Doctors call for end to B.C. fur farming amid COVID-19 concerns
A number of infectious disease doctors in B.C. are pleading with the premier to ban fur farming permanently.
In an open letter to John Horgan, 29 B.C. infectious disease specialists call mink fur farms a serious public health risk that requires immediate action.
“The ongoing presence of large mink fur farms in the province risk development of animal reservoirs and novel variants that threaten to undermine our COVID-19 vaccination program and public health efforts,” reads the letter.
At least 200 mink died after contracting COVID-19 at two Fraser Valley fur farms in late 2020. Earlier this year, a mink tested positive for the virus at a third farm. In response, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a moratorium on breeding the animals in July. The ban is scheduled to be lifted at the end of January.
Dr. Jan Hajek, an infectious disease doctor at Vancouver General Hospital, says the temporary ban is ineffective, because mink breeding season occurs in the spring. Hajek fears the virus circulating among hundreds of thousands of captive mink in small spaces could spell disaster for public health.
“As (COVID-19) spreads amongst the mink and jumps from human to mink and back, it can accumulate more mutations, making the virus more lethal or more dangerous, and potentially more resistant to our immune system,” Hajek says.
He adds surveillance studies in Denmark show mink that have been infected with COVID-19 once can be reinfected, and genomic studies of the virus on mink in B.C. fur farms found the presence of a mutation associated with partial resistance to antibody-mediated immunity.
This month’s open letter is the second one sent to government officials on this topic this year. In March, infectious disease specialists, with the support of other groups, including the BC SPCA and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, called for a review of the licensing and permit process for breeding and confining mink on fur farms. Hajek says the no one from the health or agriculture ministries responded to them directly.
In a statement to CTV News, B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries said “The B.C. government continues to use enhanced surveillance to monitor, inspect and mitigate SARS-CoV-2 infections in mink farms in the province to protect the public, farm workers and animal health, as a provincial review of the mink farming sector in B.C. continues.”
According to the BC SPCA, there are nine mink fur farms and one chinchilla fur farm operating in B.C. The farms employ approximately 150 people.
“(The provincial government) could support them into transitioning into another industry,” said Hajek.
CTV News has reached out to fur farm advocates, including Canada Mink Breeders Association, for comment.
Oct. 18, 2021 update: The Canada Mink Breeders Association has issued a statement in response to the open letter from B.C. doctors. Read the full statement below.