The Dutch parliament has voted to permanently shut down an estimated 128 mink fur farms in the wake of coronavirus outbreaks on 17 of these farms since April. If approved by the Dutch government, the decision would bring a welcome end to the cruel business of fur farming in the country—a business that causes immeasurable suffering for millions of animals each year.
Mink on fur farms in the Netherlands have already paid a heavy price during the pandemic. After the government confirmed that two farm workers were “extremely likely” to have contracted the virus from mink, the country ordered the killing of hundreds of thousands of mink on the infected farms to prevent future outbreaks. Most of the animals killed were days’ old and weeks’ old pups.
Denmark, which is Europe’s largest mink producer, has also discovered infected mink on its fur farms and has culled at least 11,000 mink as a result.
The Netherlands is Europe’s third largest producer, producing 4.5 million mink pelts, according to the latest data available. Along with a dozen other countries in the European Union, the Netherlands has been in the process of phasing out mink fur farming since 2013, when a ban was adopted, with a deadline of December 2023. But animal protection groups, including Humane Society International, have been lobbying the Dutch government to end the practice sooner in the wake of the pandemic.
The Netherlands has already phased out fox and chinchilla fur farming.
The novel coronavirus is believed to have originated at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, and since the outbreak there has been more attention focused than ever before on trades that cruelly confine animals. We have been warning for years about the animal welfare problems inherent in such businesses, and the strong public health risk they pose. Last month the Humane Society family of organizations released an 11-point policy report to prevent the risk of future pandemics, including ending the wildlife trade, ending fur farming, ending the large-scale commercial breeding of dogs in puppy mills, and ending the intensive confinement of farm animals on factory farms.
Infectious disease experts around the world have voiced similar concerns over future pandemic outbreaks and animals kept in close confinement.
Conditions on fur farms are not all that different from those in a wildlife market: scared animals are kept in filthy, crowded cages. Many are often sick or injured, creating the perfect environment for diseases to breed. An HSl investigation of a fur farm in Finland showed hundreds of foxes and mink crammed in small, barren and filthy battery cages. Many of the animals had eye infections and gaping wounds, including a mink with a large, bloody hole in the head. Some animals lay dead in the cages and others ate them or walked over them.
The vote yesterday in the Netherlands shows that the people of that country do not want their nation contributing to such cruelty anymore, and we urge the government to approve the closure of fur farms without delay. The experience of the Netherlands should also serve as a reminder for other fur-producing nations that this is a business rife with animal welfare and public health problems, and that they should act swiftly to end fur farming on their soil. The market for fur is dropping fast, with major fashion houses and retailers shutting their doors on this cruel commodity. Now, with the danger of disease looming, there is not a single reason to keep this fading industry alive.