By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
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, based on an open records request from the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, 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.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.