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Shut B.C. mink farms down to prevent coronavirus mutation: infectious disease prof

Last Updated Dec 31, 2020 at 2:47 pm PDT

FILE - In this file photo dated Friday Nov. 6, 2020, mink look out from a pen on a farm near Naestved, Denmark. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has appointed Thursday Nov. 19, 2020, a new agriculture minister, after Mogens Jensen resigned after the government ordered the culling of all Danish mink because of the coronavirus, but without having the necessary legislation in place first.(Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
Summary

Infectious disease expert says mink farms should be shut down

Two farm outbreaks cause worry about potential mutation

Farmers are taking appropriate precautions: fur industry advocate

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – An infectious disease expert is calling for mink farms to be shut down in B.C. after animals at a second fur farm in the Fraser Valley tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“I think we should close this industry,” Dr. Jan Hajek, a UBC clinical professor of infectious disease, told NEWS 1130.

He said the virus could become more dangerous to people if it mutates while jumping from humans to minks and then back to humans.

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Mutated virus could be ‘catastrophic’

“The risk of this mutated strain coming and reinfectioning all people with a seriously different virus is low, but that possibility is catastrophic,” Hajek said.

The provincial Ministry of Agriculture announced last week that three of 23 recently deceased mink at a farm had tested positive for the virus.

Several workers and animals tested positive for COVID-19 at a different mink farm earlier this month.

After the first mink outbreak was announced, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she was concerned because intraspecies transmission had previously been observed in other countries.

Denmark, the world’s largest supplier of mink fur, decided last month to cull all of its farmed minks, amounting to about 15 million animals. Hundreds of the dead animals later rose from shallow graves as gas built up in the carcasses, Danish authorities said.

The World Health Organization said at the time the decision was made after it was determined it wasn’t possible to stop the spread of the infection from farm to farm, or from animals to humans.

Province monitoring mink farms for COVID-19

A spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she was unavailable for an interview Thursday.

The ministry previously said it had placed all mink farms in the province under an enhanced surveillance and testing program for COVID-19.

“A plan is in place to provide feed and care to the mink during the outbreak that respects the conditions of the quarantine and maintains both worker and mink safety,” it said in a statement.

There are 13 mink farms in B.C., almost all of which are in the Fraser Valley, according to the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Earlier this month, the BC SPCA called on the province to suspend all mink farming licences in B.C. to place a moratorium on their operations.

B.C. actor and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson wrote a letter to Premier John Horgan in early December calling on him to shut down fur farms.

“These stressed, injured, and often sick animals are so closely packed together that blood, urine, and excrement can easily contaminate adjacent cages,” Anderson wrote. “Not only are these conditions extremely cruel to animals, they also create a perfect breeding ground for deadly diseases.”

Activists ‘fear mongering’ about virus

Alan Herscovici, founding editor of fur industry advocacy blog Truth About Fur, accused animal rights activists of “fear mongering” about a potential mink strain of coronavirus.

In a recent post, he said Canadian mink farmers are taking appropriate measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, including testing animals and humans.

“North American mink farms, like most animal agriculture, maintain biosecurity protocols to prevent the spread of infection from wildlife or other farms. These measures were immediately tightened when it was learned that mink in Europe had contracted Covid-19 from humans,” wrote Herscovici, who did not respond to an interview request.

With files from the Canadian Press