GALEATA, Italy—The World Organisation for Animal Health has announced Italy’s third outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 on a mink fur farm, located in the municipality of Galeata (FC). The farm has been closed since Italy’s national fur farming ban came into force on 1 January this year, with 1,523 minks remaining caged on the premises.
Italy’s permanent fur farming ban was approved in December 2021 as an amendment to the Budget Law 2022, and according to Italian production data, it prevented the exploitation of at least 60,000 mink per year. A ministerial decree that has been due to be issued since 31 January, should have seen the remaining closed fur farms cleared of mink, including rehoming as many animals as possible in suitable sanctuaries. However, the decree titled “Criteria and procedures for the payment of compensation to the owners of mink, fox, raccoon dog, chinchilla and any other kind of animal breeding farms for the purpose of obtaining fur, as well as the discipline of transfers and possession of these animals” has not yet been issued despite being created by the Minister of Agriculture and in agreement with the Ministers of Health and Ecological Transition. Animal protection groups Essere Animali, Humane Society international/Europe and LAV appeal to the Minister of Agriculture and Food Safety Francesco Lollobrigida. Fur farming and trade throughout the European Union must be banned, a claim supported by the European Citizens’ Initiative #FurFreeEurope.UPDATE Dec. 7, 2022: The European Commission confirmed that the remaining 1,522 mink on the farm were “culled and destroyed”.
“Since January, we have been waiting for the inter-ministerial decree to start emptying the last five fur farms where more than 5,000 minksare still housed and crammed into tiny cages and now risk being killed. It is clear that the inaction of the competent ministries is continuing to pose a risk to public health and continues to ignore the most basic principles of animal welfare. We ask the Minister of Agriculture, Francesco Lollobrigida, to intervene urgently to implement the provisions of the 2022 Budget Law and thus allow the transfer of at least some of the mink still locked up in the cages of intensive fur farms,” state Essere Animali, Humane Society international/Europe and LAV.
In Italy, two outbreaks of coronavirus have already occurred in mink farms: the first in August 2020 in Capralba (Cremona) and the second in January 2021 in Villa del Conte (Padua). In November this year, as part of the compulsory diagnostic screening aimed at intercepting the possible introduction of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in mink farms as ordered by former Health Minister Roberto Speranza in December 2020, two minks were found to be positive for coronavirus infection in a third farm, in Galeata (FC). The screening consisted of 60 swabs every 15 days on each farm. On 24 November, the World Organisation for Animal Health reported that the animals were swabbed (real-time PCR) for clinical signs compatible with infection. Although one mink is reported to have died, it is not clear whether the remaining animals on the farm have been culled or whether more have since died from the infection.
The farm in question is located in the municipality of Galeata (FC) and, together with the other farms in Ravenna—fraction of San Marco (640 mink), Capergnanica (Cremona, 1,180 mink), Calvagese della Rivera (Brescia, 1,800 mink), and Castel di Sangro (L’Aquila, 18 mink) —it is one of the last facilities in Italy where thousands of breeding mink are still locked up in cages.
These animals would ordinarily have been used to start a new production cycle in 2021. However, the temporary fur farming ban ordered by the then Minister of Health as an anti-Covid measure in recognition of fur farms as potential reservoirs of the coronavirus, and the subsequent permanent ban on farming animals for fur has left the animals in a sort of limbo for more than 10 months. They could not be killed for commercial fur trade purposes nor for public health needs in the absence of a confirmed coronavirus infection, but could not be released into the wild, since they are non-native predators and potential reservoirs of the pandemic virus.
According to the provisions of the law, the Minister of Agriculture should have regulated by decree the system of compensation for mink farmers and the possible transfer of animals to facilities managed directly or in collaboration with animal welfare associations. If the decree had been adopted in time on 31 January, at least some of the mink present on the mink farms that were being decommissioned would probably have been able to be relocated to other facilities such as sanctuaries. This would have helped reduce the population density and, consequently, the concentration of animals particularly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection.
This grave delay in managing over 5,000 minks remaining on now closed fur farms, is a significant animal welfare problem. These minks have been confined in the same cages of just a few square centimetres for at least two years but possibly as much as three to four years, because they qualify as “breeding” animals. In addition, it also puts public health at risk. The human-mink-human spillover chain has been well documented since the first cases were reported in the Netherlands in May 2020.
Essere Animali, Humane Society international/Europe and LAV conclude: “To avoid the risk of new coronavirus outbreaks on European mink farms and to spare the lives of millions of animals exploited solely for the value of their fur, we urge those who have not yet done so to sign the European Citizens’ Initiative petition ‘Fur Free Europe,’ which calls on the European Commission to ban fur farming and trade EU-wide. By May 2023 we have to reach one million signatures throughout the EU. To date, more than 600,000 EU citizens have already given their consent.”
Facts on coronavirus outbreaks in Italian mink farms:
- The first outbreak occurred at Capralba (Cremona).With more than 26,000 mink, the Capralba farm was the largest mink farm in Italy. In August 2020, a mink worker tested positive for coronavirus. Diagnostic tests followed on the animals (but not a diagnostic screening in all the farms which was the most reasonable option) revealing a number of animals testing positive for coronavirus. All mink were then slaughtered in December 2020, after further confirmation of infection with serological tests.
- The second outbreak occurred at Villa del Conte (Padua). In the absence of compulsory screening (despite the outbreak detected in August in Capralba) all Italian mink farms were able to complete their production cycle and commercialize the minks’ fur. In 2020, Villa del Conte breeding was also able to obtain fur from over 10,000 minks present at the time and put them on the commercial circuit. Only in January 2021, with the start of compulsory screening, did it become apparent that those furs had been obtained from coronavirus-positive animals and were potentially a further vector for the spread of the virus. The approximately 3,000 “breeding” minks who remained on the farm after 2021 and tested positive, including in serological tests, were slaughtered on Dec. 14, 2021.
- The third outbreak occurred at Galeata (FC). The outbreak was suspected on Nov. 9, 2022, with tests conducted on Nov. 14, 2022. The tests identified two coronavirus cases. The European Commission confirmed that the remaining 1,522 mink on the farm were “culled and destroyed”.
- Further mink mismanagement occurred at Castel di Sangro (AQ) in August 2021, with the death of mink due to food poisoning. Exactly 1,035 minks died a sudden and extremely painful death due to food poisoning. According to investigations conducted by the health authorities, the animals were fed damaged or contaminated chicken meat. Less than 20 minks remained on the farm.
Media contact: Martina Pluda, HSI in Italy’s country director: firstname.lastname@example.org; 3714120885
Updated on Dec. 13, 2022