farmed mink have proved to provide absolutely excellent conditions for the virus to be fruitful and multiply. In addition to all of the ways mustelid physiology makes them similarly predisposed to the malady as humans, mink on farms are housed closely together. Social distancing is out of the question, and transmission is all but guaranteed. As of December 3, a total of 644 people associated with mink farms had contracted COVID-19 since June, along with another 338 people who work in mink pelting, according to a World Health Organization report that came out before the news of Canada’s outbreak, where an additional eight people on a mink farm have been sickened. In mid-November, a virologist at the Danish health authority told Nature that COVID-19 mutations believed to have originated in mink had shown up about 300 times in people in Denmark.https://db071f7191afacff422e7694d2e06c53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Denmark, the world’s largest mink exporter, has seen arguably the worst of this species-leaping horror show. In early November, the country ordered a complete cull of the farmed mink population; even so, by the beginning of December, 289 mink farms in northern Denmark had reported outbreaks.. The bodies of thousands of culled mink, buried in shallow graves, then proceeded to ferment. Gases built up in their bodies, propelling them to rise, luridly, from the ground.

The Danish mink outbreak also birthed a new strain of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. The variant has mutations in the spike protein, which the virus uses to invade host cells, and has been named “Cluster 5.” It infected at least a dozen people associated with mink farms in northern Denmark from August to September. Such mutations can affect the spread of the virus among humans; one, known as D614G, emerged in February and became the dominant strain of COVID-19 globally, perhaps because it traveled more easily among humans. The U.K. variant emerged more recently and has spread quickly as well. (It’s not yet clear whether the mutation is responsible for the speed, or coincident with it.) This variant shares a mutation with one found in minks; a missing bit of genetic code helps these viruses guard against antibodies that otherwise can fight back. Researchers initially speculated that the mutations in the mink variant could make a vaccine less effective, but the little information available so far on human-to-human transmission suggests that these particular variants aren’t more infectious or more deadly, and won’t interfere with the vaccine..

But the mink outbreak raises another fear—if the coronavirus escapes into the wild mink population, COVID-19 could become an entrenched and uncontrolled animal disease, wreaking havoc on animal communities and probably also occasionally infecting people.  

“On a ranch, you can quarantine them. When you have a wild population, that’s impossible; you can’t stop them all,” Poulsen said.


After the mink in Wisconsin tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, what followed “happened really, really fast,” Poulsen said. The lab alerted the USDA, the state department of agriculture, the state department of public health, and a local public health official. By Sunday afternoon, the CDC had teams on the ground to interview ranch owners and take stock of the environment.

Soon a second Medford-area mink ranch reported cases. (The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has not released the names of the ranches.) As of December 8, COVID-19 cases had been confirmed at 16 mink farms in four states: 12 in Utah, one in Michigan, and one in Oregon, in addition to the two Wisconsin farms. The farms are being quarantined, and none have culled their animals, though many thousands of mink have now died of COVID-19.Sponsored VideoWatch to learn moreSPONSORED BY ADVERTISING PARTNERSee Morehttps://db071f7191afacff422e7694d2e06c53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

It’s another blow to the contracting mink business. “This is just one more industry that can’t really afford it,” Poulsen said. “I feel terrible for everyone involved, whether it’s the feed mill, the veterinarian, the family. Everyone’s tired of it.” When a farm is struck by foot and mouth and other animal diseases, “the government would pay for those animals so you don’t completely wipe out a farm.” But there are no indemnity programs for mink. “If you have a major mortality problem, you’re losing a significant amount of profitability. Then there’s the cost of testing. 62 animal tests cost $3,000, which is a big deal to a farm that just suffered losses of tens of thousands of dollars,” Poulsen said. To avoid further contamination, mink farmers must compost the dead bodies, as well as any used feed and fecal matter. “There’s no money to do that on the federal or state level, so that’s all on the farm.”

In Europe, the already-shrinking mink industry is now quickly crumbling. Efforts to ban fur farming, often in response to campaigns led by animal rights activists, are now accelerating. The Netherlands announced it would end mink farming for good in 2021, three years earlier than planned. France announced it would ban farming mink by 2025. Poland, where undercover footage from the country’s largest mink farm appeared to show animals cannibalizing each other, is expected to soon follow suit. Ireland, which is home to only three mink farms, previously had voted down a bill to end mink farming, but has now decided to cull its farmed mink population preemptively, likely ending the industry in the country.

