WASHINGTON, D.C.—Ahead of the G7 meeting this month, governments around the world are being urged to agree to a permanent, global end to fur farming to prevent future pandemic outbreaks like SARS-CoV-2.
In the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States have sent President Biden a letter—signed by 67 virologists, veterinarians and infectious disease and animal health experts—and a comprehensive white paper on the evident, dangerous links between fur farms and zoonotic disease spread, urging our government to protect public and human health by supporting a global fur farming ban.
HSI’s offices in Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom have also appealed to their respective governments. HSI’s global call to world leaders 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.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society International, said, “Protecting people from deadly zoonotic diseases and future pandemics needs to be one of the highest priorities for President Biden and other world leaders at this meeting. On fur farms animals’ suffering is nonstop. They also contribute to global virus outbreaks. This is a common-sense ban that has the potential to prevent devastating outcomes.”
Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said, “Breeding and killing wild animal species in deplorably deprived conditions on fur farms carries the same kind of human and animal health risks as the live wildlife markets that facilitated the COVID-19 outbreak and other pandemics before that. In today’s globalized world, our only option to neutralize this threat is a world-wide end to fur farming and to ensure our leaders place protecting citizens ahead of protecting the vested interests of the failing fur fashion industry. We cannot demand action overseas and not address the problem in our own back yard, and we cannot remove the threat altogether without coordinated global action by all countries.”
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, 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. In the United States there are more than 200 fur farms for mink and fox, even though opinion polls show that the majority of Americans (71%) are opposed to killing animals for fur. A total of 16 fur farms in the U.S. had confirmed outbreaks of COVID-19.
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 undermine the efficacy of vital vaccines and creating silent reservoirs of the disease.
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.”
Footage taken on fur farms in countries all over the world consistently exposes evidence of poor welfare conditions. Fur industry certification schemes have not meaningfully improved animal welfare and cannot 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, and raccoon dogs (species highly susceptible to coronaviruses), and chinchillas and rabbits. That’s equivalent to three animals dying every second, just for their fur.
- Fur farming has been banned and/or is in the process of being phased out in Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom. 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, Estonia, 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.
- Emily Snow Ehrhorn