By Alan Herscovici (founding editor, TruthAboutFur.com)
When it was recently learned that farmed mink in the Fraser Valley had contracted COVID-19 from infected farm workers, the farm was immediately quarantined by government officials to contain the virus. The same control measures have been approved by the [U.S.] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and used to successfully contain COVID outbreaks on several U.S. mink farms since last summer.
Rather than support farm families as they work to responsibly control this threat to their livelihoods, however, animal activists are fanning fears that COVID in mink may endanger public health, and are calling for all B.C. mink farms to be shut down. Such fear-mongering not supported by the facts.
When swine flu and avian flu were detected on farms, we didn’t ban pork or chicken production, and all become vegetarians; farmers and health authorities worked together to responsibly resolve the problems. That is exactly what is now being done in B.C.
It has long been known that mink can catch influenza from humans, so it was not a complete surprise when the SARS-CoV-2 virus was first detected on Dutch farms, last Spring. Public health authorities, however, found no trace of the virus outside the infected farms.
The discovery that the SARS-CoV-2 virus had mutated on Danish mink farms raised concerns that vaccines for humans could be compromised, leading the government there to order mass culling. However, the mink-related “Cluster-5” variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not been seen since mid-September, and public health authorities do not support such extreme measures.
In fact, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control concluded in November that while farm workers should use personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect both the mink and themselves, the risk posed by mink-related variants of SARS-CoV-2 is low for the general public.
Similarly, top U.S. virus expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said that “it does not appear at this point that the mutation that has been identified in the minks is going to have an impact on vaccines and the effect of vaccine-induced immune response.”
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OiE) does not propose mass culling of mink herds, let alone an end to mink farming. Rather, it advises a range of preventative measures – precisely the precautions that Canadian mink farmers have implemented.
In Canada today, only essential personnel are permitted onto mink farms, and staff who feel ill must stay home and be tested before working with the animals. PPE, including masks, visors, and gloves are used when handling mink. If COVID is suspected on a farm, this must be reported to the provincial chief veterinary officer, who decides, with public health officials, what further measures may be required.
The fact that, to date, COVID-19 has been found on only one Canadian mink farm – more than seven months after the first cases were identified in other countries – shows that Canadian farmers are taking their responsibilities very seriously.
Mink farming is very different here than in Denmark, where some 1,200 farms were producing over 17 million mink in an area about the size of Vancouver Island. In Canada, less than one million mink are raised on 60 farms spread across the country, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, greatly reducing the risk of contagion.
“The situation is quite different in North America,” said Dr. John Easley, a U.S. veterinarian recognized as a leading mink practitioner. “The risks of inter-farm contagion are much lower here than in Denmark, and these risks can be responsibly managed with PPE and other measures that North American producers have implemented.”
Mink farms in B.C. are licensed and inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture. The chief veterinary officer inspected the affected farm as recently as September, and the farmer is working closely with agriculture and public health authorities to control this outbreak.
None of this satisfies animal activists who claim that mink farming is “cruel” and “unnecessary.”
Cruel? Canadian mink farmers work hard to provide their animals with excellent nutrition and care, as this is the only way to produce the high quality fur that Canada is known for. They follow codes of practice developed by veterinarians, animal scientists, and animal-welfare authorities under the auspices of the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).
Unnecessary? Fur today is sustainably and responsibly produced; it is a hand-crafted, long-lasting, and biodegradable, natural clothing material.
By contrast, the fake furs and other synthetics proposed by animal activists are generally made with petroleum, a non-renewable and non-biodegradable resource. These synthetics leach micro-particles of plastic into our waterways each time they are washed – plastics now being found in marine life. That is not cruelty-free.
Mink are raised on small, family-run farms, supporting employment in rural communities. Mink are fed leftovers from our own food production, the parts of cattle, poultry, and fish we don’t eat, and might otherwise end up in landfills. Mink manure and remains are composted to produce organic fertilizers, completing the agricultural nutrient cycle.
As for the new risks posed by COVID-19, Canadian mink farmers take their biosecurity responsibilities very seriously, to protect their animals, their own families, and public health.
We should be supporting our farmers through this difficult period, not attacking them.
Alan Herscovici is founding editor of TruthAboutFur.com, an online voice for the fur industry
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