Mink Farm Die-Off Due to COVID

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer, and Monica Medina

NBC News reported that more than 10,000 minks in Utah mink “farms” have contracted COVID and died, forcing the state to close them and begin an investigation into what caused the outbreak.  Shortly after ranch workers tested positive in August, the minks were found to have contracted the disease at nine facilities. Interestingly, the minks who are infected have respiratory problems similar to those in humans with the disease, and it is also much more likely to infect older animals.  According to the Agriculture Department, 50 types of animals, including cats, dogs, tigers, and lions have contracted Covid-19 in the U.S.

Why This Matters:  The fact that the virus spread from humans to the animals is alarming, but fortunately the risk of it spreading from animals back to humans is low, according to the Utah State Veterinarian and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  The minks who have contracted the virus die very quickly — within a day usually.  This story begs the question of why mink farms exist in the first place.  The WHO have suggested that they can use the mink population affected by COVID as a way to study how the virus transmits between humans and animals. Since 2000, at least eight European countries have banned fur farming, and perhaps COVID will prompt the countries that produce the largest quantities of mink fur to follow suit, including the U.S.

Mink Outbreaks Globally

Mink outbreaks have occurred in Spain and the Netherlands too.  According to The Associated Press, when authorities in those countries discovered the outbreaks, they had more than 1 million minks at breeding farms in both countries put down as a precaution.  After those outbreaks in Europe, scientists were concerned that the virus may have spread back to humans from the infected minks.  However, the CDC says that although infect animals can spread the disease to humans and then it can spread between people, but that this is rare.  Both Both Spain and the Netherlands are big mink-producing countries (as is China), and after their outbreaks, both tightened hygiene protocols at mink farms and banned transportation of the animals and visits to the buildings where they are kept.

The Netherlands has 160 mink farms, and is the world’s fourth biggest producer of mink fur after Denmark, China, and Poland.  This outbreak has also caused the country to accelerate existing plans to end its mink industry by 2024— the Dutch parliament voted to stop mink breeding immediately and compensate farmers for doing so.  Minks are typically raised in small wire cages, with thousands of animals stacked together. Environmental and animal welfare groups have protested the inhumane conditions at fur farms, especially because fur is not a necessity for most people.

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