Since April 2020, SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, has been raging in mink farms. After the problem first appeared on Dutch farms, coronavirus has now been detected in hundreds of mink farms, not only in the Netherlands but also in Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Italy, France, Poland, Greece, Lithuania, Canada and the USA.
Millions of animals killed
In the affected countries, all animals on infected farms were usually killed. Normally, on mink farms, the killing for fur production, the so-called 'harvest season', begins at the end of November. In Denmark alone, the largest European fur producer, the entire mink population of 17 million animals is culled, including the animals on non-infected farms. There it has also become evident that SARS-CoV-2 is capable of jumping back and forth between humans and mink, with potential for the virus to mutate in mink prior to re-infecting people.
Risk to humans and animals
Mink bred for their fur are kept in cramped wire cages in a very confined space, where the wild loners have no chance of satisfying their basic needs. Stressed or weakened animals, crammed closely together with thousands of conspecifics, unfortunately, provide the ideal breeding ground for the spread of infectious diseases. It has been scientifically proven that minks are highly susceptible to COVID-19. Raccoon dogs can also become infected with the virus and pass it on. Irrespective of whether stricter biosecurity measures have been taken, the virus is on the rise in the cruel mink farms.
The outbreaks of the coronavirus pose a significant risk not only to the animals themselves but also to the farmworkers and the local residents living near the farms. In Denmark, more than 200 people have become infected with SARS-CoV-2 from mink farms, some of them with a mutated form of the virus known as 'Cluster 5', which could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Individual EU countries act
Although the death of millions of mink - whether culled for COVID-19 or killed for their fur – is an animal welfare tragedy, responsible governments around the world now have the opportunity to put a stop to this cruel and outdated industry.
Some countries have already taken this opportunity:
- Following the massive COVID-19 outbreaks on mink farms, the Netherlands announced in August 2020 the early end of fur farming and all mink breeders must cease operations by 1 March 2021.
- In September 2020, France also decided to end its mink farming.
- In November, Hungary banned the breeding of mink and foxes, polecats and coypus due to animal welfare concerns and public health risks, and therefore no farms can be opened there.
- In January 2021 Sweden decided to suspend mink farming for 2021, which means no breeding will take place. In Flanders (the last region with mink farms in Belgium) mink farmers declared voluntarily to suspend production until end of 2021.
FOUR PAWS demands
FOUR PAWS calls for an EU-wide fur farming ban and an end to the trade in fur products. As short-term rapid action to contain the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the following measures need to implement:
- Suspension of mink and raccoon dog farming throughout the EU as an emergency measure.
- Suspension of all transports of live minks and raccoon dogs within the EU.
- Suspension of the import of minks and raccoon dogs from third countries into the EU.
- Suspension of the export and import of raw pelts both within the EU and from/to third countries.
- Mandatory testing for COVID-19 on all fur farms as well as a registration of the farms will be implemented with immediate effect.