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Closing fur farms

Mink mutations of Covid-19 could undermine the efficacy of vaccines
Closing fur farms

Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, will be closing its doors within the next two to three years in what animal protection group Humane Society International believes could signal the beginning of the end for the fur trade.

Kopenhagen Fur, founded in 1930, acts as a broker for pelts produced in Denmark and around the world, including fox, chinchilla and karakul.

Vaccine efficacy

Just hours before the announcement, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its new report, ‘Rapid Risk Assessment: Detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants related to mink’.

The report highlights concerns that the evolution of the virus in mink has potential implications for Covid-19 diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development, and could undermine the efficacy of future vaccines in humans.

‘The ECDC report points at fur farms as potential virus factories capable of churning out mutations of Covid-19 and even undermining medical progress towards reliable treatments.

‘The report further validates the decision by the Danish government to respond to the public health risk that is presented by the fur trade, and should be a serious wake-up call for mink farming countries not yet systematically testing mink to take urgent action.’

Senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International, Europe


The end of fur?

The Kopenhagen Furs auction house is a cooperative company owned by 1,500 Danish fur farmers. The disappearance of this globally important fur broker is likely to have a knock-on effect for producers in other European countries and beyond.
The ECDC report cites the need for ongoing investigations to assess whether the new ‘cluster 5’ variant, created by mink on farms, alters the risk of reinfection, or could cause reduced vaccine efficacy or reduced benefits from blood plasma treatments.

It also stresses that ‘continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms may eventually give rise to other variants of concern’.

‘The announcement by Kopenhagen Fur that it will cease trading shows that fur production has now passed a tipping point and it could very well signal the beginning of the end of the fur trade. 

‘Fur farms are not only the cause of immense and unnecessary animal suffering, but they are also ticking time bombs for deadly diseases. We cannot simply sit back and wait for the next pandemic to emerge from them.

‘Set against a backdrop of public rejection of fur as unethical and outdated, governments must acknowledge that they can no longer justify allowing an industry that both threatens human health and costs tax-payers billions to manage biosecurity risks and provide farmers compensation following culls.

‘It’s time to turn off the life-support machine for this archaic trade, and focus instead on supporting farmers to move to humane, safe and economically viable livelihoods.’

Senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International, Europe

24.8 million mink skins were sold through Kopenhagen Fur between 2018 and 2019. During this time, the UK imported around £131,523 and £181,765 worth of fur from Denmark respectively –compared with over £200,000 worth of fur imported from Denmark in previous years. 

‘We have witnessed a significant drop in pelt prices and have seen stockpiles of fur skins going unsold at auctions, sending the fur industry into a global downward spiral’, said Dr Swabe. 

‘We expect an even further decrease in the demand for frivolous fur as Covid-19 affects factory fur farms around the world, forcing governments to shut down operations and farmers to find new avenues of income, Dr Swabe continues.

ECDC report findings

The ECDC report concludes that the overall level of risk to human health posed by SARS-CoV-2 mink-related variants is low for the general population, but moderate-to-high for medically vulnerable individuals who are living in areas with a high concentration of fur farms.

The risk is moderate for those working with mink and very high for individuals with occupational exposure, such as fur farmers.

A Dutch study using whole genome sequencing, which investigated outbreaks on 16 Dutch mink farms (with over 720,000 animals) and tested humans living or working on these farms, found that after the detection of SARS-CoV-2 on mink farms, 66 of 97 (67%) persons tested were infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Crucially, genetic analysis showed that the variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus was the same as those found in mink, and not identical to those found in unrelated Covid-19 patients living in the vicinity of farms.

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