In China, meanwhile, where about 8,000 mink farms hold roughly 5 million animals, the state has reported no COVID-19 cases among mink, either on farms or in the wild. China’s mink farmers say they are benefiting from the Danish mink cull; Wang He, a Shangcun trader and breeder, told Reuters his earnings increased 30 to 50 percent when the price of mink fur jumped after Denmark ordered the cull. (In the past decade or two, China became the main export market for U.S. and European mink; demand for fur coats there now dwarfs that of every other country.)

But Ilaria Capua, a veterinarian and virologist who recently authored a paper on the possibility of a COVID-19 panzootic—the spread of a disease among animals across a large region or globally—is worried that the levels of infection in Asia were high enough that some mink were likely infected. “I am just concerned that we are not looking well enough,” she told me. “If the virus spills over into wild mustelids, then you lose track of it.”

“I would really like to be wrong, but I fear mink are just the tip of the iceberg of what could be coming,” she added. If the virus keeps spilling over into wild animals, it could circulate in parallel and keep reseeding outbreaks among humans.https://db071f7191afacff422e7694d2e06c53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlhttps://db071f7191afacff422e7694d2e06c53.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

On December 13, the world took another step toward this scenario: The USDA announced the first known case of a non-captive wild animal with the coronavirus. A wild mink, trapped just outside a mink farm in Utah where there was a COVID-19 outbreak, tested positive. The strain was “indistinguishable” from that of the farm outbreak. The spillover had happened. The question now is whether the virus will become established in the wild population. The USDA says there is “currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is circulating or has been established in wild populations surrounding the infected mink farms.” Several other wild animals in the vicinity were sampled, but they tested negative.

“Let’s put it this way,”  Capua said. “We realized the spillover of SARS-CoV-2 in a new animal population—Homo sapiens—when it was too late. Let’s not make the same mistake with other animals.”

NS mink farms on alert for COVID-19, activists call on ending fur trade

There are about 20 mink farms currently operating in Nova Scotia, and about 100 across CanadaDec 16, 2020 2:45 PM By: Katie Hartai

mink-in-a-cageStock photo

Mink breeders in Nova Scotia say safety measures are in place to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks on their farms.

At this point, mink are the only known animal to be able to both catch the virus from humans and to transmit it to them. Concerns have been raised around the world about the virus mutating in mink which could make vaccines less effective. 

The president of the Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association says farmers in the province have been keeping a close eye on the situation abroad.  

“We’ve had the advantage of knowing about the European countries for some months now, and have had lots of lead time to ramp up our biosecurity measures and on-farm practices,” says Matt Moses.

Last month Denmark, the world’s largest mink producer, ordered all farms cull their animals to minimize risk. Up to 17 million mink were killed. 

More recently, COVID-19 has also been detected among employees at a mink farm in British Columbia. Hundreds of the animals have died since the outbreak with the virus likely the cause of death, although officials are still awaiting test results. 

“We are very lucky to be one of the last producing jurisdictions in the world to actually get COVID on a farm,” Moses says. “That’s a testament to me of how well farms have reacted to these measures.”

In 2018, Statistics Canada recorded 98 mink farms in Canada. According to the Nova Scotia Mink Breeders Association, there are about 20 mink farms currently operating in our province, making it one of the biggest producers in the country. 

Moses says only essential staff wearing personal protective equipment are entering mink housing to reduce the possibility of virus transmission. 

“We are at the time of year right now where most of the animal to human contact is complete, and we are down to a small percentage of our normal herd size,” he says. “We are operating with very minimal human exposure.”

Some hands-on work like weaning and vaccinating happens around June. Typically, mink are killed in November or December when their winter coat reaches its prime. 

Moses says breeders are monitoring their herds for signs of COVID-19 and have a comprehensive plan in place in case an outbreak does happen. 

“We’ve been planning since very early in the year for when this does occur,” he says. “It’s a matter of quarantining the farm and limiting exposure so the virus can run its course like any virus, and ensuring humans do the same.”

