Federal Agency Petitioned to Protect Public Health and Wildlife from Threats Posed by Mink Trade

A farmed mink lies in a metal cage
Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/Djurrattsalliansen

Washington, DCThe Animal Welfare Institute, in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Animal Defenders International, and Born Free USA, petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service today to list American mink involved in trade as an injurious species under the Lacey Act. This designation would prohibit US importation, transportation and acquisition of live and dead mink, including parts containing fur. An injurious listing would reduce the significant risks that farmed mink pose to humans and wildlife and help combat the COVID-19 global health crisis.

Mink fur farms pack animals into crowded, filthy environments that create an ideal setting for pathogens to propagate, mutate and circulate among and across species. Mink are highly susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and outbreaks have been confirmed on at least 17 fur farms in multiple US states, with more than 20,000 mink reported dead from the disease.

Around the world, the spread of COVID-19 among farmed mink has been even more destructive. Outbreaks have occurred on more than 400 mink farms across Europe and Canada, and millions of mink have either died from the disease or been killed to prevent its spread. Last week, British Columbia announced that it would permanently close all mink farms in the province due to the COVID-19 transmission risk.

Mink can also pass the virus back to humans, and such cases have been confirmed in Denmark, Poland and the Netherlands. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people at a farm in Michigan were infected with a mutation of SARS-CoV-2 found in mink, suggesting mink-to-human transmission of unique variants occurred within the United States. The threat of mink farms or infected wild mink populations becoming reservoirs for the virus could jeopardize efforts to contain the pandemic.

Furthermore, the trade in mink and their parts can cause serious ecological damage. Mink regularly escape from captivity and threaten the viability of wild mink populations due to the risk of disease transmission, hybridization and competition for resources. In December, two separate incidents of mink in the wild testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 were confirmed in Utah and Oregon. Other wildlife species are also susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and are thus put in danger if they come into contact with infected captive or escaped mink.

“Overwhelming evidence points to mink fur farms as incubators of SARS-CoV-2,” said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. “The US Fish and Wildlife Service has an obligation to address the clear hazard that farmed mink pose to citizens and wildlife in order to effectively combat the current pandemic and mitigate future outbreaks.” 

“It’s nearly impossible to think of an instance in which the dangers so heavily outweigh the benefits than in the case of fur farming of mink,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Mink fur farms have become a clear and present danger and the federal protections afforded from an ‘injurious’ designation is the swiftest first step the federal government can take to ensure our own safety and that of wildlife populations at risk of contracting COVID-19.”

“COVID-19 has been detected on hundreds of mink fur farms across Europe and North America, and there have been recorded cases of people catching the virus from farmed mink,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “It’s time for the United States to take a stand against the dangers that mink farms inherently pose, and we implore the US Fish and Wildlife Service to seriously consider the risk the fur industry presents to us all.” 

Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International, said: “ADI investigations have exposed the suffering of animals farmed for fur. Mink suffer mentally and emotionally on fur farms. They live in barren cages, crammed next to one another in unhygienic conditions, and their immune systems are impaired by stress. These factory farms can easily give rise to new mutations of COVID-19.”

Angela Grimes, CEO of Born Free USA, added: “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect across the globe and, after almost two years, is still not under control. We have seen the evidence that mink can carry and transmit COVID and to continue to ignore this is simply irresponsible. Born Free USA is proud to stand with our partners in this petition and call on the US Fish and Wildlife Service to formally recognize the zoonotic disease risk posed by farmed mink and act swiftly to mitigate that risk.”

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128

Emily Ehrhorn, Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society Legislative Fund
[email protected], (202) 779-1814

Jennifer Place, Born Free USA
[email protected], (580) 512-9733

Animal Defenders International
[email protected], (323) 804-9920

The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.

Animal Defenders International is active worldwide to end the suffering of animals in captivity and protect wild animals and their environments. We investigate, produce evidence and reports, educate and raise awareness, and conduct large-scale seizures of wild animals in captivity in collaboration with governments. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to learn more about our campaigns and how you can help.

Born Free USA works to ensure that all wild animals, whether living in captivity or in the wild, are treated with compassion and respect and are able to live their lives according to their needs. We oppose the exploitation of wild animals in captivity and campaign to keep them where they belong—in the wild. Born Free USA's primate sanctuary is one of the largest in the United States and provides a permanent home to monkeys rehomed from laboratories or rescued from zoos and private ownership. Visit bornfreeusa.org to learn more.

Humane Society Legislative Fund works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues and support humane candidates for office. Formed in 2004, HSLF is incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code as a separate lobbying affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States. Visit us at hslf.org, read our blog at hslf.org/blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. 

Founded in 1954, the Humane Society of the United States fights the big fights to end suffering for all animals. Together with millions of supporters, we take on puppy mills, factory farms, trophy hunts, animal testing and other cruel industries. With our affiliates, we rescue and care for tens of thousands of animals every year through our animal rescue team’s work and other hands-on animal care services. We fight all forms of animal cruelty to achieve the vision behind our name: A humane society. Learn more about our work at humanesociety.org. Subscribe to Kitty Block’s blog, A Humane World. Follow the HSUS Media Relations department on Twitter. Read the award-winning All Animals magazine. Listen to the Humane Voices Podcast.