Danger tape blocks off driveways at a mink farm in Chilliwack on Dec. 7, 2020 after an outbreak was declared. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)

Danger tape blocks off driveways at a mink farm in Chilliwack on Dec. 7, 2020 after an outbreak was declared. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)

BC SPCA calls for moratorium after mink, workers at farm contract COVID

More than 200 mink have died already at farm affected by COVID-19 in Chilliwack

The provincial government says mink on a Chilliwack farm have tested positive for COVID-19.

“Test results from five mink samples taken from a Fraser Valley mink farm have all been confirmed positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans,” a Dec. 9 government press release said.

Eight workers on the farm tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in December. Following that outbreak, mink samples were collected and submitted to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnipeg. The OIE-World Organisation for Animal Health was notified under international reporting requirements.

B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries says the results were expected, considering the interaction between infected workers and mink on the farm.

Testing is continuing, to determine genome sequencing and the strain of the virus.

B.C.’s chief veterinarian has placed the farm under a quarantine order prohibiting the movement of animals and materials from the property, the ministry added.

“A plan is in place to provide feed and care to the mink during the outbreak,” the release stated. “The plan respects the conditions of the quarantine and maintains worker and mink safety.”

The farm had been inspected by the chief veterinarian and ministry staff as part of a routine inspection process in September, and was found to comply with all animal welfare and biosecurity standards.

In the wake off the outbreak, more than 200 mink have died at the farm, and the BC SPCA has called for a moratorium on mink farming in the province. The animal welfare organization wants to see an immediate suspension of all mink farm licences.

Geoff Urton of the BC SPCA said the moratorium is needed to reduce the risk of further disease spread in B.C. communities, including the risk to wild animals.

“Mink themselves also stand to suffer from SARS-CoV-2 as, unlike other animals who have contracted the virus and show little-to-no symptoms, mink can become sick and die when infected,” he said. “At this time, the practice of mink farming is at odds with the Animal Health Act due to the close contact between farmed mink and farm staff.”

Urton added that mink are permitted to be farmed in B.C. through exemptions to the provincial Wildlife Act’s prohibition on keeping of native wildlife.

“The mink who are farmed in B.C. are native species who would be far-ranging in movement in their natural settings, and are solitary, and semi-aquatic animals,” he said. “In B.C., mink are confined to small barren wire cages, tightly packed together in high densities on farms.”

Currently there are 13 mink farms in B.C., almost all of which are in the Fraser Valley, producing fur for international luxury markets. In 2018, more than 260,000 mink were killed for fur in B.C., a practice the BC SPCA said 85 per cent of British Columbians oppose.

Pamela Anderson has also spoken up about mink farms following the COVID-19 cases, on behalf of PETA. Anderson called on Premier John Horgan to close down all fur farms in the province.

“The world is a much different place than it was even a few months ago. No one, including minks, deserves to die of COVID-19, and I hope to hear that you will make the lifesaving decision to shut down British Columbia’s mink farms without delay,” Anderson wrote.

The BC SPCA have started an online pledge to end fur farming, available at spca.bc.ca/mink-farming-pledge.

animal welfare