He says the association is also advocating for mink farmers to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Moses says there has always been “good demand” for mink pelts, with Nova Scotia’s main markets currently in China, Korea, Russia, and Greece.

Others say the fur industry faces an uncertain future.  

A recent Research Co. survey suggests 81 per cent of Canadians oppose killing animals for their fur. That support is however lowest in the Atlantic provinces at 70 per cent. 

Fur farming has been banned in a number of countries around the world, including the United Kingdom (2000), Austria (2005), and Croatia (2018).

Other jurisdictions have introduced laws to phase out fur farming. The Netherlands passed legislation in 2012 that would phase-out mink fur production by 2024, but following COVID-19 outbreaks on fur farms in the country earlier this year, the government declared an early shutdown of the industry, ordering all farms to close by March of next year.  

Animal activists in Nova Scotia like Ty Savoy want to see the potential risk associated with mink farming during the pandemic, encourage lawmakers to initiate similar bans. 

“COVID-19 should shut them down worldwide if there is any justice at all,” says Savoy. “If you look at the risk-benefit ratio, there isn’t a whole lot of benefit.”

He believes there are well-documented animal welfare and environmental issues associated with fur farming, and the pandemic has shed light on the industry’s relation to major disease outbreaks.

“If there was a COVID-19 outbreak on the mink farms here, the mink escape all the time,” he says. “It will spread into wild animal populations.”

The first known case of the novel coronavirus in a wild animal was confirmed this week in Utah. 

First case of coronavirus detected in wild animal

By Helen Briggs
BBC Environment correspondentPublished1 day agoShareRelated Topics

Mink
image captionFarmed mink are known to escape into the wild

The first known case of coronavirus in a wild animal has been reported, leading to calls for widespread monitoring of wildlife.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said a wild mink had tested positive around an infected mink farm in Utah.

Coronavirus outbreaks at fur farms in the US and in Europe have killed thousands of the animals.

As a consequence, millions of farmed mink have had to be culled across Europe.

The USDA said it had found one positive case in “free-ranging, wild mink” in Utah as part of wildlife surveillance around infected farms.

Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled and all tested negative, the agency added.

It said it had notified the World Organisation for Animal Health, but there is no evidence the virus has been widespread in wild populations around infected mink farms.

“To our knowledge, this is the first free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with Sars-CoV-2,” the USDA said in an alert to the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

Mink at a farm in Denmark
image captionThe virus spreads rapidly in fur farms

The discovery raises concerns that the infection could spread between wild mink, said Dr Dan Horton, a veterinary expert at the University of Surrey, UK.

The case “reinforces the need to undertake surveillance in wildlife and remain vigilant”, he added.

Mink are known to escape from mink farms and become established in the wild. In the UK, a population of mink that escaped from fur farms many years ago is thought to exist, but they are sparsely distributed and rarely come into contact with people, Dr Horton added.

The virus has also been found in zoo tigers, lions and snow leopards in the US, and in a small number of household cats and dogs.

COVID-19: Outbreak declared at Fraser Valley mink farm

https://vancouversun.com/news/covid-19-outbreak-declared-at-fraser-valley-mink-farm

The farm operators and affected staff are self-isolatingAuthor of the article:Scott BrownPublishing date:Dec 07, 2020  •  Last Updated 1 hour ago  •  2 minute read

LANGLEY, BC: OCTOBER 24, 2013 --  Joseph Williams of Williams Fur Farm in Langley B.C. displays a mink Thursday October 24, 2013. He and his two brothers have operated the farm for the past three years and raise several thousand each year.  (Ric Ernst / PNG)  (Story by Larry Pynn)  TRAX #: 00024804A [PNG Merlin Archive]
FILE PHOTO — A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at a Fraser Valley mink farm. PHOTO BY RIC ERNST /Vancouver Sun

An outbreak has been declared at a Fraser Valley mink farm after eight people at the site tested positive for COVID-19.

Fraser Health says a team is now screening all farm employees and conducting contact tracing, while the farm operators and affected staff are self-isolating.

COVID-19: Outbreak declared at Fraser Valley mink farm
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“The mink farm has been ordered to restrict the transport of animals, products and goods from the farm,” Fraser Health said in a news release.  “Animal welfare is being supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and testing of animals is underway. Enhanced measures are in place to ensure safety of animals and farm owners.”

