Kopenhagen Fur, world’s largest fur auction house, to close; EU report warns mink mutations of COVID-19 could make vaccines ineffective

HSI calls for permanent closure of ‘virus factory’ fur farms

Humane Society International

Mark Hicken/Alamy A male mink at a fur farm. 

LONDON—Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, will close its doors within the next two to three years in what could signal the beginning of the end for the global fur trade. Much of the world’s fur is traded via a handful of auction houses. Founded in 1930, Kopenhagen Fur acts as a broker for pelts produced in Denmark and around the world, including fox, chinchilla and karakul. Just hours before the announcement, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its new report Rapid Risk Assessment: Detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants related to mink, highlighting concerns that the evolution of the virus in mink has potential implications for COVID-19 diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development, and could undermine the effectiveness of future vaccines in humans.

Dr Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe said “The ECDC risk report and the announcement by Kopenhagen Fur that it will cease trading could very well signal the beginning of the end of the worldwide fur trade. Fur farms are not only the cause of immense and unnecessary animal suffering, but they are also ticking time bombs for deadly diseases, potential virus factories capable of churning out mutations of COVID-19 and even undermining medical progress towards reliable treatments. This report should be a serious wake-up call for mink farming countries that are not yet systematically testing mink, to take urgent action.

Set against a backdrop of public rejection of fur as unethical and outdated, fur farming nations can no longer justify allowing an industry that both threatens human health and costs tax-payers billions to manage biosecurity risks and provide farmers compensation following culls. We cannot simply wait for the next pandemic to emerge. Governments must end the cruel and risky fur trade for good and focus instead on supporting fur farmers asthey move to humane, safe and economically viable livelihoods. There was never going to be a happy ending for the 60 million mink exploited for fur annually, but stopping breeding them altogether would be the best way to prevent animals suffering in the future for the fickle whims of fashion.” 

The Kopenhagen Fur auction house is a cooperative company owned by 1,500 Danish fur farmers. The disappearance of this globally important fur broker is likely to have a knock-on effect for producers in other European countries and beyond. The sale of 24.8 million mink skins were brokered through Kopenhagen Fur 2018-2019. During this time, the UK imported around £131,523 and £181,765 worth of fur from Denmark respectively—far less compared to over £ 200,000 worth of fur imported from Denmark in previous years.

We have witnessed a significant drop in pelt prices and have seen stockpiles of fur skins going unsold at auctions, sending the fur industry into a global downward spiral. We expect an even further decrease in the demand for frivolous fur as COVID-19 affects factory fur farms around the world, forcing governments to shut down operations and farmers to find new avenues of income.” said Dr. Swabe.

The ECDC report cites the need for ongoing investigations to assess whether the new ‘cluster 5’ variant, created by mink on farms, alters the risk of reinfection, or could cause reduced vaccine efficacy or reduced benefits from blood plasma treatments. It also stresses that ‘continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms may eventually give rise to other variants of concern’.

ECDC report key findings:

  • The overall level of risk to human health posed by SARS-CoV-2 mink-related variants is low for the general population, but moderate-to-high for medically vulnerable individuals living in areas with a high concentration of fur farms. The risk is moderate for those working with mink and very high for individuals with occupational exposure, such as fur farmers.
  • The national competent authorities must take a number of measures to decrease the risk to public health for those occupationally involved with mink and the communities where mink farms are situated, including systematic testing and sequencing of mink farm workers and nearby communities with immediate contact tracing, isolation and quarantine if human cases are related to a mink farm; infection prevention and control measures for mink farm workers and visitors; monitoring and surveillance of mink farms.


Media contact: Leozette Roode, HSI/UK, media and campaigns manager: LRoode@hsi.org; +27 71 360 1104.

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