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UPDATE w/ REACTION from Humane Society Int’l, Ban Fur Farms BC – Fraser Valley Mink Farm – Mink Test Positive for SARS-CoV-2 – Fur Farm Moratorium Capped at Current Numbers

Abbotsford (with files from News1130) – The BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries released news on Monday that Two mink have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans, on a Valley area farm under quarantine after it had mink test positive in May 2021.

FYI: There are 13 mink/fur farms in the province, 9 of which in the Fraser Valley.There have been investigations for COVID going back to December 2020. FVN has heard from sources that one of the farms is in Chilliwack. PEACE Animal Rescue & Support has long been a critic of fur farms. They have been active in letting their views be known to media.

Five additional mink samples from the same farm have initially tested positive at the B.C. Animal Health Lab, with final results pending from The National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg.

The two positive mink were identified through a co-ordinated wildlife surveillance project led by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, in co-operation with the One Health Working Group. One of the main objectives is to assess the potential for virus transmission to free-ranging animals from an infected premise. In this instance, four mink had escaped their cages and were captured on-farm.

As a result of the latest infections, a provincial health officer’s order has also been issued to all mink-farm operators in the province, placing a moratorium on any new mink farms in B.C. and capping existing mink farms at their current numbers. The order is effective immediately. Each farm is required to report the total number of mink, both breeding stock and non-breeding mink, to the provincial health officer and the medical health officer in their health authority.

The Province is conducting a review of its policies and regulations with respect to fur farms, while ensuring the recommended mitigation measures are in place and enforced to protect both public and animal health.

Three B.C. mink farms have had mink test positive for SARS-CoV-2 since December 2020. All three remain under quarantine, with no mink being moved to or from the properties. Fraser Health, WorkSafeBC and the Province continue to ensure biosecurity measures are in place to protect workers and families on mink farms, as well as making sure each farm is taking all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-through human-to-animal or animal-to-human transmission.

The nine B.C. mink farms, all located in the Fraser Valley, employ approximately 150 workers. The exact locations of mink farms are not being released as per Section 16.1 of the Animal Health Act, which prohibits the disclosure of information that would identify a specific place where an animal is located.

Zoe Peled of Ban Fur Farms BC responded to the moratorium on Facebook:

VICTORY: Provincial Health Order institutes an immediate moratorium on new mink fur farms in BC!Minister of Agriculture #LanaPopham has, still, failed to take action on this urgent matter. Thus, Public Health stepped in yesterday and put in place restrictions to prevent more mink from being bred on existing farms and a moratorium on new mink farms. This is a great first step! But not enough.The spread of COVID-19 on fur farms is not limited to mink; it is also a concern for chinchilla, fox and other potential future fur farms in the province. The only reasonable step at this time to protect public health and wildlife in BC is to ban fur farming entirely.In the provincial order, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry wrote, “mink farming is a health hazard as it is an activity which endangers or is likely to endanger public health.”It is time for the government to recognize that fur farms pose ongoing risks to public health, and with 85% of BC residents opposing killing animals for their fur, the only solution is to ban fur farming.The health and safety of BC residents continues to be put at risk as long as existing fur farms are still in operation.BFFBC is calling on the province to immediately take action by banning fur farms.

From Humane Society International:

In the wake of multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 on BC fur farms–and a recent incident in which infectious mink escaped from a quarantined facility–the provincial health officer has identified mink farming as a “health hazard” that “endangers public health,” noting that “the susceptibility of mink to infection with SARS-CoV-2 creates a risk of development of variants of concern which pose a threat to public health and could undermine the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccination program in British Columbia.” In response to this clear threat, the BC government has questionably imposed a toothless provincial order to temporarily restrict expansion of the industry. 

Kelly Butler, wildlife campaign manager at HSI/Canada, stated: “We are calling on Premier Horgan to prioritize public safety and the values of BC residents and permanently ban fur farming as a matter of urgency. The current provincial order allows fur farms to continue operating at existing levels, and the moratorium on increasing mink numbers ends before next year’s breeding season. The unacceptable risk of outbreaks, mutations, and transmission to both humans and wildlife remains exactly the same. BC’s fur production facilities employ a few dozen seasonal workers, while consuming millions of tax dollars and putting public safety and surrounding wildlife at significant risk. Moreover, mink farming is exceptionally cruel, intensively confining highly intelligent, semi-aquatic wild animals and denying them their most basic of needs. It is time for Premier Horgan to show leadership and reflect the values of BC residents by ending this cruel, outdated practice for good.”

Mink escape into the wild from factory fur farms at notoriously high rates. In 2017 (the last year for which data is available), 16,000 mink died prematurely or escaped from BC fur farms. Escaped, infected mink are capable of transmitting COVID-19 to wild mink, and likely to other susceptible species of wildlife, which can establish disease reservoirs in the wild, risking further virus mutation and potentially catastrophic spillover events. 

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