Washington, D.C. — Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, and the Center for a Humane Economy have called on Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate a government buy-out program for the state’s mink farms, after COVID-19 outbreaks have infected and killed tens of thousands of mink on similar farms in neighboring Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as Utah and Oregon.
“Any comprehensive anti-COVID-19 strategy must take into account the biggest non-human reservoir of the virus — and that means mink farms,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “These factory farms are potential super-spreaders of the virus, and let’s act before they do damage to our communities and set the state and nation back.”
Mink are especially susceptible to the virus, with high infection and mortality rates. In response to the outbreak in Denmark, the Danish government has deployed its military to assist with the mass on hundreds of farms. But as scientists in that country raced to control the outbreak among the animals, they also made an alarming discovery: the virus appears to have found a way to mutate in mink and become transmissible back to humans, but in a form that could be resistant to vaccines.
Because of decreasing interest in fur from major retailers, designers, and customers, the total value of U.S. mink pelt sales has dropped from $291 million in 2011 to $59 million in 2019 — a five-fold decrease in just eight years. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the total number of pelts produced annually, however, has only dropped nine percent, from 3.1 million in 2012 to 2.7 million in 2019, meaning that mink farmers have had little drop in production costs but precipitous declines in total revenues.
Mink are wild, semi-aquatic animals that typically roam and hunt over land areas. By contrast, the unnatural, barren conditions that mink are subjected to on these facilities greatly increases their susceptibility to the virus as their stress levels rise, and results in abnormal, psychotic behaviors such as pacing, swaying, self-mutilation, cannibalism and infanticide. The Center for a Humane Economy, AWA, and AWF suggest Oregon moves ahead with a three-step plan.
- Impose an immediate quarantine of all mink farm operations in Illinois.
Mink farms should be taken out of the stream of commerce as these rampant infection rates continue. There should be no movement of non-essential products or workers to and from mink farms, including the movement of live animals on and off the farms or animal furs destined for the marketplace.
- A halt to breeding programs to arrest the expansion of host animals.
Mink farms should be directed to stop breeding to reduce the number of animal hosts for the virus.
- Coordination with USDA officials to implement a longer-term solution.
The state should coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a program that includes a buyout with the goal of phasing out industrial mink farms in the U.S. A buyout is the humane thing to do for the producers, and it is the right economic and public health decision for Oregon.
The animal welfare groups sent a letter today to Governor Pritzker recently asking for immediate action to implement these proposals. They have also sent letters to USDA, CDC, and the governors of other top-producing mink states.
Click here to read the letter to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.