Minks have been discovered to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Last month, the government in Denmark, the world’s largest producer of mink pelts, ordered a massive cull of the country’s 17 million minks, which are farmed for their pelts, to head off infection carrying over to the human population.

To date, no infections have been reported in mink here in B.C., but outbreaks have killed thousands of the animals across the border at farms in Utah, Wisconsin, Michigan and Oregon.

There are 14 mink farms in the Fraser Valley. Fraser Health did not identify which farm had the outbreak.

A Fraser Health spokesperson told Postmedia that it is  not known if any of the farm’s animals had been tested for the virus.

Earlier this fall, government officials inspected every mink farm in B.C. to ensure that all measures were being taken to make certain that the virus that causes COVID-19 does not pass between animals and humans.

“Ministry of Agriculture staff have been in contact with the province’s licensed mink farms within the last several months to ensure that all necessary precautions are being taken to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through human to animal or animal to human transmission,” the ministry said.

The ministry said the farms had been advised to increase sanitation and enhance “biosecurity measures.”

Lesley Fox, the executive director for the Fur-Bearers, a charity group established to eradicate the commercial fur industry, said the Fraser Valley outbreak shows that the government’s safety measures weren’t good enough.

“The ministry knew this was a problem — they knew mink are highly susceptible to this virus and despite whatever efforts they made … it was a failure. They can’t contain it,” said Fox, who noted that her group had called on the ministry to conduct testing of both the mink and farm workers.

Fox said if animals on the farm are also infected, the potential for spread is huge.

“Those animals are kept in outdoor sheds and mink escape from farms all the time,” she said.

The Fur-Bearers launched a petition last week calling on the federal government to carry out testing on mink farms, develop a plan to quarantine and sanitize infected farms, and create a program to help mink farmers in transition away from the fur industry.

An Oregon mink farm has reported a Covid-19 outbreak

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 7:23 PM ET, Sat November 28, 2020

https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/28/us/oregon-mink-farm-covid-19-outbreak-coronavirus-trnd/index.html

Deadly Covid-19 outbreak hits mink farm in Wisconsin

(CNN)An Oregon mink farm has reported an outbreak of coronavirus among mink and farmworkers.Ten mink samples submitted all came back positive for coronavirus, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) said in a news release on Friday. The farm has been placed under quarantine, meaning “no animal or animal product can leave the farm until further notice,” according to ODA.

10,000 mink are dead in Covid-19 outbreaks at US fur farms after virus believed spread by humans

10,000 mink are dead in Covid-19 outbreaks at US fur farms after virus believed spread by humansThe farmer and his staff have been advised to self-isolate after multiple coronavirus cases were reported among workers on the farm, the release said.”We have been engaged with the Oregon mink industry for some time, providing information on biosecurity to prevent the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 and were ready to respond,” ODA veterinarian Dr. Ryan Scholz said.Content by Voltaren Arthritis Pain GelChasing the Joy of MovementThis is how world champion cyclist Kristin Armstrong manages her osteoarthritis in a life of constant movement.Content by Voltaren Arthritis Pain GelChasing the Joy of MovementThis is how world champion cyclist Kristin Armstrong manages her osteoarthritis in a life of constant movement.”The farmer did the right thing by self-reporting symptoms very early and he is now cooperating with us and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) in taking care of his animals and staff. So far, we have no reports of mink mortalities linked to the virus but that could change as the virus progresses.”A public health veterinarian team is working with those affected by the outbreak by ensuring staff have personal protective equipment and the supplies needed to follow coronavirus guidance, according to OHA.close dialog

Want tips for navigating the changing workplace?We’ve got you.SIGN ME UPBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.“Worker safety is critical to protect people and animals on mink farms,” said OHA public health veterinarian Dr. Emilio DeBess. “Our best weapon against the virus right now is education. We are providing testing, specific workplace guidance and support, and supplying additional PPE to the farmer, the employees and their families to help reduce further spread of the virus.”

