Captive mink farming is controversial for a number of reasons. There are ethical arguments against raising animals for fur coats. There are also environmental reasons against this activity, as these mink farms involve the introduction of an invasive species into the ecosystems, the American mink ( Neovison vison ), which is a highly competitive predator with local species.
In addition to these arguments, there is another less known but that has become relevant during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and that is the danger they pose to public health. In this article we will explain the health dangers of mink farming.
Risk associated with animal husbandry
Intensive animal husbandry in closed environments is a source of contagion for all kinds of diseases. It is not a new phenomenon, since the appearance of diseases such as smallpox in humans is associated with livestock and the rise of the first cities , where animals and people lived together.
Due to unsanitary conditions and the fact that the animals are overcrowded, in densities much higher than natural populations, their immune systems are weakened and the transmission of pathogens is favored. In addition, there is the additional danger of a mutation in the infectious agent, compounded by the density of the affected population.
This is especially serious in modern intensive farms, such as poultry farms or fur farms. In many cases, animals spend their entire lives locked in cages, sometimes several animals per cage.
The accumulation of excrement and the appearance of wounds due to overcrowding, with the consequent risk of infection, only favor the spread of any disease. In mink farms this situation is so extreme that when an infectious outbreak occurs the only way to contain it is to slaughter all the animals.
The situation of Covid-19 and mink farms
It may seem like a long shot, but the truth is that the spread of disease between minks and humans, in either direction, is not something new. And Covid-19 infections have already been detected between both species.
A study has recently been published describing the contagion of various mink farm workers in the Netherlands . Specifically, the researchers analyzed 16 mink farms and found that 66 workers or family members of workers had been infected with the virus. What is more worrying is that the virus had mutated on the farms , which allowed it to be determined without a doubt that this had been the point of infection of the workers.
An additional danger is the escape of infected minks to the natural environment , where there is a possibility that the disease will mutate again and spread to other species. This would undoubtedly be the worst possible scenario , as controlling a virus on an animal farm is possible, but doing so in the wild might not be.
If this scenario were to occur, it could lead to the appearance of a permanent reservoir of the virus in nature , which would hamper efforts to control it. Furthermore, the high mutation capacity of RNA viruses and their ability to infect different species may give rise to new strains in the future if this scenario were to occur.
The situation in Spain
In Spain there have been two outbreaks of Covid-19 in mink farms. The first occurred in Aragon in July 2020, where almost 100,000 animals were euthanized. The second outbreak was detected in January 2021 in a farm in A Coruña, in which 3,100 minks were slaughtered.
75% of farms of this type in Spain are in Galicia. It is worth mentioning that in Spain the American mink is included in the Catalog of Invasive Species, regulated by Royal Decree 630/2013 , of August 2, (modified in March 2019) that prohibits the possession, transport and trade of these animals. Which, apparently, has no effect on their intensive rearing on huge farms.
Some countries have already taken action in this regard. In the Netherlands, where the Supreme Court had issued a ruling that forced the closure of all mink farms in the country in 2024 due to the deplorable conditions in which the animals were kept, the current situation has accelerated the closure of the farms.
It is not the first country to take this action. Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic or Norway are some of the countries that have already banned the breeding of animals in captivity to obtain fur. Everything seems to indicate that in the light of current events it is a sector that has its days numbered in Europe.