Mink farms are being phased out in British Columbia and will be no more by 2025.
The provincial government made the announcement Nov. 5.
The proposed action includes a permanent stop on breeding mink and a permanent ban on live mink on farms by April 2023. Operations on B.C.’s nine existing mink farms will cease completely, with all pelts sold, by April 2025.
“This decision follows the recommendations of public health officials and infectious disease experts about managing the threat of the virus for workers at the farms and the broader public,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.
BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there have been multiple outbreaks at B.C. mink farms, more than the one or two per year that the government expected. The first was last December and there is a persistent outbreak happening right now at one of the farms, with virus transmission back and forth between mink and humans.
“It hasn’t been cleared, despite increased bio-security measures, ongoing testing, vaccination of staff and the many, many measures we’ve put in place,” Henry said.
The BC Centre for Disease Control has identified the potential for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to mutate in mink and be passed back to people, and there are worries that virus mutations could have an impact on vaccine effectiveness.
“The transmission potential of mink to humans and humans to mink from breakthrough cases of COVID-19, in spite of workers being vaccinated, is a risk,” Henry said while noting that three mink farms are currently under quarantine. “We know that the presence of the highly-transmissable Delta variant is the primary strain we’re seeing in BC, and we worry about the threat of it being introduced into mink farms.
“There’s also concern of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from escaped mink to wild animals and the risk that mutations of the virus could lead to additional variants of concern.”
Between them, the nine BC farms have around 318,000 mink and employ around 200 people.
In July 2021, the provincial government put a moratorium on new mink farms, and a health order was issued to prevent any additional animals being brought onto existing farms.
While the mink farm ban is being presented as a public health move, several groups have also called for it because of animal cruelty concerns.
“The time is now for B.C. to act and end an outdated, contentious industry,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs in an Oct. 28 news release. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, UBCIC, the BC SPCA, the Fur-Bearers, infectious disease doctors, and the public have consistently communicated their many concerns around mink fur farms to the provincial government and called upon them to make the necessary regulatory and legislative changes to phase out an industry that the vast majority of Canadians considers inhumane and unnecessary.”
Popham said the government will be working with impacted farmers and workers to help them transition to new agricultural jobs or to other trades or careers. She said they’ll also be eligible for benefits through existing government-funded income-protection programs.
“Our government will work with affected farmers and workers to help them pursue other farming, business or job opportunities that support their families.”