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Scientists Advocate Worldwide Closure Of Mink Farms To Avert Pandemic Threat

July 2023

Virologists in the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, warn that mink farming poses a risk for the emergence of future disease outbreaks and should be considered in the same risk level category as the bushmeat trade and live animal markets.

mink fur farm
Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media

Virologists from Imperial College London have issued a dire warning about the potential for the next global pandemic to originate from fur farms, urging for the worldwide closure of mink farms to mitigate the danger they pose to public health and global biosecurity.

In an article published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), experts advocated for authorities to regard this risk on par with the dangers posed by the bushmeat trade and live animal markets.

“As with any intensive farming, fur farming takes place in a high-density animal environment that allows for rapid spread of viruses with pandemic potential – and for virus adaptation to animals that would be unlikely to occur in nature,” wrote Dr Thomas Peacock, a virologist, and Prof Wendy Barclay, chair of influenza virology at Imperial.

“This is particularly true for normally solitary, undomesticated carnivores, such as mink,” they said. “More so than any other farmed species, [mink] pose a risk for the emergence of future disease outbreaks and the evolution of future pandemics.”

Experts have stressed the risk of spillovers and new pathogens emerging from places where thousands of animals are confined in close proximity, such as intensive farming for food and fashion.

Mink, in particular, exhibit a high susceptibility to infection, making them a significant concern as they are considered to be an exceptionally vulnerable host species for circulating influenza viruses that can evolve and impact humans.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus has spread across more than 480 mink farms situated in 12 different countries, sparking widespread demands for the complete shutdown of all mink farms.

Two years ago, the Danish government ordered a temporary closure of all mink farms, and the animals were euthanized after the discovery of a mink variant of the coronavirus capable of transmitting to humans. This incident garnered global attention due to concerns that the mink could potentially introduce a new strain to humans, posing a threat to the efficacy of vaccines.

Dr. Stuart Neil, a professor of virology at King's College London, expressed his views on Twitter, stating, “Farming mink, raccoon dogs, foxes etc for fur is barbaric and unnecessary in the 21st century. It also poses an unacceptable risk in the adaptation and emergence of respiratory viruses in humans.”


The PNAS article comes as animals including minks tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 on ten fur farms in Finland, with more awaiting test results. A Spanish mink fur farm with 52,000 minks also experienced an outbreak of avian flu last October.

“The establishment of animal reservoirs for viruses that evolve on a separate trajectory from variants in humans sets a potential time bomb for re-emergence of the virus in humans – especially as immunity wanes in the older population and unexposed younger people make up a larger proportion of the population,” reads the PNAS article.

A different study published last week from Harvard Law School and New York University, found several areas of risk for the next pandemic, including industrial farms with millions of animals crammed together experiencing low welfare and huge levels of stress, the wild animal trade with minimal health checks for imported animals, and the fur trade that raises minks and other animals for their coats.

Last month, a new bill, the ‘Mink: Vectors for Infection Risk in the United States Act’, known as the Mink VIRUS Act (H.R. 3783), was introduced in the United States. The legislation aims to protect public health and reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission by prohibiting mink farming in the country.

“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 Representative Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), who introduced the legislation.

Under the plans, a new federal grant program will help phase out current farms within a one-year period by offering a reimbursement to farmers. 

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