AMSTERDAM—COVID-19 infections on Dutch mink fur farms have now led to an estimated 1 million mink being culled by government order. Today, yet another mink fur farm in the Netherlands with 4,500 breeding mink was confirmed as being infected with the novel virus, bringing the total number of infected farms up to 24. Leading animal charity Humane Society International is calling on the Dutch government to take urgent action and fast track the early closure of fur farms in the Netherlands as a potential reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 and other novel infectious zoonotic diseases. Mink fur farming was banned in the Netherlands in 2013 with a deadline for complete phase out by 2024.
Speaking from Amsterdam, Dr Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe, said: “The death toll from the Dutch mink fur farm culls has now reached 1 million mink. The risk from failing to eliminate this virus reservoir is clear and yet still the Dutch government is not acting decisively by fast-tracking the early closure of this cruel and dangerous industry. The Dutch Parliament has already adopted a motion calling for the mink industry to shut down before the existing 2024 deadline. In addition to fur factory farming being inherently cruel, the potential for zoonotic disease spread, and for mink fur farms in particular to act as reservoirs for coronaviruses, incubating pathogens transmissible to humans, is an unavoidably compelling reason for the world to call time on fur farming.”
Earlier this month the Dutch Government said it will consider a one-stop voluntary closing scheme and breeding ban for mink fur farms in the Netherlands, in response to motions adopted by the Parliament. It promised to announce its decision in August 2020 and notify Parliament before the new mating season begins. The Zoonoses Outbreak Management Team is expected to release its preliminary report on Thursday 16 July to advise the government on its future course of action. How the virus has been able to spread so rapidly among the mink population and between farms is one of the key questions that will hopefully be answered.
The Netherlands farmed around 4.5 million mink in 2018, on 128 fur farms. Since April, two fur farm workers are believed “extremely likely” to have contracted the virus from mink. This marked the start of the culling of 1 million mink. The early closure scheme considered by government will apply to all fur farms, including farms that have culled mink due to COVID -19. A ban on the transportation of mink to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is currently in place, which should mean that no new mink can be brought to an already-culled mink farm. However, the Ministerial response to the Regional Safety Authority states that the movement of young mink to other locations is permitted to prevent overcrowding.
Mink fur farms and COVID-19 timeline
- 26 April: SARS-CoV-2 identified on two mink farms in Netherlands.
- 9 May: SARS-CoV-2 found on two more mink farms in Noord Brabant as well as in dust particles in the barns in which they are kept in.
- 15 May: SARS-CoV-2 diagnosed in three cats living at a mink farm where the presence of the virus was detected.
- 19 May: First farm worker reported to have contracted COVID-19; Minister confirms compulsory screening is extended to all mink farms in the Netherlands.
- 20 May: Dutch Agriculture Minister Carola Schouten tells MPs it is likely mink infected with SARS-CoV-2 passed the virus to a worker.
- 22 May 2020: Seven of 14 employees of a mink farm in La Puebla de Valverde (Spain) test positive for SARS-CoV-2.
- 25 May: A second farm worker contracts COVID-19, Minister confirms transmission from mink to humans now “extremely likely.”
- 28 May: Ministers’ confirm mandatory screening of all Dutch mink farms is underway.
- 1 June: SARS-Cov-2 found on another three mink fur farms in the Netherlands, with a fourth case confirmed on 3 June bringing the total to nine farms.
- 3 June: Dutch Ministers publish final report confirming animals on the infected farms will be culled, a measure taken “in the interests of both public and animal health”.
- 23 June: Dutch Parliament votes in favour of shutting down all mink fur farms in the Netherlands, with early closure of farms with compensation to be paid to fur farmers to end the practice earlier than the phase out due date of 31st December 2023.
- 1 July: The Dutch Government says it will consider a one-stop voluntary closing scheme and breeding ban for mink fur farms in the Netherlands. It aims to make a decision in August 2020 and must notify Parliament before the new mating season starts in February 2021.
- 6 July: 20th mink fur farm in the Netherlands confirmed with COVID-19
- 9 July: Two more mink farms in the Netherlands confirmed with COVID-19. Another 75,000 mink culled.
- 9 July: Brabant-Zuidoost regional safety board calls on Minister Schouten to implement preventative clearing.
- 13 July: The 23rd mink fur farm in the Netherlands was confirmed as being infected with COVID-19.
- 15 July: Another Dutch mink fur farm infected with COVID-19. This brings the total of infected farms to 24. The Dutch mink death toll reaches 1 million mink, according to national media sources.
To request an interview with HSI spokespeople (Dutch and English speakers) please contact Leozette Roode, HSI/UK: LRoode@hsi.org
Latest available figures show approximately 35 million mink were farmed in 2018 in Europe, including Denmark (17.6m), Poland (5m), Netherlands (4.5m), Finland (1.85m), Greece (1.2m) and Lithuania (1.2m). Figures for the same period show that mink were farmed for their fur in China (20.7m), the United States (3.1m) and Canada (1.7m), bringing the total to approximately 60million mink globally on fur farms.