B.C. to phase out all mink farming due to COVID-19 mutation, transmission concerns

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      British Columbia has announced the phase-out of all mink farming in the province by 2023 because of COVID-19 public health concerns.

      In a news release today (November 5),  Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries Lana Popham stressed the health risk to both the farm workers and the public.

      "This decision follows the recommendations of public health officials and infectious disease experts about managing the threat of the virus for workers at the farms and the broader public," Popham said. "Our government will work with affected farmers and workers to help them pursue other farming, business, or job opportunities that support their families."

      After three of the province's nine mink farms had animals test positive earlier this year for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19—and two of those three had workers test positive as well—provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced in July a moratorium on new mink farms and stopped exisitng farms from adding new animals.

      The Ministry of Agriculture today said that it is imposing a permanent ban on breeding mink and that all live farm mink must be gone by April 2023. All mink pelts must be sold by 2025, when all farm operations must also come to a halt.

      In December 2020, the first reports surfaced about infected mink on fur farms, with the first one being in the Fraser Valley. At the time, after reports that more than 200 mink had died and eight workers had tested positive for COVID-19, the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called for a suspension of all licences for the provinces then-13 mink farms.

      After the December 6, 2020, confirmation from Fraser Health that the mink-farm workers had tested positive, B.C.-born TV and film star and animal activist Pamela Anderson sent a letter to premier John Horgan asking for all mink farms in the province to be shut down (see end of story).

      B.C. subsequently announced quarantine restrictions to prevent animal and material movements from affected farms.

      On May 18 this year, prior to July's moratorium decision, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that mink on three farms had tested positive for COVID-19 and tests showed that the virus had been passed from humans to the animals.

      Today's release, however, said that the phase-out decision was made following the receipt of data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control that "identified the potential for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to mutate in mink and be passed back to people, along with additional concerns that mutations could have an impact on vaccine effectiveness".

      Other concerns by health officials that were cited in the release included the "ongoing persistence" of infected farm mink spreading the virus to workers who, in turn, infect other people, and "subsequent mutations of SARS-CoV-2 strains [that] may lead to variants that can spread more easily or could undermine the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccination program in British Columbia".

      Henry said in the release that the risk to the public was "too great" to allow farming to continue.

      "Public health has been monitoring and managing outbreaks related to mink farming along with the Ministry of Agriculture and WorkSafeBC, but as this remains an ongoing public health issue, we believe the risk is too great for operations to continue as they were," Henry said. "Public health supports government's decision to take this action at this time for the safety of the broader population."

      In a November 5 media bulletin released after B.C.'s announcement, Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Humane Society International/Canada, said the following:

      “It is the abysmal conditions and horrendous suffering on factory fur farms that make these facilities incubators for COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses. Mink farming is exceptionally cruel, intensively confining highly intelligent, semi-aquatic wild animals and denying them their most basic of needs.

      "The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined our relationship with animals and our environment, calling into question many former practices," Aldworth continued. "In protecting both people and mink, the B.C. government has shown tremendous leadership and set an important example for the rest of the nation to follow.’

      As well, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement from its president, Ingrid Newkirk, the same afternoon. 

      "Pamela Anderson to the rescue—again! After the B.C.-born Baywatch star teamed up with PETA and persuaded Premier John Horgan to close down mink farms, it appears that the government finally got the message.

      "By shuttering these COVID-19 hotspots," Newkirk added, "the province will be safer for public health and kinder for gentle minks, who will no longer be forced to endure a cycle of torment, abuse, and slaughter."