Mink farms are posing a significant risk to public health, as they have been found to fuel diseases like COVID-19 and avian influenza. These farms create the perfect breeding grounds for new variants of viruses to jump into humans, potentially leading to devastating consequences. In addition to this health threat, taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize an industry that was already in decline before the pandemic. To address this issue and protect public health, the Animal Welfare Institute proposes the enactment of the “Mink: Vectors for Infection Risk in the United States Act” (Mink Virus Act). This act includes the following provisions:
1. Phasing out mink cultivation for fur over a period of one year.
2. Establishing a USDA grant program to reimburse mink farmers for the full value of their farms.
Mink farms pose a high risk to humans due to the anatomical similarity between mink and humans, particularly in their upper respiratory tracts. This similarity allows mink to become infected with respiratory viruses, which can potentially be transmitted to humans. The susceptibility of mink to acquire and spread both human and animal respiratory viruses makes them powerful “mixing vessels” for the generation of new pandemic viruses.
Infectious disease experts at Imperial College London published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2023, highlighting the high risk that mink farming poses for future viral epidemics. The crowded conditions in fur farms create ideal settings for pathogens to circulate among species. Wire cages are packed closely together, often stacked on top of each other, leading to waste falling on the animals below. These confined conditions cause minks to experience high levels of stress, compromising their immune systems and making them more susceptible to infection. The lack of legal requirements for veterinary care exacerbates this problem.
One specific example of the risks posed by mink farms is the spread of avian flu (H5N1) among minks. Since 2022, tens of thousands of minks on fur farms have been infected with this deadly virus. This outbreak showed that the virus could acquire mammal-to-mammal mutations, enabling its spread from mink to mink. Previously, the virus was primarily transmitted through contact with infected birds. Scientists have warned that these H5N1 mink farm outbreaks serve as clear warning signs for the potential initiation of a broader pandemic.
COVID-19 also poses a significant threat on mink farms. Minks are highly susceptible to the virus, with thousands of minks being infected in the United States and millions worldwide. Disturbingly, minks can transmit mutated forms of the virus back to humans. Human transmission of the virus from mink has been reported in at least six countries, including the United States. The introduction of new variants from minks can undermine vaccine effectiveness and hinder efforts to control the epidemic. Numerous COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred on fur farms worldwide, demonstrating the ongoing risks associated with this industry.
The economic sustainability of mink farms is also a concern. Taxpayer dollars are being wasted on an industry that has been in decline for years. Sales of fur have been dwindling, and major fashion brands and retailers have committed to eliminating the use of real fur. Despite this decline, mink farms have received significant financial support from the U.S. government. The industry’s declining demand and financial instability further highlight the need for an alternative approach.
Internationally, the spread of COVID-19 in farmed mink has been devastating. The virus has been found in captive mink in numerous countries, leading to the culling of millions of minks. European governments have taken swift action, with many countries banning or in the process of banning fur sales. Financial support has also been provided to reimburse mink farmers in some countries.
To address this issue in the United States, the Mink Virus Act is proposed. This act aims to phase out mink farming for fur and provide financial support to farmers during the transition. By eliminating mink farms, we can mitigate the public health risks associated with these facilities and put an end to the wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.
1. Why are mink farms a public health risk?
Mink farms pose risks to public health due to the anatomical similarities between mink and humans. Minks can become infected with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and avian influenza, and potentially transmit these viruses to humans. The crowded and stressful conditions in fur farms create ideal environments for the circulation and spread of pathogens between and among species.
2. How do mink farms contribute to the spread of avian influenza?
Minks being infected with avian influenza (H5N1) on fur farms demonstrates the potential for cross-species transmission of the virus. Mink farms provide an opportunity for the virus to acquire mammal-to-mammal mutations, which enable its spread from mink to mink. Previously, the virus was primarily transmitted through contact with infected birds. The transmission of avian influenza from minks to humans is a grave concern and could lead to a broader pandemic.
3. What risks do mink farms pose in relation to COVID-19?
Minks are highly susceptible to COVID-19 and can transmit mutated forms of the virus back to humans. Human transmission of the virus from mink has already been reported in multiple countries. These new variants can undermine the effectiveness of vaccines and impede efforts to control the epidemic. Additionally, minks can serve as undetected reservoirs of the disease, and escaped minks can transmit the virus to wild populations, creating further risks.
4. Why are taxpayer dollars being used to support mink farms?
Despite the declining demand for fur and the financial instability of the industry, mink farms in the United States have received significant financial support from the government. Taxpayer money is being wasted on an industry that was already in decline before the pandemic. This subsidization is unnecessary and encourages a dangerous industry that many consumers already reject.
5. What is the proposed solution to address these issues?
The proposed solution is the enactment of the Mink Virus Act. This act calls for a phased-out approach to ending mink farming for fur over a one-year period. It also includes a USDA grant program to reimburse mink farmers for the full value of their farms, supporting them during the transition away from mink cultivation. This solution aims to eliminate the public health risks associated with mink farms and put an end to the wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.