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#BanFur: Mink farms, breeding grounds for COVID-19 outbreaks, face a global backlash

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Up to a quarter of mink farms in the United States saw outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, and there have been at least 431 outbreaks in both American and European mink farms so far.

MATTHEW ROZSA: Mink farms, and the industry at large, is at something of a crossroads. The genetics of mink, and the close quarters they share on such farms, meant that they became a hotbed for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Largely out of the public eye prior to the pandemic, mink farming became front-page news this year following stories of outbreaks and mass cullings. Yet for decades prior, animal rights activists opposed mink farming — both because of the inhumane way that the animals are treated and because of the seeming immorality of slaughtering animals merely to use their fur for luxury clothing.

Now, with renewed public scrutiny over mink farming, advocates of banning them believe they may actually have a fighting chance. A new House bill, H. R. 4310, is a bipartisan proposal that would ban mink farming throughout the country. The bill is official known as the Minks in Narrowly Kept Spaces Are Superspreaders Act (or MINKS Act) — because of the minks’ tendencies to be, well, superspreaders. Up to a quarter of mink farms in the United States saw outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, and there have been at least 431 outbreaks in both American and European mink farms so far. (There are two extant species of minks, one American and one European.)

“If SARS-CoV-2 could design its perfect habitat, it might closely resemble a mink ranch: a stressed, immuno-suppressed inbred host with thousands of other minks kept in very small cages,” Dr. James Keen, who formerly studied zoonotic disease outbreaks as a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in a press statement. “This environment maximizes chances for infections and mutations”…

Now the director of veterinary science for the Center for a Humane Economy and author of a recent report sent to legislators about mink farming, Keen tells Salon that minks are particularly prone to contracting diseases that cross over to humans. As he explained, the reasons relate to evolutionary history and behavior.

“They’re solitary creatures,” said Keen. “Their territory tends to be hundreds-to-thousands of acres along water edges. Their whole immune system has evolved to have infrequent contact with other mink. When you take that sort of immune system, that’s not used to living with others from their own species, and put them all crowded together — an average US mink farm has about 17,000 mink, for example, but they vary in size from smaller to over 50,000 — they do not like it.”

He added that sometimes, “they escape,” carrying their diseases with them. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that they aren’t allowed to roam, explore and utilize the other freedoms that their wild instincts take for granted. This causes mink tremendous stress, which also compromises their immune system, Keen explained. This stress is why they will mutilate themselves and other mink, or engage in behaviors as unnatural as cannibalism.

“It is probably mostly out of frustration from being unable to manifest their normal behaviors,” Keen suggested. He says there are four behaviors that characterize minks’ instincts in the wild: They like to be alone, to roam, to stay active through activities like swimming and to hunt. “Do they sound playful and intelligent? Yes, I think they are,” he added…

Not surprisingly, some mink farmers are pushing back against the new movement to ban their industry. Speaking to both AP Wire Reports and Farm and Ranch, a mink farm owner in Idaho named Ryan Moyle characterized the anti-mink farming campaign as effectively being an effort to wipe out a culture that is ingrained in those who make their living as mink farmers…

It seems like an anti-mink farming movement may be happening on a global scale. Austria and the Netherlands are leading a coalition of European Union (EU) countries demanding a ban on fur farming in Europe. States like Oregon and Wisconsin are at least acknowledging the COVID-19 threat posed by mink farms by demanding that mink be vaccinated against the coronavirus. In the near future, it is possible the world will pelt out of mink farming for reasons both practical and moral. SOURCE…

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