Ahead of G7 meeting in Cornwall, infectious disease experts urge Boris Johnson to lead world leaders towards a permanent end to fur farming to avoid deadly future pandemics
Ahead of the G7 in Cornwall at the end of this week, 67 infectious disease and animal health experts have written to the British government as G7 hosts, urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead nations towards a permanent, global end to fur farming to prevent future pandemic outbreaks like SARS-CoV-2.
The letter from virologists, epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, veterinarians and animal behaviourists from 16 countries, co-ordinated by animal protection NGO Humane Society International, comes in the wake of more than 400 outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 on mink fur farms in the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Spain, Sweden, France, Italy, Latvia, the United States and Canada, with the most recent known outbreak in Canada last month.
While some governments, such as the Netherlands and Hungary, have taken decisive action to stop mink fur farming in their jurisdictions and 14 countries globally have banned fur farming completely, many tens of millions of mink, foxes and raccoon dogs—all species susceptible to COVID-19—continue to be intensively reared on fur factory farms across Europe, China, Russia and North America.
Research in the Netherlands using whole genome sequencing has revealed that at least 66 people working on mink fur farms became infected with SARS-CoV-2 in rare, but concerning, cases of animal-to-human disease transmission. Danish research has further shown that infection in mink can lead to mutations of the spike-proteins which, if transmitted to human populations, could potentially risk undermining the efficacy of vital vaccines. In January 2021 the World Health Organisation (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) issued a Risk Assessment stating that the public health risk from SARS-CoV-2 spill-over from fur farms to humans in Europe is “high.”
The experts’ letter says: “It is clear that fur farms have the potential to act as reservoirs of SARS-CoV-2... the intensive breeding conditions typical on fur farms – animals unnaturally crowded together, poor hygiene, stress, injuries and low genetic diversity – are ideal for the creation and spread of novel pathogens. Severe animal welfare deficiencies are inherent to factory fur farming, and the trade creates potential for the many tens of millions of animals on fur farms to act as immediate, intermediate or amplifier hosts for viral pathogens. To risk jeopardising our ability to control and end this or future global coronavirus pandemics, for the sake of fur fashion production, would seem imprudent. We therefore support the call by Humane Society International for a permanent global end to the breeding, keeping and killing of animals for the purposes of fur production, and the sale of fur.”
The full letter can be read here.
Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK says: “Virologists, veterinarians and disease experts from around the world have provided a stark warning to governments about the public health risks of exploiting wild animals in unsanitary, overcrowded and inhumane fur factory farms, simply for the sake of frivolous fashion.
Not only is fur farming inherently cruel to animals, but the potential for zoonotic disease spread, and for mink fur farms in particular to act as reservoirs for coronaviruses, is another compelling reason for governments to shut down the fur industry for good. We can no longer ignore that fur farms make for a perfect petri dish for pandemics. As the first country in the world to ban fur farming two decades ago, the UK as G7 host is in a unique position to urge world leaders to take decisive action with a global ban.”
Footage taken on fur farms in countries all over the world consistently exposes evidence of poor welfare conditions. Fur industry certification schemes do not meaningfully improve animal welfare, nor satisfactorily address disease risk potential.
- Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been documented on 427 mink fur farms in 12 different countries in Europe and North America since April 2020, including Canada (3 farms), Denmark (290 farms), France (1 farm), Greece (23 farms), Italy (2 farms), Latvia (1 farm), Lithuania (4 farms), Netherlands (69 farms), Poland (1 farm), Spain (4 farms), Sweden (13 farms) and the United States (16 farms).
- More than 100 million animals are killed for their fur every year worldwide, including mink, foxes, raccoon dogs, chinchillas and rabbits—that’s equivalent to three animals dying every second, just for their fur.
- Fur farming has been banned across the UK since 2003, and has been banned and/or is in the process of being phased-out in Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Germany, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Most recently the government in Hungary declared a ban on the farming of animals for fur, including mink and foxes. In France a ban on mink fur farming is currently progressing through Parliament, and the Irish government has made a commitment to bring forward legislation in 2021.
- Bulgaria, Lithuania, Montenegro and Ukraine are also presently considering bans on fur farming, and in Finland the majority party of the coalition government recently announced its support for a ban on fur farms.
- In the United States, California became the first US state to ban fur sales in 2019 following similar bans in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and West Hollywood. The towns of Weston and Wellesley in Massachusetts have also recently banned fur sales, and more US towns and states are looking to follow suit in the future.