Legislation Introduced to Phase Out Dangerous Mink Farms, Reimburse Farmers

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

Washington, DC—US Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) has introduced legislation to phase out US mink farms within one year and establish a grant program to reimburse farmers for the full value of their operations.

Endorsed by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Mink: Vectors for Infection Risk in the United States Act (Mink VIRUS Act), introduced last week, recognizes that mink on fur farms incubate diseases such as COVID-19 and avian influenza, creating the perfect conditions for new variants to jump to humans—with potentially devastating results.

Mink farms, which raise and slaughter the animals to sell their pelts to the fashion industry, typically pack thousands of mink together into long rows of barren pens barely large enough for them to move around. The conditions not only are inhumane but also create an ideal setting for pathogens to circulate among and across species.

COVID-19, in fact, has infected millions of farmed mink, and, in several instances, mink have passed a mutated form of this virus back to humans. Scientists have determined that “spillback” from mink farms to humans can introduce new variants, undermining the effectiveness of vaccines and jeopardizing efforts to contain the pandemic.

In October, a deadly avian influenza virus (H5N1) infected mink on a large fur farm in Galicia, Spain; more than 50,000 mink were killed. Prior to this outbreak, H5N1 spread primarily through contact with infected birds, not between mammals. In Spain, however, the virus spread from mink to mink and gained at least one mutation that favors mammal-to-mammal transmission. Scientists now worry that H5N1, which has spread swiftly among birds around the world since 2020, could infect other mink farms and mutate to become transmissible from human to human.

Several European countries have already banned or are in the process of banning fur farming, including the United Kingdom, Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, and Italy. In 2021, Israel became the first country to ban the sale of most fur products. The swift measures taken by these governments to address the serious public health risk posed by mink farms are appropriate and proportional to the scale of the crisis.

“There is no safe way to operate a mink farm without creating a petri dish that could produce the next pandemic virus,” said Susan Millward, executive director and CEO of AWI. “Mink farms risk worsening the current pandemic and ushering in the next one, and we must listen to the scientists sounding the alarm on this. It’s time to phase out this declining industry and provide farmers with the resources needed to transition to something safer and more sustainable.”

“Mink farming poses a severe and urgent problem to public safety as numerous studies have shown the animals are highly susceptible to COVID-19 and can transmit a mutated form of the virus back to humans,” said Espaillat. “As communities around the nation are continuing to recover from the devastation brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak that include health implications and economic shutdowns, we must put forth new and improved safety protocols and disincentivize mink farms that hinder our progress to recover from the pandemic as well as combat outbreaks of other viruses in the future. My legislation aims to curb mink fur farming and will establish a new federal grant program to reimburse farmers the full value of their farms. We must do all that is possible to ensure protocols are in place that would circumvent and minimize potential future outbreaks of viruses known and unknown to keep our communities safe.”

Media Contact Information

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

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.