Sweden will be suspending its mink breeding through 2021 to mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus on fur farms, the government announced Wednesday.
The move comes two months after neighboring Denmark ordered the slaughter of up to 17 million mink after 12 animal handlers contracted the so-called “cluster 5” variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Experts believe that the mink have caught the virus from humans before spreading a mutated form back. The animals can also transmit the contagion to one another.
Though Swedish farms recorded several cases of the coronavirus, authorities said in December that no animals have been found to carry the mutated strain, which experts had initially feared would undermine the efficacy of then-emerging vaccines.
“In Sweden, the mutated virus has, luckily, not got into our mink farms,” Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund said at a press conference. “But our mink industry remains a further risk factor that we need to consider when it comes to the fight against corona.”
Sweden houses roughly 40 mink fur farms and produced around 500,000 mink pelts in 2020.
While animal-rights advocates welcomed the news of the breeding freeze, they are also urging both the Swedish government and other European Union member states to “permanently end the cruelty and public health risks by permanently ending fur farming.”
“Confining millions of animals to small wire cages for fur production not only causes terrible suffering and deprivation, but scientists have also concluded that they could represent a serious reservoir for SARS-CoV-2 and thus pose a very real risk to public health,” Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International, said in a statement. “We call on all member states where fur farming persists to shut down this sector for good. For as long as the exploitation of animals for fur is tolerated, the potential for reservoirs of animal to human pathogens will persist. Sweden has taken an important step but must now prioritize human and animal welfare over the frivolous fur fashion industry by permanently making fur history.”
To date, eight countries—Denmark, the Netherlands, South Africa, Switzerland, the Faroe Islands, Russia, the United States and Ireland—have recorded variants of the coronavirus, according to scientists who uploaded virus sequencing and variant data to Gisaid, a global initiative that provides open access to genomic sequencing information of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses.
Denmark has also banned any new mink breeding until 2022, though questions remain over whether the industry can bounce back after the eradication of its stock, which outnumbered residents three to one. The country’s Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, said in November, for instance, that it would be winding down operations by 2023 because the future of fur in Denmark was in doubt.
“Unfortunately, the loss of the Danish mink production means that the ownership base disappears and therefore, the company’s management has decided to gradually downsize the company and make a controlled shutdown over a period of two to three years,” Jesper Lauge, CEO at Kopenhagen Fur, which is responsible for some 40 percent of global mink production, said at the time. “The company’s very strong financial platform and the values that the company’s owners, the Danish mink breeders, have built up in the company over generations—and which have made Kopenhagen Fur a world leader—must then rightfully accrue to the owners who are in an extreme and unusually difficult situation.”
Before the culling, Denmark was the second-largest producer of mink fur after China, exporting roughly 670 million euros ($813 million) in pelts annually. On Monday night, Danish ministers of parliament agreed to give mink farmers up to 19 billion Danish kroner ($3.1 billion) as compensation for the theoretical loss of future earnings and capital costs such as buildings and equipment.
Starting in May, authorities will be exhuming up to 5.5 million buried mink for incineration after environmental inspectors found evidence of contamination in some water sources.