Mink Farming is Factory Farming
It’s Time for the Planet to Shut Down This Vile and Viral Industry
by Wayne Pacelle
Retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Canada Goose are clearing fur from the racks and manufacturing facilities. The Netherlands shuttered its hundreds of mink farms in March, and the nation’s political leaders are prodding the European Union to ban fur farming across the continent. British Columbia, on November 5th, announced its nine fur farms would soon cease operations. Ireland is shutting down its three mink farms in 2022. In July, a set of U.S. Representatives, led by House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., Mike McCaul, R-Texas, and others, introduced legislation to ban mink farming in the United States – the first-ever U.S.-wide legislation to address confinement and killing of wildlife for their fur.
The appalling, inhumane, and dangerous living conditions on mink factory farms – where the territorial, solitary, carnivorous animals routinely attack their cage mates within inescapable quarters — have long warranted our moral and political attention. But these corporate, provincial, national, and international reforms are only surfacing because overwhelming evidence indicates mink farms are spreading SARS-CoV-2 to people and to wild mink, putting our global anti-COVID-19 strategies and sacrifices at risk.
More ominously, it’s been the incubation of viral variants at mink farms in Denmark, France, and the United States that got the attention of some key public health advocates. More specifically, the killing of 17 million mink in Denmark – including buried mink resurfacing as their carcasses filled with gases – that startled the world and produced a macabre and mesmerizing post-mortem, post-apocalyptic scene.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
But news cycles come and go, and that’s what’s happening in the effort to rethink mink farming. America’s major public health and agriculture departments do not seem to understand the gravity of the threat nor to have the mettle to address it. The reality is, continuing to allow fur farmers to confine these wild animals in stressful, unsafe, overcrowded conditions is a viral time bomb in our communities. That is the inescapable conclusion of Jim Keen, D.V.M., Ph.D., an infectious disease expert who deployed to respond to zoonotic crises across the world during his time at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and who is the author of “Minks Farms and SARS-CoV-2.”
“If SARS-CoV-2 could design its perfect habitat, it might closely resemble a mink ranch: a highly stressed, immuno-suppressed inbred host with thousands of other mink kept in very small cages,” said Dr. Keen, now the director of veterinary science for the Center for a Humane Economy. “This environment maximizes chances for infections and mutations.”
There are 1.5 to 3 million mink crowded in small, barren, wire cages on 60 or so farms in the U.S., with the operations not regulated in any meaningful way. This deregulation allows the annual cycle of breeding, rearing, and pelting mink to continue as the SARS-CoV-2 virus has continued to search for hosts, especially in rural America in recent months. And our federal agencies – including the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services – seem not to lift a finger to address the looming threat, standing idly by, or in one case, displaying shockingly disproportionate reactions to far less severe zoonotic disease threats.
CDC Ignores Mink Farms, But Guts Global Dog Rescue
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in July announced a policy to prohibit imports of dogs into the U.S. from 13 nations. The reason: a fear of rabid dogs entering the country.
But the numbers show that the CDC response is a case of risk assessment run amok. The experts at the agency say a million dogs come into the U.S. annually – mainly animals owned by Americans traveling or on duty overseas. Yet, the CDC has documented just four cases of dogs with rabies entering the country during the last six years: three cases from Egypt, one from Azerbaijan. Out of an abundance of caution, CDC could just stop imports from those countries, while appropriately screening dogs coming in from the other nations of the world.
Contrast four cases of rabies-infected dogs presented for entry to the country over six years to thousands of cases of mink – at least 22,000 mink – infected at fur farms in just the last 16 months. One mink farm work in Utah died, and there are an unknown number of other people who contracted the virus and a variant from mink farms here.
The threat assessments are different orders of magnitude.
So, while the biggest zoonotic threat within the homeland has festered and spread – with evidence presented to the agency that documents the viral pathways – CDC found the time to issue a new policy to forbid imports of dogs from more than half of the world’s nations. That policy has already doomed thousands of healthy dogs on the cusp of being rescued from dire circumstances, preventing delivery to their adopted homes in the U.S.
Live Wildlife Markets Remind Us of the Need for Urgent Action
Nations throughout the world castigated China for allowing the systemic mistreatment of animals at live-wildlife markets, with one market in Wuhan perhaps triggering the pandemic that delivered calamitous effects on human health and the global economy.
It was perhaps with this example in mind that public health authorities and politicians in Denmark, the Netherlands, and other nations acted because of the documented concerns mink farms pose as an ongoing threat to public health. These actions arrested the spread of the virus and variants while undoubtedly saving people in their nation and sparing the global community the risk of the dangerous Cluster-5 variant that originated on Danish mink farms.
Yet the U.S. has done little to address the problem in our homeland, even though a third of mink farms have experienced viral outbreaks. And, let’s remember, whether in the U.S. or France or China, it’s the same species of mink, the same system of confinement, the same overcrowding and stress. The only difference between the situation now and a year ago is that there are dozens more studies documenting the unique susceptibility of mink in contracting the virus from people and then spilling it back to them, occasionally in mutated form.
It’s pelting time on mink farms in North America. Fur farmers are snapping the necks of the female mink and gassing the males, as they drain the life out of the animals and send their shells to China and South Korea for commerce. For these next three months – before the kits are conscripted into this harsh and unforgiving environment –only limited breeding stock survive. There’s no better time than now to shutter the industry, spare its victims, and stop further spread of the virus.
Only then can the United States feel certain that the next variant won’t emerge in the miserable settings where mink live and die in cages all for a luxury garment few people want and no one needs.
Banning mink farms by executive action, or passing the MINKS Act, is not an act of political courage. It is an act of mercy and self-preservation.
Please contact your lawmakers about this animal welfare and human and animal health crisis in the making.
Lastly, we've been successful in getting other pieces of pro-animal legislation across the finish line, and your financial support is what made it possible. Please consider giving $25, $50, $100 or whatever you can to help us ban mink farming in America!
Wayne Pacelle is a New York Times bestselling author and President of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. He has led efforts to pass 1,500 state laws for animals, more than 100 federal laws and amendments, 30 ballot initiatives, and 500 corporate agreements. He is a graduate of Yale University.