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Rethinking mink, fur farming | Victoria Shroff

Monday, December 14, 2020 @ 12:38 PM | By Victoria Shroff


Victoria Shroff %>
Victoria Shroff
A December 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at a B.C. mink farm has me thinking that it is time once again, to rethink mink farming. In fact, the entire fur industry should really be examined, but I’ll mostly confine my remarks here to fur farming.

Why are thousands of farmed fur-bearing animals killed every year in Canada and around the world for the sake of vanity, for fashion?  It’s imperative that we rethink mink and the commodification of fur bearing animals because animals should not be treated like objects that are purpose-bred to be killed for human use of their fur. Fur is meant for animals — they need their coats. Fashion giants like Versace, Prada, Gucci have or will stop using fur in their luxury fashions including one brand that used fur to line its pricey loafers.

Mink and COVID-19

Minks had been found earlier this year in Europe to be susceptible to contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus has the ability to ping pong from humans to mink and back. A few other species of animals in zoos were also found to be carrying the virus, but mink are one of the few animals identified as being able to transmit directly to humans.

Some Danish mink were found to be infected with the virus and the disease spread to people. As a result, some 17 million mink were killed in 2020 as part of a giant culling effort to stop further infections. There will be much legal and political fallout from this culling, as apparently, the Danish government lacked the required legislation to order the mass killings. The country is considering a ban on mink breeding until 2022. Denmark is the world’s largest fur exporter and its industry was hit hard, maybe even its final blow. The largest fur outlet in Denmark will be closing its doors after operating for 90 years.

Horrifically, the mass hastily prepared shallow graves for the mink were too shallow and many deceased bloated mink floated up and out of their graves. (A scandal has exploded over the culling of millions of healthy mink in Denmark, but health experts say it’s an alarm bell the world needs to heed. 

The World Health Organization has identified several other countries like Spain, Italy, Sweden and parts of the U.S., where minks tested positive for the virus and as a consequence there may yet be more “culls” to come. Some governments are providing compensation to fur farmers forced to kill their mink.

What about mink themselves, their welfare?

Very little has been said of the minks themselves or their welfare, other than they may be carriers of disease that could infect humans and vice versa.

Is fur farming cruel?

The Humane Society International asks the salient question, “Is fur farming cruel?” and replies: “Yes. Animals bred for their fur such as foxes, rabbits, raccoon dogs and mink are confined in small, barren, wire cages for their entire lives. Unable to express their basic natural behaviours such as digging, roaming large territories and, for semi-aquatic mink, swimming and diving, these naturally active and curious animals have been shown to display the stereotypical behaviour of mental distress such as repeated pacing and circling inside their cages. Such confined spaces can also result in animals self-mutilating and fighting with their cage mates.” (The Fur Trade - Humane Society International.)

Why is there still a market for mink coats and other mink products this century? While many of the fortunes of settlers to Canada were made using animal skins and pelts, we’ve evolved in our understanding of animals in the last 400 years. I was interviewed by CKNW about the mink farm outbreak.

As I said in an interview about animal law for the Allard School of Law, “... academically, legally and socially, we are starting to move closer to the fundamental understanding that animals need to be treated not as an “others” but as living beings that deserve rights and protection under the law.” (Please see: Victoria Shroff | history project.law.ubc.ca.) 

In order to make fur garments, animals suffer. The planet is in crisis and someone has on their bucket list that they need a fur coat or hat? We have more than enough synthetic fibres for warmth and plenty of other fashion options. (By the way, fur coats can be donated to animal rescue groups which upcycle the fur for orphaned animals.)

Farmed mink are helpless and need protection. Humane Society International states on its website that Canada killed a whopping total of 1.8 million animals for their fur, the vast majority of which were mink. 

Each Canadian province differs, but fortunately B.C. has laws and codified regulations in place to regulate the “fur farm” industry. Codes of practice are also in place in every province. The B.C. statute outlines offences in the regulations under Part 5 of the Animal Health Act  and Fur Farm Regulations.

The Act defines,

“‘fur bearing animal’ means a chinchilla, fisher, fox, marten, mink or nutria;

“‘fur farm’ means a place where two or more fur bearing animals are kept in captivity with the intention of breeding the animals, or producing pelts, for commercial purposes;

“Part 3 — Health of Fur Bearing Animals

“Health management plan

“7(1) A licensed fur farmer must

“(a) establish a health management plan in accordance with subsection (2) for the fur bearing animals kept on the fur farm, and

“(b) ensure that all operators on the fur farm implement all protocols and procedures contained in the plan.

“(2) A health management plan must include the following:

“(a) the name and contact information of the veterinarian or other person who will be advising on the health of fur bearing animals kept on the fur farm;

“(b) a description of the procedures to be used to identify individual fur bearing animals kept on the fur farm, and the type of identification to be used;

“(c) vaccination and treatment protocols;

“(d) a description of the procedures to be used to track mortality rates;

“(e) a description of the procedures to be used to isolate and segregate any fur bearing animal on the fur farm showing signs of illness;

“(f) the euthanasia protocols established under section 10 (1)[death of animals].

“(3) A licensed fur farmer must not change a health management plan except with the prior written approval of the chief veterinarian.”

It is my understanding that the health authority and workers safety boards are assisting with screening employees and carrying out contact tracing at the B.C. mink farm and that the farm has been ordered to restrict the transportation of mink and products from the farm. Enhanced safety measures are in place.

I was contacted by CBC for an interview and apparently the Ministry of Agriculture inspected B.C.’s licensed mink farms recently ensuring enhanced biosecurity measures had been implemented. Seems like a good start, but I hope these measures are enough and that they have come in time to stop a large outbreak and potentially trigger a mass slaughter.

There’s also a concern that the mutated version of the virus involving mink could potentially imperil a COVID-19 vaccine.

Alleviating issues, potential solutions: 1. Widespread animal and human testing is needed. 2. Larger and better living conditions for animals are needed. 2. Quarantining sick animals and getting them necessary vet care including follow-up is needed. 3. Deep sanitation of infected areas is required. 4. Vaccinate the minks. 5. Institute campaign to get consumers to rethink “need” for mink and fur products and phase out industry with governmental assistance and retraining.

Winding up fur farms

Time is now for Canada and other countries to scrutinize fur farms if not for the minks, then for human health. Viral outbreaks on mink farms show a parallel pandemic to that of humans and many of the same protection measures are required to help animals. It would be helpful to think of solutions for both the minks and the workers involved. Fur farming has already been banned in several countries such as Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and there are several others with partial bans or bans that will come into effect this decade.

COVID-19 has proven that humans, animals and environmental health are linked. (Please see: V. Victoria Shroff: COVID-19 and the impact on animals.

A spotlight is illuminating the fur farm industry, let’s look at what it’s showing us. For the sake of both humans and helpless animals the industry needs to be scrutinized.

As Mahatma Gandhi observed, “I hold that the more helpless a creature the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of humankind.”

Victoria Shroff is one of the first and longest serving animal law practitioners in Canada. She has been practising animal law civil litigation for over 20 years in Vancouver at Shroff and Associates and she is erstwhile adjunct professor of animal law at UBC’s Allard Hall Law School. She is recognized internationally as an animal law expert and is frequently interviewed by media. Reach her at shroff@telus.net@shroffanimallaw or LinkedIn.

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