Every year, more than a million mink are killed—typically by gassing to avoid damage to their pelts—at U.S. fur farms for no purpose other than to provide trim on coats and poms on hats, purses or gloves. Few, if any, laws regulate the living conditions and slaughter of farmed mink, either in the U.S. or internationally. What laws exist allow them to suffer on fur factory farms, where they typically live in horrendous conditions, cramped into small wire cages that deny them the ability to express their natural behaviors such as running, digging and swimming. Housing thousands of animals in such close proximity also enables disease to spread. There is often little evidence of veterinary care as undercover investigations repeatedly find these animals living with infections, injuries and deformities, and even dead animals left to decay in their cages. It’s no wonder then that mink factory farms are breeding grounds for diseases that can be contagious and potentially life-threatening to humans.
The cruelty to animals and the threat to public health is ample reason to relegate the fur trade to the history books, and we have been fighting to do so for years, both through legislation and through corporate campaigns to secure commitments from major fashion brands to end their use of fur for good. We have seen great success in stopping the sale of new fur products on the local level in the U.S. So far, 12 U.S. municipalities have passed ordinances banning the sale of new fur products, and California implemented a similar ban statewide just this past January. Currently, six states and the District of Columbia, along with numerous local communities, are considering such legislation.
Yet the U.S. still lags behind other countries, many of which are not sitting idly by to watch the extensive animal suffering and costly use of resources to mitigate public health threats caused by the fur industry. Over the last two decades, 19 European countries have passed legislation to ban the farming of animals for their fur. In just the last two years, France, Italy, Ireland, Estonia, Latvia and Malta have introduced legislation to prohibit or phase out fur factory farming. In addition, Switzerland and Germany have implemented strict welfare regulations that have effectively brought fur farming to an end, and Denmark, Sweden and Hungary have ended the fur farming of certain species. A European Citizens Initiative to ban fur farming and farmed fur products recently surpassed more than 1.7 million signatures and will soon be on its way to the European Commission for consideration. And elsewhere, the Canadian province of British Columbia has also banned mink farming.
Unfortunately, as more and more countries take a stand against fur factory farming, the U.S. could potentially become the second-highest fur producing country in the world, being surpassed only by China. We and our allies believe this is simply unacceptable.
So, it is heartening that U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat introduced H.R. XX, the Mink: Vectors for Infection Risk in the United States Act, or ‘‘Mink VIRUS Act,” in response to growing concerns about the public health threat posed by mink fur factory farms. The bill aims to prohibit the farming of mink in the U.S. while also providing fur farmers support through a phase-out period and even financial support as they transition out of this cruel industry.
Action to end fur farming cannot come too quickly. The introduction of the Mink VIRUS Act comes just after mink on a fur farm in Spain tested positive for the deadly, highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. Researchers believe it likely that the strain had been spreading between mink on the farm, the first reported instance of mammal-to-mammal transmission of avian flu. Scientists have raised alarm bells that this could pose a serious threat to public health, with mink factory farms acting as the perfect petri dish for the virus to mutate.
Additionally, new outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 continue to be found on fur factory farms. Mink on more than 480 mink fur farms across 12 countries have been found to be infected with COVID-19, including in the U.S. The most recent outbreaks were reported in Italy in November 2022 and Poland in January 2023. Not only are farmed mink highly susceptible to COVID-19, but they are also capable of transmitting the virus to humans. Farmed mink-to-human transmission of the virus has been reported in at least six countries so far, including the U.S. Moreover, transmission of COVID-19 from fur-farmed mink to humans could introduce new variants, undermining the effectiveness of vaccines. Millions of animals throughout hundreds of mink fur farms have been culled in Europe in response to SARS-CoV-2. Now, more than 50,000 mink have been culled on one fur farm in Spain as a result of avian flu.
It is time for the U.S. to follow the lead of our international partners and take meaningful action to finally put the fur industry to bed. Especially considering that fashion products can easily be replaced with humane and eco-friendly alternatives, U.S. policymakers should no longer ignore the harms caused by the fur industry. You can take a stand against fur, as legislators look to you, their constituents, on animal welfare issues. Please reach out to your HSUS state director now to learn how you can get involved to help end the sale of new fur products in your community. And contact your U.S. legislators to ask them to support H.R. XX, the Mink VIRUS Act.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.