The House of Representatives passed Friday a provision to ban U.S. mink farming that was part of a $350 billion initiative to increase American semiconductor manufacturing and improve competitiveness with China.
Piggybacking the America COMPETES Act as it came to a 222-210 vote, the amendment is a follow-up to H.R. 4310, otherwise known as the Minks in Narrowly Kept Spaces Are Superspreaders Act, or MINKS Act.
Democrat Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina originally introduced the bill in July to shed light on the “unique risk” of mink operations spreading new Covid-19 variants following research from Animal Wellness Action indicating their threat to public health.
“The evidence is clear: mink operations can incubate and spread new Covid-19 variants and pose a unique threat of extending the pandemic,” said DeLauro, who also serves as the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “At the same time, with virtually no domestic market, the U.S. mink industry has been in steady decline for years. Now is the time for this legislation to become law, and I am urging all of my colleagues to continue supporting this bipartisan effort.”
Roughly 275 mink farms across 23 states produce some 3 million pelts every year, according to Fur Commission U.S.A., a trade group that represents American mink farmers. Together they amount to an annual value of more than $300 million, it said.
“This bill is a sneak attack on rural America and an attempt by animal activists to exploit a global pandemic to further their goals of ending animal use,” Challis Hobbs, executive director of the organization, told Sourcing Journal. “Fur Commission U.S.A. and members of the animal-use industry are shocked by the open hostility of such an amendment. Proponents’ use of unfounded scare tactics to justify this extreme taking of private property and livelihoods must be stopped immediately.”
Fur Commission U.S.A. previously dismissed the risk of Covid-19 spreading from mink to the general population as “non-existent,” particularly with the widespread adoption of vaccines developed for the animals by pharmaceutical firm Zoetis. Scientists from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control have also said that there is no evidence that mink play a “significant role” in spreading the contagion to people.
But Covid-19 variants that were incubated in mink have reared their heads across the United States and Europe. Captive mink and farmworkers in Denmark contracted the “cluster 5” variant that resulted in the controversial slaughter of 17 million mink, essentially collapsing the country’s mink industry, formerly the world’s largest. A Michigan variant was detected in mink farmworkers and a taxidermist with no known exposure to the farms. There is also the Marseille-4 variant, which was first identified in France and whose sudden appearance suggests an animal reservoir, possibly mink, for mutations to gain purchase before jumping to people, researchers said.
“This cage-confinement environment, where mink are crowded together by the thousands, maximizes chances for intraspecific aggression, viral infections, and mutations,” said Jim Keen, director of veterinary sciences for the Center for a Humane Economy and a former infectious disease specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “No amount of good animal husbandry can prevent this kind of aggression and the onset of disease among these captive, immune-compromised wild animals.”
Animal Wellness Action, an animal-rights group that supported the amendment, said there is no domestic market for mink, since 80 percent of American pelts are sold to China. Even this demand is falling. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 1.4 million mink pelts sold in 2020, down from 2.7 million sold in 2019.
“There’s nothing good about keeping aggressive and solitary wild mink in cages on factory farms, killing them for a product nobody needs, and then shipping their exteriors to luxury consumers in China,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “The case against mink farming is clinched when one understands a new variant from one or more of these factory farms may disrupt our economy and put millions of Americans at risk.”
Hobbes said, however, that the provision to ban mink farming has nothing to do with beating China’s growing economic influence.
“The America COMPETES Act‘s original intent was to strengthen our country,” he said. “This provision has nothing to do with improving America’s competitive positioning with China and others—in fact, mink exports to China are a trade surplus.”
The Senate greenlit the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, its version of the America COMPETES Act, in June with bipartisan support. Now that its counterpart in the House has passed, the differences between the two bills will be reconciled into a compromise measure for President Biden to sign into law. While it remains to be seen whether the provision survives the transition, the MINKS Act’s sponsors are confident of an entente.
“One of the many lessons we learned at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic is the real danger of animal-to-human transmission of disease. In fact, if Covid-19 could design its perfect habitat for mutation and transmission, it would closely resemble a mink farm, where thousands of mink are kept in small, often unsanitary, overcrowded cages, for days on end,” Mace said. “Today, through working together on both sides of the aisle, we have the chance to end the abusive and inhumane mink farming practice that puts Americans’ health at risk.”