According to national and local news reports, mink on at least two Utah farms have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Employees on both of these facilities have also tested positive for COVID-19, suggesting that bidirectional zoonotic transmission may be occurring on these facilities. Earlier today, UARC filed state and federal records requests to identify these two farms and also to better understand what the industry and regulators are doing to try to mitigate this obvious risk.
It should be unsurprising that mink farms would be a breeding ground for infectious disease. The animals kept on these shamefully abusive farms are crammed into sheds by the thousands, where they are isolated into tiny feces-encrusted cages. Industry newsletters from years past have already discussed how mink are susceptible to coronaviruses, and that both fecal and airborne transmission of coronaviruses may occur on fur farms.
There are no federal laws which protect the welfare of mink raised for their fur on Utah mink farms. And because mink are classified as “livestock,” any conduct towards these sentient creatures is automatically exempt from our state’s cruelty-to-animals law if it reflects an industry norm or practice. These highly intelligent animals are stuffed into these tiny cages for months. They go mad from this type of confinement, spinning endlessly in their cages. Many self-mutilate or injure themselves, which can cause recurring infections that almost always go untreated.
These animals are only removed from their cages so that they may be suffocated or gassed with carbon monoxide, methods of killing that the American Veterinary Medical Association has recognized as inhumane.
The only silver lining in this bleak picture is that the mink farming industry is already dying in Utah. Plagued by decreased consumer demand, trade barriers with China, impacts of COVID-19 on global commerce, and new prohibitive laws including California’s complete ban on the manufacture and sale of fur, Clayton Beckstead with the Utah Farm Bureau reports that half of the state’s farms have closed in the past year, with only 38 farms remaining. This is down from 121 in 1997 and 65 in 2007. It’s time to shut down this disgusting industry once and for all.
UARC has sent an urgent letter to Governor Gary Herbert asking that his office take immediate action. Utah statutes and a March 2020 Executive Order declaring a state of emergency give his office broad authority to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. We are asking that he use this authority to demand that all mink farms in the state immediately stop all breeding operations, which would ultimately lead to a phasing out of this vile and dangerous industry. Until the industry closes for good, we also urge that regular COVID-19 testing of both animals and workers take place, similar to the regular testing that takes place at slaughterhouse facilities. You can help by adding your voice and sending a message to the Governor’s office supporting UARC’s demands.