In November 2021, the B.C. government made the historic announcement to phase out mink farms in the province. At the time of this announcement, a temporary ban on mink breeding was already in place as of July 2021. Under the phase-out plan, the breeding of mink was permanently banned. By April 2023, there must not be any live mink on farms. This means all farms will need to sell or kill mink currently on farms. Finally by 2025, any remaining fur must be sold.
A year later, a commissioned poll of British Columbians has confirmed an overwhelming majority from all regions of the province agree with the decision to close down mink farms – only 8% disagree1. British Columbians indicated their main reasons for supporting the decision are that mink farming is a cruel and unnecessary industry, and that animals shouldn’t be killed for fashion.
“The BC SPCA has a long-standing position against the use of fur for fashion,” says Dr. Sara Dubois, BC SPCA’s Chief Scientific Officer. However, the serious public health risks from the practice brought the debate directly into the spotlight as cases of COVID-19 in mink and farm workers began to emerge on European mink farms in mid-2020. The BC SPCA then warned the provincial government that action to protect the public from outbreaks and the welfare of mink on farms was urgently needed.
“Unfortunately, the virus was found circulating between workers and mink on a B.C. farm in December 2020,” Dubois reports. Hundreds of mink died as a result of the outbreak. The BC SPCA, The Union of BC Indian Chiefs, The Fur-Bearers, HSI/Canada, infectious disease experts, and the public called on the B.C. government to take immediate action and stop breeding for the next season. “Mink farms needed to be shut down to prevent further outbreaks and risks to public health, finally ending the cruel and unnecessary industry,” stated Dubois.
Unfortunately, mink farms were allowed to continue breeding their animals in early 2021. “This ballooned the population of farmed mink in B.C. from 60,000 to 300,000. Living in cramped, tightly packed cages, it was no surprise that COVID-19 continued to spread on mink farms, leading to two more outbreaks,” said Dubois.
In July 2021, the province banned breeding on mink farms and did not allow new farms to start up while it reviewed fur farming regulations. Despite this, hundreds more mink died of the virus in the summer of 2021 and the virus continued to spread between mink and farm workers. A recent publication by government officials outlining their response detailed how the spread continued as biosecurity measures were weak and COVID-19 safety plans lacking. A second report confirmed fears that mink farms could become a source for new variants of COVID-19, undermining public health measures and prolonging the pandemic.
The province finally announced a phase-out of mink farming in November 2021, continuing the breeding ban with an April 2023 deadline for live mink to be removed from all farms. Right now, it is the pelting season on B.C.’s nine remaining mink farms. This year, all mink on farms will likely be killed and sold for fur, effectively ending the mink industry in B.C.
The BC SPCA asked government to ensure that farmers and workers were supported to find new opportunities for careers that better align with society’s values and desire for enhanced food security. According to the province, farmers and workers have been offered access to government programs to help transition them into other work.
“It is disappointing that the serious welfare concerns with farming mink were ignored for so long, and the industry was only shuttered after thousands of mink suffered and died of COVID-19 while also putting public health at risk,” says Dubois. “The good news is that the government of B.C. heard the concerns of infectious disease experts, the public and groups concerned about mink welfare. This success shows that concerned members of the public and experts can work together to create a society that reflects our shared values.”
1 Stratcom poll conducted for the BC SPCA July 14-22, 2022 (n=1,000, margin of error +/-3.5%, 19 times out of 20)