Coronavirus could drive the last nail into the mink fur trade

Coronavirus could drive the last nail into the mink fur tradeThis year, the virus was detected in mink in seven countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, and Spain, and three US states, Utah, Michigan, and Wisconsin, according to ODA.Thousands of mink have died at fur farms in Utah and Wisconsin after a series of coronavirus outbreaks. In Utah, ranchers have lost at least 8,000 mink to Covid-19.There is currently no evidence that animals, including mink, play a significant role in transmitting the virus to humans, according to the CDC and the US Department of Agriculture. The risk of animals spreading Covid-19 to humans is considered low.The USDA announces confirmed coronavirus cases in animals each time it is found in a new species. All confirmed cases in animals are posted on the department’s website.

Escaped infected Danish mink could spread Covid in wild

Scientists fear fur farm animals in wild could create ‘lasting’ Covid reservoir that could then spread back to humans

Dead mink are disposed of on army land near Holstebro, Denmark. About 10m mink have been culled in the country this month.

Dead mink are disposed of on army land near Holstebro, Denmark. About 10 million mink have been culled in the country this month. Photograph: Morten Stricker/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/GettyAnimals farmed is supported by

Animals farmed

About this contentSophie KevanyFri 27 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/nov/27/escaped-infected-danish
mink-could-spread-covid-in-wild

Escaped mink carrying the virus that causes Covid-19 could potentially infect Denmark’s wild animals, raising fears of a permanent Sars-CoV-2 reservoir from which new virus variants could be reintroduced to humans.

Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of mink fur, announced in early November that it would cull the country’s farmed mink after discovering a mutated version of the virus that could have jeopardised the efficacy of future vaccines.

Around 10 million mink have been killed to date. Fur industry sources expect the fur from the remaining 5 million to 7 million mink will be sold.

A number of Covid mink variants were identified by Denmark’s state-owned research body the Statens Serum Institut, but only one, known as C5, raised vaccine efficacy concerns. However, Denmark’s health ministry said last week that the C5 mink variant was “very likely extinct”.Advertisement

Mink are known to regularly escape fur farms and the risk that infected mink are now in the wild was confirmed on Thursday.

“Every year, a few thousand mink escape. We know that because they are an invasive species and every year hunters and trappers kill a few thousand wild mink. The population of escaped mink is quite stable,” said Sten Mortensen, veterinary research manager at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.

This year, Mortensen said, there was a risk that about 5% of the minks that escaped from farms were infected with Covid-19.

The risk of the escapees infecting other animals was low, he said, because mink were “very solitary creatures”. But, if they did, the animals most likely to catch the virus would include wild animals such as ferrets and raccoon dogs and “susceptible domestic animals” such as cats.

The most likely transmission route, he said, would be by an animal eating an infected mink or via their faeces.Danish Covid mink variant ‘very likely extinct’, but controversial cull continuesRead more

Mink do not normally die from Covid-19, he added. “Once a mink has had Covid it usually recovers well. Some might have a few days of respiratory difficulty, but most recover and develop immunity.”

The risk of Sars-CoV-2 moving into wild populations has drawn concern from other scientists. Prof Joanne Santini, a microbiologist at University College London, said that, once in the wild, “it will become extremely difficult to control its further spread to animals and then back to humans”.

Transmission to the wild meant “the virus could broaden its host-range [and] infect other species of animals that it wouldn’t ordinarily be able to infect”, Santini said.

Prof Marion Koopmans, head of viroscience at Rotterdam’s Erasmus University, in an email to the Guardian, said: “Sars-CoV-2 could potentially continue to circulate in large-scale farms or be introduced to escaped and wild mustelids [weasels, badgers, otters, ferrets, martens, minks, and wolverines] or other wildlife” and then “in theory, as avian flu and swine influenza viruses do, continue to evolve in their animal hosts, constituting a permanent pandemic threat to humans and animals.”

In the US, there are hopes a mink vaccine will soon be ready. Dr John Easley, vet and research director at the Fur Commission USA said he hoped “one of three vaccine possibilities” would be available by spring for mink farmers in the US and beyond.Covid-19 mink variants discovered in humans in seven countriesRead more

However, a mink vaccine is a contentious issue for animal welfare organisations. “Instead of dealing with the fact that the appalling conditions of high-volume, low-welfare fur farming make mink so vulnerable to disease in the first place, it’s easier to distract everyone with talk of a vaccine that could be used like a yearly sticking plaster to compensate for the consequences of those poor welfare conditions,” said Wendy Higgins of Humane Society International.